How Kathony helped me sort through the mire of grief and duty
This post is dedicated to all eldest siblings who struggle with — and soldier on despite — the weight of their responsibilities.
Netflix’s second season of Bridgerton— starring Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley as Anthony Bridgerton and Kathani Sharma, or collectively as Kathony— has left me much deeper in my feelings than I had anticipated.
Two eldest children who are so dedicated to their mothers and siblings that they are willing to forego all personal satisfaction if it meant everyone else received all the love, happiness and safety they were due? Sign me up.
More than the deliciously intense slow burn moments, though (and there were a mighty few that left me breathless and grasping at sanity), it was the shared responsibility of being the backbone of the family that struck a chord with me.
Kathony step up and take ̶c̶o̶n̶t̶r̶o̶l̶ care of their families after losing their fathers; Kate to ensure her sister makes a wealthy and loving match on the marriage mart, and Anthony to wed for duty instead of love.
Both to distract themselves from the crushing grief that follows the death of a parent and to have some semblance of control over a world that has been tilted on its axis.
That is a feeling I know all too well: the start of this account was because it is a welcomed respite from thinking too much about never getting to hear my mother’s voice again.
When I write about the fun and funny and ridiculous things I discover on the Internet, I allow myself space to imagine that I am not responsible for bills I had never been responsible for.
When I read Romance, I imagine that I am simply diving into the novels for the thrill of it and not to lose myself in a fantasy world where everyone gets a Happily Ever After and deaths happen off-scene.
I write because it gives me a chance to gather my thoughts and channel my grief into something legible, tangible and orderly.
In Kathony, I saw a reflection of how eldest siblings are often looked to as the third parent, and after the death of one, a poor replacement. I say poor because, in truth, nobody can replace a good mother or father.
In a departure from the book series, both Kate and Anthony’s mothers apologise to their eldest children for foisting the burden of keeping the family together onto them at such a young age.
Violet Bridgerton admits regret over Anthony having to shoulder so much responsibility while she was mourning the death of her husband:
Kate’s mother, Mary Sharma, adds in her apology for her daughter’s rigid sense of duty, “You were grieving, too.”
The two scenes, at the back-end of the series, highlighted the best part of this season for me: the acknowledgement that Kathony had to grow into both their mothers’ adult child and parent to their younger siblings, and finally getting the recognition of how difficult that journey was from the only people who could offer an apology.
It is a unique position that eldest children have to go through — we are at once the first to experience adulthood and the last to ask for parental accountability, so it was cathartic to see the mothers admit to falling short on protecting them from the worst parts of losing a loved one.
Of course, even parents, no matter how well-adjusted, cannot shield anyone from feeling the full force of the finality of death. But they can significantly soften the blow by talking their children through the complicated feelings that come with being left behind, and actively taking part and sharing in their grief process.
I didn’t think that writing about Bridgerton would end up with me reflecting on the role of being the eldest in the family and the burden of dealing with grief that comes with the title.
A show which served as an escape in its first season instead became a medium that showed me how being thrust into a position of responsibility in the midst of grief, especially in an eldest child, can manifest in a debilitating need for control. In season two, I found a mirror of my own reality.
I saw in the characters the heaviness and frustration I felt sorting through my mother’s affairs and trying to navigate the world in which she inhabited so well, at a loss as to how to do things that I had no idea how to accomplish because I wasn’t even aware that it had to be done.
But as Kathony finally decided to pursue a life that suited them both, I also hope to one day find a way to let go of this perhaps misplaced sense of duty and responsibility and instead choose a path that propels me into the next stage of my life.
Until that day comes though, I will keep writing about looking for it.