Published on January 19th, 2014 | by Becky Castle Miller
(Fangirl Therapy) John Watson’s Mustache and Marking the Time After Loss
(Don’t worry, contains NO spoilers for Sherlock Series 3!)
When the first teaser trailer for Series 3 of BBC’s Sherlock released, the fandom about-faced its focus. Whipping away from theories about how Holmes survived “The Reichenbach Fall,” Sherlockians laser-focused on one thing: John Watson’s mustache.
I couldn’t figure out the reasoning behind the unsightly additions till our Associate Editor Amy, an expert on Story, pointed it out to me: “Hair is one of the only ways to mark the passage of time on TV.”
Thankfully not limited by what a camera can capture, in real life we have options beyond horrible hair to mark the time after a loss. Acknowledging grief in meaningful ways is an important aspect of self care.
Funerals have been normalized. We expect to attend memorial services when someone dies. Sherlock Series Two ended with John and Mrs. Hudson at Sherlock’s grave. Talking to the dead at a grave site is a common TV trope and not uncommon in real life.
We don’t have such culturally entrenched events for marking other types of losses. What do you do without an engraved stone to visit?
I’ve heard of parents holding naming ceremonies for miscarried babies. I know friends who have burned boxes of mementos from broken relationships. Maybe you like the idea of releasing a balloon or throwing a bottle into a stream.
An official outlet for grief can help. Consider a symbolic way you could reminisce and say goodbye, either by yourself or with supportive friends.
I fell apart on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Every Tuesday for weeks afterward I remembered my breakdown. As time passed, I would remember on the 21st of every month. Now I think, “It’s been four and a half years.”
A friend whose engagement ended marked every hour on the would-have-been wedding day, thinking about what she would have been doing if the ceremony had happened. Many women who have lost babies recall the date of the loss and the expected due date.
You may not be fully aware that you’re noting anniversaries. Amy pointed out, “Some people feel anniversaries before they remember them consciously.” I’ve read about people feeling suddenly sad or out of sorts and not understanding why until they checked a calendar and realized it was an anniversary of a personal tragedy.
However frequently you remember the anniversary of a loss or trauma—and the gaps between your remembrances may increase as time goes on—anniversaries are an important marker for time passing.
Don’t enforce deadlines on your healing. We remember happy anniversaries like birthdays and weddings, and it’s normal to remember difficult anniversaries as well.
Before he grew the mustache, John visited his therapist to talk over his trauma. She asked him to begin by saying out loud, “My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead.”
Having professional guidance as you work through and beyond grief can be healing. Processing with a professional counselor often starts out once a week. As your therapist sees you getting healthier, visits may space out to every other week, then once a month. If you’re really recovering well, you may go a month or more before checking back in.
Sometimes people hesitate to begin therapy because they don’t know how long it will continue. Give yourself as much time as you need to heal, but don’t fear a never-ending counseling relationship. Your therapist wants to see you healthy and will likely be delighted to work herself out of a job.
I once mentioned a subject from a friend’s past and then apologized, “I’m sorry for bringing up a painful memory.”
He smiled and said, “It’s not painful. It’s just a memory.”
Still working on healing many of my own painful memories, I didn’t believe him. But sure enough, several years (and two therapists later), I could finally say for myself, “They’re not painful. They’re just memories.”
The BBC released a mini-episode of Sherlock, “Many Happy Returns,” on Christmas Day in the lead up to Series 3. In it, Lestrade gives John a box of Sherlock’s things that had been left at Scotland Yard. You can see the way that different people process grief on different timelines—the mementos make Lestrade smile, but they make John sad.
Gently test your memories from time to time. Are they still open wounds, bringing you fresh pain when you bump them? Have they scabbed over, itchy and irritating, but not as raw? Have they formed scars, still marked, but not painful when touched?
Do let go of severe trauma memories that cause you repeated pain. Your brain files those away with good reasons.
You don’t have to block all the memories—there may be some you want to keep. Check in on the healing process from time to time and celebrate as you heal and the memories become less painful.
Sometimes we try to reinvent ourselves after loss. Building a new life can help us avoid the gap we might feel in the old life, with its missing piece.
Think carefully before making huge life changes like a new job, a new relationship, or a new home; maybe give yourself a waiting period rather than knee-jerking a massive change.
Smaller changes can be a healthy experiment, one in which you control the variables. Making safe decisions can help you slowly reaffirm your self-determination, which might have been undermined by trauma.
Change your routine, change your diet, try a new exercise or a new hobby. Cut or color your hair.
Maybe even grow a mustache.
Images by my sister-in-law Hannah Castle at FindingStorybookland.com. The little boys cosplaying John and Sherlock are my son and my nephew. For more Kid!lock pictures of the boys, see Hannah’s post Sherlock Lives and the Finding Storybookland Facebook page.