How Shows Like 'The Bear' Humanize Survivors Of Suicide Loss

The Hulu series offers a representation that often goes unnoticed.
Illustration: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost; Photo: Chuck Hodes/FX

It takes me weeks to trudge through each episode of “The Bear” — not because I dislike the subject matter, but because it’s unbearably familiar. The acclaimed Hulu show has plenty of fans, but for those of us with firsthand experience of suicide loss, it is particularly poignant.

The story follows main character Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), a young chef who begins managing his family’s Chicago restaurant after the suicide of his brother. I can easily see myself in Carmy; his stoic workaholism is uncomfortably relatable. The retreating into the daily grind and the rehashing of toxic family dynamics all reads like a road map to survivors’ grief. It’s deeply triggering, and it’s also a necessary watch.

There are few series that accurately depict the nuances of life after suicide loss. Yet, “The Bear” translates character development and plot into a much larger message: Service to others, and to our art, transforms us.

Escaping into the chaos of his brother’s restaurant, Carmy becomes driven and obsessed with redemption. It’s a theme that many survivors can speak to. We want to undo what is done, to travel back in time and save our person, to find meaning among ghosts.

Jon Bernthal as Mikey (left) and Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in "The Bear" Season 2.
Jon Bernthal as Mikey (left) and Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in "The Bear" Season 2.
Chuck Hodes/FX

I understand this all too well. Submerging myself in my studies kept me alive in my 20s during the first few years after my own brother’s suicide in 2005. I fell in love with perfection — staying up late into the night, working to get every college paper meticulously right, downing coffee and Red Bulls to keep my energy up throughout the day. Like in “The Bear,” working nonstop toward my dreams helped me survive.

But I also grappled clumsily with my grief, rotating bouts of numbness with uncontrollable crying throughout the day. I didn’t think anyone could come back from those feelings. And society didn’t sway me from this belief.

Till this day, losing a loved one to suicide is a taboo subject. Survivors aren’t afforded their humanness. We are often portrayed in mainstream media as emotionally damaged beyond recovery, with a scarlet letter forever branded on our foreheads. We are shown, time and time again, that society has no place for us.

And despite many online conversations that have emerged in recent years, few TV series fully explore the intricacies of suicide’s aftermath. Or how survivors might navigate devastating pain with a dose of grace.

Overcoming any kind of loss is not linear, and even less so when we speak of suicide. But “The Bear” offers a representation that often goes unnoticed. Beyond some dramatic catalyst to move the story forward, it shows how losing ourselves in our art, finding a community and working hard toward a shared goal can help us carry our grief.

In the years after my brother died, I had well-intentioned friends and strangers tell me to put his death out of my mind, and that everything happens for a reason.

These are harmful and outdated messages for survivors. Without being told, we are taught that our losses are too uncomfortable for others to bear, too violent and messy and sad. There are no heartwarming conclusions to be had. This kind of unexpressed grief leads to a persistent domino effect of further stigma and shame.

“The Bear” makes us question that shame, suggesting we don’t need to shoulder our loss alone. We see Carmy as an imperfect character. He’s plagued by his guilt at not being able to save his brother, and he wrestles with feelings of resentment at being abandoned. His outbursts and avoidance strain his relationships. Despite all of his flaws, his people still show up for him. He is allowed to shift in and out of his bottomless grief and find relief among the living.

More than that, we see him as fully human.

The series also challenges our concept of who is deserving of sympathy. Carmy’s brother, Mikey (Jon Bernthal), is shown with all of his imperfections, as well as his grit, his charisma, his unwavering love for his family. He is more than the legacy of pain he creates — another necessary message “The Bear” clearly portrays.

From left to right: White as Carmy, Abby Elliott as Natalie "Sugar" Berzatto and Bernthal as Mikey in "The Bear."
From left to right: White as Carmy, Abby Elliott as Natalie "Sugar" Berzatto and Bernthal as Mikey in "The Bear."
Chuck Hodes/FX

The first year after my brother’s death, I was paralyzed by how to explain my loss to others, afraid that their pitying glances and callous words would only confirm that I was broken beyond repair — and worse, that my brother was to blame.

Watching both seasons of “The Bear” was a painful reminder of that time, but one that offered compassion along with its discomfort.

About 132 Americans die by suicide each day. For those of us left behind, we are often forced to suffer these losses in silence, depriving ourselves of the kindness and solace found in community.

Any conversation about grief is already in short supply, but suicide loss is particularly dark and depressing, something society would have us lock away without sharing. Series like “The Bear” force us all to look.

When we can stare long enough into that abyss, we can also start to see glimmers of light emerge. In showing us our humanity, we’re given something just as powerful as our grief: the hope of a tomorrow we don’t have to carry alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

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