What frightens me about shows and movies like Grey’s is that when we congratulate ourselves on feeling intensely human after watching them, we are practicing feeling empathy only for people who are very beautiful, and very remote. We feel as though we’re bleeding for them, but we don’t have to risk actually knowing them, or owing them anything.
At the same time, the show’s strength is showing that all loss is tragic—the screaming anguish of a mother losing her baby, the abject horror of a teenager sliding out of consciousness, the deep unfairness of an older person dying alone and in pain. Grey’s Anatomy is helping so many of us cope, I think, because it never denies the reality of pain. Most of the time, most people pretend that death is far away. Grey’s Anatomy has dedicated 17 years to reminding us that loss is present and fearsome, and unfathomable. It never asks us to “look on the bright side” or “find the silver lining” or tells us that our loved ones who have passed “wouldn’t want us to cry.” It’s dark and twisty, and so are we.
Life is short, but Grey’s Anatomy is very, very long. And if I lie here, if I just lie here, I might just watch it all—and that’s okay with me.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.