given – Grief, Moving On, and Queer Love

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This October it will be three years since my Dad suddenly passed away during my junior year of college. When he died, all of my memories of him were haunted by a clock over his head counting down the years, months, days, and even minutes he had left. For me, grief was something that felt like it changed both everything and nothing. I didn’t know how to talk about it with anyone, or even, for that matter, what I would talk about. I just felt empty. And lonely. Really lonely. Watching Mafuyu, one of the main characters in given, navigate his own grief around the recent suicide of his boyfriend, Yuki, I felt understood – two queers in a pod navigating the sad, messiness of grief (lol). While there’s honestly a lot to admire about the show in general, I deeply appreciated how it teased out a lot of that messiness and the difficulty of communicating about grief. I think this show does a really beautiful job of touching on the process of grief for this queer kid and what it means to hold onto someone after they’re gone.

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Though perhaps an incidental detail on the surface, one important aspect of the show is that Mafuyu is a queer kid navigating a queer loss. Though, thankfully, homophobia is never an overt villainous force that Mafuyu and Ritsuka, the show’s other main protagonist, have to navigate, it does rear its head in subtler ways that mean working through Yuki’s loss also involves navigating a loss that people might either just not understand or, in worse case scenarios, actively vilify. Case in point, a girl in Ritsuka’s class decides to “warn” him about the potential “danger” of getting involved with Mafuyu as someone rumored to be a part of the reason that his supposed boyfriend killed himself. As a result, not only outing Mafuyu and pedaling gossip about his involvement in Yuki’s death which is shitty enough on its own, but also casting him as a villain in his own story. Here, the complexities of being queer, closeted by omission, and dealing with grief come together. Talking about what happened then takes on a kind of perilousness. Before you can even get to talking about your pain, anger, sadness, etc. you first have to deal with the inevitable hurdles of how people will react to the relationship itself. If you have to preface your feelings with a defense/explanation of you/your partner as queer where is there room left to share those harder emotions and have them actually heard?

Even Mafuyu’s other childhood friends who might be able to kind of understand the magnitude of his loss were on the periphery of his relationship. How could they understand something they weren’t really involved with? A mutual childhood friend of Mafuyu and Yuki, Hiiragi, who Mafuyu had been avoiding since Yuki’s death, accidentally runs into Mafuyu at one point and afterwards continues trying to make contact with him and talk. In a scene near the end of the show, he shows up at Mafuyu’s apartment and they have a brief conversation. In thinking about Mafuyu and Yuki’s relationship and his part, or lack thereof, in it, Hiiragi laments that he “knew everything, and yet, [he]….” before thinking back on Yuki and Mafuyu as he knew them. From his memories, you get the sense that even though he was close to them as their friend, there was a lot he didn’t understand and didn’t try to, keeping them at the distance where he kind of passively watched their relationship.

After the conversation, Hiiragi thinks that he “wants to be forgiven. It doesn’t matter by who…He just wants to be forgiven. But more than anyone else, he wants Mafuyu to forgive him.” While on one hand, this internal conversation gets at his own lingering regrets and could-/should-haves following the suicide, you also see how he – from my perspective – also regrets the loneliness he contributed to by keeping himself at a distance. There will always be an aspect of that loss that he won’t know, won’t understand, and never will. And it’s an aspect of loss that falls on Mafuyu to carry as the only one left in a bubble that only housed two. In thinking about Mafuyu as a queer person dealing with this incredibly difficult experience, we get a greater idea of how particularly isolating it has been.

In that same conversation, we also get a rare glimpse of how Mafuyu does feel. Referencing an earlier outburst, he says, “I said you had no idea how I felt…But the truth is…I’m the one who has no idea how I feel. I didn’t want to face how I really felt, so I’ve been avoiding it.” And I really felt that shit. Here, we see how much of his working through grief is still happening internally, and so these…outside forces compelling him to open up are also encouraging him to look back and name the good, the bad, and the ugly of what he feels in the aftermath of losing this person. What kind of goes unsaid here, too, is the lingering question of what happens after you bring these feelings into the light and give them a tangible form.

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During the climactic love song performance, Mafuyu finally fully expresses himself and sings about/reflects on those messy, difficult to talk about feelings, using the song as means of trying to bridge the isolation of no one really understanding his pain. One of the main themes of the song is being unable to escape the memory and potential of his relationship, although, importantly, it evolves from being something that haunts him to something he has accepted as a part of himself. That incredibly powerful “AHHH” in the middle is quite literally the scream that he’s thought about wanting to let out and encapsulates all of the pain, confusion, and sorrow at being left behind with the memories of this person, but also not knowing how to or what moving forward looks like. Even as he approaches the end of the song where he starts looking to the future, everything doesn’t suddenly fall into place or even feel good, as he notes that he still hasn’t forgiven Yuki or himself, rather that he wants to.

Resonant with the final part of the song, the post-credits scene of the performance episode expands on the bittersweet afterlife of memory. Mafuyu recalls Yuki unknowingly taking him on his first-ever trip to the beach. As Yuki tries to extend the trip, he predicts that Mafuyu will eventually forget this day, and present-day Mafuyu ruminates on the way the day has already started to fade despite being something he will always remember. Here he touches on the frustrating instability of memory. Memory as- is gets taken for granted in the moment. Talking about the small ways that the memory’s details will start to fade, he notes, “Apparently, that’s called loneliness” and how he doesn’t understand what it means until he’s singing about Yuki, loss, and holding on. Looking back on the performance, you see how even in that moment, he’s figuring out how to carry the loneliness of memory (and its inevitable blurring) as he sings, “Even if your everything loses its shape one day / You’ll always be here within me / As I try to move forward again, even though I couldn’t say goodbye / You’ll always be here with me.”

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As for moving forward, one of the things I love most about this show’s tracing of grief is how it builds in the love story as a part of Mafuyu moving on. In a small aside directed to Yuki an episode or two after the performance, Mafuyu tells him that he is in love again and wishes he could talk to him about it. I really, really appreciated that small moment because I think that when we have fictional love stories, we immediately start imagining the much-coveted “happily ever after” and that’s that. No breaking up. No second, third, fourth loves because that would break the magic of the fantasy that romances kind of provide. Here, we see Mafuyu embracing the potential of being with someone new who will be able to grow with him and see and appreciate the person he will be in the future. At the same time, he isn’t leaving Yuki behind.  I find it a really heartening place to leave the series because while Mafuyu will always carry Yuki and his loss with him, he’s figured out how to grow around them. Leaving him at a point where he is starting something with Ritsuka creates the sense that anything is possible. He doesn’t necessarily have it all figured out, but he’s found a way to be and to find happiness and continue to honestly share himself with those around him.

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