Is grieving planning — setting aside a time to cry privately — tasteless and tasteless, or mindful and self-conscious? Most people have busy lives, so what’s the best way to deal with something unexpected like a sudden death?
In the series finale of Succession, Logan Roy’s only daughter Shiv rushes from an argument with her siblings over the sale of their company to another, more urgent “appointment.” We soon discover that her PA has reserved another room for a private 20-minute period of “planned” grief.
Shiv shuts the door and collapses, sobbing, only to be interrupted by her socially inept husband Tom, who is incredulous.
Once again, the writers of this brilliant show have completely misled viewers. We knew that Shiv was pregnant and she was conflicted about how to handle that unplanned event, on top of her father’s sudden death, which dominated her life from the moment she was born. I thought this “appointment” was a phone call to her gynecologist—and maybe even a conversation about whether or not the inconvenient labor would go ahead—but it turned out to be a simple desire to make room for grief.
I carry a little paper diary with me everywhere and have done so since I was 12.
JANET STREET-PORTER: Is grieving planning — reserving a time to cry in private — tacky and tacky, or mindful and self-conscious? (Pictured Shiv Roy consecutively)
Shiv closes the door and collapses, sobbing, only to be interrupted by her socially inept husband Tom, who is incredulous.
It contains appointments for hairdressers, doctors, the theatre, evening meals, meetings and travel details. In all the decades of keeping track of my life down to the last detail, I never thought of booking a slot to sob.
I have not cried at the funerals of my father or mother, my sister or my best friends. Since the beginning of this year, people I really admired have passed away, but I haven’t stopped to mourn their passing. I rarely cry in public, and internalizing the pain and sadness I’ve experienced all my life has become a way of coping, staying calm, and moving on. Very British. Very stiff upper lip.
JANET STREET-PORTER: People who work under high pressure – as I have for most of my career – rarely make time for things they haven’t planned in minute detail
Shiv showed me that there could be another (possibly better) way. That grief has to be made room and processed, that you don’t have to lug it around like a heavy suitcase that eventually causes physical damage. I schedule my physical therapist and my favorite TV movies, so why not schedule time for grief?
In the wake of Logan Roy’s totally expected death, his kids haven’t stopped dealing. Although he was an old man who had had serious health problems, viewers and his fictional family both thought Roy was immortal in some way. His off-camera death was the television drama moment of the year, maybe the decade. We sat at home with our mouths open, incredulous.
No wonder, then, that the subsequent behavior of everyone associated with Logan Roy was erratic and unstoppable. Board members make threats. Spontaneous layoffs. Threats and insinuations. Both sons – Roman and Kendall – have made impulsive decisions, acted impulsively as if moving and filling their time with actions will replace their father’s huge loss. Shiv also doesn’t know which way to go – sidelined by her brothers, with no her father to counsel or just someone to scold. Her husband is a useless dummy who she can’t decide whether to play with or dump.
Shiv even considers flirting with the tech billionaire who wants to buy the family business, probably because he’s dangerous and exciting, and the relationship would really unbalance her siblings. If she didn’t try and fail to grieve properly, she wouldn’t even consider such a relationship. Or even casually banging the husband she despises.
JANET STREET-PORTER: In the fallout from Logan Roy’s totally expected death, his kids haven’t stopped driving and dealing
Once again she tries to secure a role for herself in a cesspool of competing male egos within and outside her family.
By making an appointment to grieve, Shiv has shown that she is the only family member remotely capable of coping with the massive change in their circumstances. The gaping hole at the center of their daily existence. The person who manipulated her, directed her career, used and abused her in the business world to further his own ends is gone. How can she have the strength to move her own life forward?
People who work under high pressure – as I have for most of my career – rarely make time for things they haven’t planned down to the smallest detail. We want to move forward and up in our careers, and for women to do that requires tremendous discipline and commitment. When something tumultuous happens, such as the death of a close friend or family member, we need to take time out – but we rarely do. Because we don’t deal with grief, we pile up problems for our mental health in the future.
On the day my sister died of lung and brain cancer, I went ahead and performed my one-woman show in a theater far from home, in a quiet country hotel. I knew her death was imminent, but after that I just kept working, making sure the diaries she wrote about her horrific experiences in a mixed NHS department were eventually published in the Daily Mail, holding ministers to account on radio and television.
JANET STREET-PORTER: Shiv (unexpectedly) showed us a better way to grieve. Book it in advance – but don’t duck out
When Jonathan, my friend and personal trainer of ten years, died suddenly in his early forties, I had to stop walking the places we’d cycled because it brought back too many memories. When my stepson Bunny died of stomach cancer at the age of eleven, my husband Frank broke down – and I had to keep things together. I couldn’t cry because his grief was so great. When Frank died – shortly after a very nice dinner with his next wife – I was distraught. But I had a TV channel where everything that could go wrong happened.
I just kept going, not wanting to give the male executives who made my life a total misery the pleasure of watching me crack. How utterly ridiculous does this seem in hindsight, this insane desire to be as macho as a bunch of mediocre, middle-aged, overpromoted men.
Bereavement leave may sound like a good idea, but few of us ever take it, and besides, it’s not always the right time. Who would have thought that the solution could turn up in a television drama – albeit one of the highest caliber.
Shiv has (unexpectedly) shown us a better way to grieve. Book it in advance – but don’t duck out.