Scenes of Grief: Broadchurch (Season 1, Episode 1)

Lately, my mom and I have become addicted to crime dramas set in the UK. We watch them on Netflix. So far, we've seen Marcella, The Fall, River, and now we're watching Broadchurch. These shows help us get through the day, help us survive a life marked by multiple traumas and tragedies. My happiest moments are when I'm with my mom, watching our shows, our "stories," as we call them.

Broadchurch is a show set in a small town on the English coast. In the first season, an eleven-year-old boy named Danny is murdered and detectives try to find who killed him. What's so compelling about the show for me is its focus on the grief experienced by Danny's family and the larger community of Broadchurch.

Growing up, I watched shows about murder. But since experiencing my own traumatic loss, I watch them for a very different reason now. I watch them because they are one of the few spaces where grief is openly expressed, where people can be upset, shattered, and wounded. I have not lost a loved one to violent crime, but I've lost my father and I feel his death every day. I search for people who share their grief because I find connection with them. I tend to watch more true crime shows, like Dateline and 48 Hours, but the detective shows in the UK are becoming an obsession of mine due to their sensitivity to victims' grief and their depth of emotion and humanity.

Broadchurch is certainly a murder mystery, but it's so much more than that. It's about a family gutted by grief. Probably more than any other television genre, crime dramas show the moment at which people are told of their loved one's death. This moment is crucial to the narrative, as it demarcates the victims' lives. One minute, life is normal and the next moment their world is completely upended. That is a profoundly resonant thing for me. 

As I watched the scene in Broadchurch's premiere when the detectives inform Danny's family that he is dead, I thought about how we can wake up with one life and go to sleep with another. Your whole life can change in a second, and I know that's cliche to say. When I write it, I'm ashamed of how unimaginative my language is, but it's true. Someone speaks the words "He's dead" and you can't feel your own body anymore, you don't understand where you are or what you are or how to breathe or function. It's so sudden, so mercilessly instantaneous, a catastrophe in your brain, a fracturing of sense and normalcy. Nothing is ever the same. Nothing will ever be right again.




























Later in the episode, one of the detectives is talking to the mother on the beach near the site where her son's dead body was found. She says something interesting:




















I've felt that way--so far away from myself, from life, from other people. A distance, a chasm, opens up between yourself and the world. For me, that distance has never gone away, and I haven't been able to bridge the divide. I live so wounded and shattered by my grief, so lonely, so damaged. I find what connection I can, but it isn't enough. I want my father back and I can't have him. I want myself back and I can't have her either.