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HBO Max's 'And Just Like That...' sanitizes death. We need the hard truth.

Like Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw, I witnessed the love of my life have a heart attack and die right before my eyes. But it was nothing like TV.

A friend warned me over lunch in December, “It’s good, but it might be triggering for you.” She was talking about the HBO Max’s “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That... .” We’d both watched the show in our 20s and agreed that no matter how bad it might turn out to be, it was worth an attempted watch for any “SATC” fan.

There was no softness to my experience. No intimate moments of embrace. A mind in shock (at least, my mind in shock) did not even process the thought to kiss him.

I thanked her for the heads up. She knew I’d suffered losses in the past year, so I assumed the trigger warning meant one of the show’s characters was going to get sick or die.

A few days went by, and I’d almost completely forgotten my friend’s comment — that is, right up until the moment in the first episode when I realized that Sarah Jessica Parker’s on-screen husband, Chris Noth’s character, Mr. Big, was falling to the floor. My heart sank.

In December 2020, I witnessed the love of my life have a heart attack and die right before my eyes. It was nothing like TV. But in so many ways, I wish it had been.

I wrestled with the parallels as I watched the scene and cried. Images of my own traumatic experience flashed between the images I was seeing on the screen.

Parker’s character, Carrie, had the luck (or misfortune, depending on how you see it) of being at a piano recital when Mr. Big’s heart attack began. I had no such luck. I was in the driver’s seat, trying to rush my love to the hospital for what he’d said was an unbearable stomachache.

When I realized he was actually having a heart attack, I was frantic. I stopped the car in the middle of the street. I called 911. I tried CPR. I did all the things I could think to do to save him.

In watching the show, the final episode of which comes out Thursday night, I couldn’t help but notice that it was these same things that were creatively omitted. When Carrie walks in from the recital and sees Mr. Big slumped over, the signs of life leaving his eyes, she doesn’t try to revive him. She doesn’t call 911. She hugs him; she holds him; she kisses his face.

Queen Muse with Eric Alan Thornhill Jr.
Queen Muse with Eric Alan Thornhill Jr.Aniyah Evans

When my love died before my eyes, time felt like it didn’t exist. So I have no idea how long I yelled through the phone at the 911 operator or how many times I attempted to breathe air into his lungs. I know only that, until the ambulance arrived, I tried. And once it arrived, I did what I thought I was supposed to do (according to the rescue scenes on other TV shows): I backed away to give the paramedics room to revive him. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t survive or that it would be the last time I’d see him.

There was no softness to my experience. No intimate moments of embrace. A mind in shock (at least, my mind in shock) didn’t even process the thought to kiss him. To rub his hair. To say “I love you” one last time.

No matter the number of tranquil death scenes we see on TV, where fingers gently close the eyes of the dearly departed as one teardrop falls and symphonies echo in the background, in real life, death isn’t pretty.

Of course, not everyone likes viewing death on screen in any representation. Many viewers felt death had no place in their “SATC” fantasy world. Fans tuned in to see how Mr. Big and Carrie’s fairy tale turned out, not to see it come to an end.

But in real life, fairy tales do end. The show deserves credit for acknowledging that. I just wish it had the courage of its convictions in depicting that realness. Instead, viewers were once again given false Hollywood comfort with a sanitized version of what death looks like. In that way, Mr. Big’s death scene was a missed opportunity.

Still, if nothing else, the “SATC” reboot encouraged a captive audience to talk about grief and loss, to debate what to do in emergency situations like these and, with a little humor sprinkled in, to learn what we can do to maintain a healthy heart.

It wasn’t perfect. It certainly didn’t reflect the trauma of my own experience. But it did say, “Death happens” — at times we’d never expect it and in ways we could never prepare for it. And in that, I felt seen.

I thought about this as I prepared to watch the finale this Thursday. I still can’t decide whether I was more angry that Carrie didn’t do anything to attempt to save Mr. Big or whether I was more envious that she thought to steal one last moment of tenderness and kiss him, instead. As we find ourselves in a climate in which we’re collectively seeing more death in real life than some of us had ever imagined we’d witness, maybe a moment of tenderness in loss is just what we need.