By Kate Emswiler
After crying through yet another “Parenthood” scene last week, I wanted to write a Kate-book post about the show’s top 10 tear-jerkiest moments. But once I started, my list went well beyond 10 and was, well, terribly sad. Usually the show manages to strike a fine balance between humor and heart, but a list of all the intensely emotional parts was just too much poignancy to bear. So I figured I’d focus on this one recent scene that had me in such a face-crumply state.
SPOILER ALERT: The following will contain references to recent episodes of “Parenthood” so you should not venture into it if you haven’t watched these episodes and would like to keep the mystery alive.
This season of “Parenthood” started out with some emotional times for Kristina and Adam, what with their firstborn child heading off to college on the opposite side of the country and all. But after Haddie left, the Bravermans were dealt an even more disturbing blow: Kristina has breast cancer. Upon hearing the news, Adam and Kristina put on some brave(rman) faces and go about researching their options, meeting with doctors and planning their attack on the disease. Adam immediately goes into go-getter mode, facing the challenge with relentless positivity, wanting to power determinedly forward, seemingly driven by that Helen Keller quote: ”Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows.”
Kristina, however, is the one whose body is actually housing the life-changing disease. She is shell-shocked, confused and frightened. She hesitates to share this with her husband, though, choosing instead to confide in a woman she just met in a doctor’s waiting room. The woman – a brassy cancer survivor herself – helps Kristina feel less alone, but advises her to let Adam in on her feelings. In a painfully moving scene, Kristina breaks down and tells her husband honestly how she feels: She’s scared and she needs to be allowed to be scared. Rather than trying to tidy up a situation that seems overwhelmingly monstrous, Adam needs to just sit still sometimes, and listen.
I’m assuming it’s no coincidence that this storyline is surfacing during October, breast cancer awareness month. By telling Kristina’s story in its deft, signature way – with pathos, tenderness and occasional bleak realism – “Parenthood” is paying homage to the experiences of cancer patients everywhere. Whether they’ve battled the disease themselves or struggled through the horrors of it alongside a loved one, most viewers can probably relate to some aspect of this heart-wrenching situation. And every week, these viewers can derive some comfort from it.
As for me, after watching the episode in which the lump is found Kristina’s breast, I thought about how long it’s been since I’ve had a mammogram and I realized that I need to do that again ASAP. I wonder how many other women were reminded of this after watching the show. I was also reminded, once again, that “Parenthood” is one of the greatest series on TV right now, consistently serving up tear-jerking scenes… that might actually end up being life-saving, too.