On Grief & Marriage: Lessons From Downton Abbey


"The only way they can conceivably bear their grief is if they bear it together."

She asks Dr. Clarkson to research how few deaths have actually been avoided through late cesarian once eclampsia strikes in hopes that his research will determine the minimal likelihood that Sybil would have survived, regardless of the path taken the evening of her death. Her hope is that Cora can let go of some of her blame, join her husband, and share their grief. Granny Violet's pointed efforts to help Cora and Robert reconnect are especially poignant given her long-standing prickly relationship with her daughter-in-law.

Dr. Clarkson's research determines that Sybil's chances of survival were, in truth, quite small. During a meeting convened by Granny, Dr. Clarkson expresses strong distaste for Sir Phillip's cavalier attitude, but he also admits that the trip to the hospital and surgery he suggested would have been traumatic and painful and gave poor Sybil only the slimmest chance of survival:

When everything is weighed in the balance, I believe Lady Sybil was going to die.
Upon hearing Dr. Clarkson's opinion, Lady Cora can begin to forgive her husband and the couple can finally share in their grief. As they embrace, it is clear that their daughter's tragic death is a loss they will never forget and from which they will never fully recover. It is equally clear that they will be stronger through it, and will grieve more completely, if they face it together.

Even the episode's sub-plot in which sweet Mr. Mason (who has no living relatives) attempts to get through his grief over his son William's death by inviting his daughter-in-law, Daisy, to live with him and inherit his entire farm, "stock, tools and all" demonstrates the significance of family support and shared grief.

As a therapist, I hear a lot about loss, and no loss is as great as the loss of a child. A client once told me that, amidst the traumatic chaos of his daughter's terminal cancer diagnosis, he vividly remembered his parents (who had also, tragically, lost a child decades earlier) sitting him down with his wife to say:

"This tragedy will either make or break your marriage. Hold each other tight and never take one another for granted."

Their honest, loving words, along with devoted family, friends and a strong commitment to one another allowed them to face the unbearable.

Once again, Downton Abbey offers a message that, notwithstanding the drama's rarified and anachronistic setting, demonstrates the timeless importance of a family's support in the face of loss.

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This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.