What ‘This is Us’ Teaches Us About Tragedy

photo credit:Ron Batzdorff/NBC | 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

After nearly two seasons, the writers of ‘This is Us’ revealed more details of how Jack, the father in the series, died.

We watched him clean the kitchen while his wife slept, putting food away, washing dishes, wiping counters, and then turning off the crock pot. At least he thought he turned it off, but shortly after he left the kitchen, the crock pot burst into flames.

I turned to Russ saying, “You know what I really hate about this? He has no idea what is about to happen. He has no idea that in just moments his home will be burning and his family will survive but he won’t.”

I paused, my throat tight with tears, “It’s just like us. We got up that morning thinking we were going to drive Kalkidan to Montana. We had no idea our lives were about to change forever.”

This is the cruel reality of tragedy. It catches us when we least expect it.

Tragedy is a cruel beast waiting around the corner to devour us as we go blithely skipping by.

One moment we were happily going about our lives. The next moment our car was destroyed, tipped on its side. I was trapped inside and our daughter was gone forever.

I still feel confused. How did it happen?

Of course, I know we were rounding a dangerous, poorly designed curve on the highway. I know we hit ice sending us sliding into the oncoming lane. I know there was a car coming and we were in their path. And I know we collided, sending our car spinning and rolling.

Intellectually, it’s clear – although I only remember 1-2 seconds of the 15 minutes leading up to the accident. But I still can’t make sense of it.

Could we have protected ourselves from tragedy?

If we hadn’t stopped to drop the last Christmas cards in the mailbox would we have avoided the oncoming car? Could we have looked at the 1/2 inch of snow on the ground and decided not to go – but we live in north Idaho; what’s a 1/2 inch of snow? And if we hadn’t rearranged Kalkidan’s seat because she wanted to sit on my side of the car, would she have survived?

If I didn’t love God so much, I would be furious. But I do love him and that forces me to wrestle through the hardest questions. Why did this happen? Did he think we were strong enough to survive losing our daughter? Did he think our marriage was strong enough to take such a severe blow? Did he think our hearts and minds would stay intact?

On the hard days when flashbacks come and I feel weak, I doubt if we are strong enough or if our minds and hearts will ever be healed and whole.

If we can’t protect ourselves from tragedy, what do we do?

Ten Things I’m Learning About Tragedy

1.| Life can change in a moment.

2.| Love your people. Don’t leave apologies unsaid. Hug and kiss your family and friends. Say hello when they arrive and goodbye when they leave. Call your parents. Spend the money (and time) to fly to a friend’s wedding, graduation, birthday party, or other special event.

3.|  Pay attention. Look at the faces of the ones we love, not at our phones and computers. When I finish writing this, I’m turning my computer off for the day.

4.| Be intentional with your resources: time, money, energy.

5.| Make memories you want to keep, not forget.

6.| Be the person you want your spouse, children, family, and friends to remember.

7.| Be generous. When it comes to time, it’s gone in a flash. When it comes to money, hold it with open hands and freely give. And when it comes to love, lavish it on people.

8.| Guard your heart against bitterness. Anger and bitterness will pull you into a deep pit. Pray. Ask friends to help you. Get good pastoral and/or professional help. Surround yourself with the voices of people who encourage you to love – friends, writers, musicians.

9.| Let tragedy instruct you. Don’t go back to living the way you did before, be changed in all the best ways.

10.| Remember gratitude. Be radically thankful for the good in your life – everything. Be thankful for the smell of coffee and the sound of rain on the windows. Be thankful for the little one who smiled big at you as you walked by with your grocery cart. Be thankful for friends who reach out even when you want to be alone. Be thankful for sharp pencils and pens with good black ink. Be thankful for the breath in your lungs.

Whatever you believe about God and whether he causes or allows tragedy, or if you’re not sure he even cares, this is what I know; he enters into sorrow with us. When my dreams fill with memories and I wake up confused, God is my comfort.

One day it will all be clear, but today, we move forward allowing tragedy to shape us, making us more loving, kind, generous, and thankful.

And to the writers of ‘This is Us,’ thank you for a show that reminds of the importance of family, love, and the essential value of doing hard work to heal.

You might also like:

Do You Like What ‘This is Us’ Has to Say About Adoption?

Ringing in His Ears on ‘This is Us’

‘This is Us’ and Birth Family

With courage and hope for the journey, my friends,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Gwen Collins
    January 29, 2018

    This is so beautifully written and so much truth. Having lost my beautiful daughter 9 years ago your words touched my heart in a very real and special way. You are gifted and I thank you.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 29, 2018

      Gwen, I’m so sorry you lost your daughter. I’m glad this post resonated with you and thank you for taking the time to tell me.

  2. Morénike
    January 30, 2018

    This moved me to tears. I thank God for your faith, your family, your openness.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 30, 2018

      I thank God for you too.

  3. Sherrie Eldridge
    January 30, 2018

    What a powerful story and so articulate.
    Words seem impossible after hearing this part of your story.
    I love you!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 30, 2018

      Love you, Sherrie! Thank you.

  4. Charlene
    January 31, 2018

    The previous readers are right ,you are such a blessing to me and my everyday life. Living can be so hard sometimes but your words make living this life a little easier.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 31, 2018

      That means so much to me, Charlene, we are meant to bear one another’s burdens and I’m glad I can do that in some small way here on One Thankful Mom.

  5. Janna Williams
    January 31, 2018

    Hi Lisa, I’ve been reading your blog for years, but I’m wondering if you know of any good books that help prepare a bio kid for bringing home another child through adoption?

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 31, 2018

      How old is your bio child?

      1. Janna Williams
        February 1, 2018

        I am asking for someone else but looking also for my adoption group, so any age.

  6. Susan
    February 4, 2018

    Unexpectantly sitting in a children’s hospital this weekend- such a timely message for me.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 5, 2018

      Blessings to you, Susan.


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