On Death & Loss: Lessons From "Downton Abbey"


On Death & Loss: Lessons From "Downton Abbey"
We all tend to grieve differently and to process the death of a loved one in varied ways

Once again, this week's episode of 'Downton Abbey' is full of powerful insights about life, love and human nature.  When twenty-four year old Lady Sybil's delivery of her first child takes a heartbreaking twist, viewers witness a telling exploration of grief and loss.  Death is such a painful and taboo topic, and last night's episode demonstrates the extent to which people tend to grieve differently and to process the death of a loved on in varied ways.

With the shocking death of Lady Sybil (Lady and Lord Grantham's youngest child) the upstairs and the downstairs of Dowton Abbey are paralized in a grief-stricken state of shock.  Thomas the footman, Downton's purest villian who in three seasons of the show has yet to say or do anything remotely genuine or kind, sheds tears in a corner and sobs,

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"In my life...not many have been kind to me, and [Lady Sybil] was one of the few."

By contrast, soon before her death, Lady Sybil's own father is in such denial that he wastes energy reprimanding the well intentioned Dr. Clarkson for mentioning the word "urine" in his mother's presence.  During Lady Sybil's final moments, her Irish husband and her American mother cling to her side and proclaim their profound love, while her British sisters, father and brother-in-law keep their distance and stare at her, jaws dropped, as if trapped in a mutual state of disbelief. 

Immediately following her death, Sybil's brother in law, Matthew, inappropriately attemps to distract himself with business and financial matters.  Meanwhile, the adoring chef, Mrs. Patmore, speaks lovingly of her memories:

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"She wasn't much more than a baby herself poor love.  When I think how I taught her to cook.  She couldn't boil and egg...yet she was so eager."

As a therapist, I hear a lot about how the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one can feel similar to an out-of-body experience in which people frequently have little or no clear memory.  A client once told me that she and her sister processed the news of their father's death in dramatically different ways -- one was extremely emotional and expressive, the other was completely composed, contained and focused on taking care of business.  Family and friends expressed disbelief that these two sisters could have been raised in the same family. 

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Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Elisabeth LaMotte


Social worker, psychotherapist, blogger and author of "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce"

Location: Washington, DC
Credentials: LICSW, MFT, MSW
Specialties: Communication Problems, Dating/Being Single Support, Divorce/Divorce Prevention
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