Why Doesn't Jessica Fletcher Have PTSD?

I’ve recently started  binge-watching  Murder, She Wrote, and I mostly enjoy it. But lately, I’ve begun to worry about Jessica Fletcher. Why isn’t she a basket case? Why isn’t she in therapy? Why isn’t she suicidal?

I’m in the 11th season of the 12 year long series. At the end of practically every episode, we see a smiling Jessica, often laughing at a silly attempt at humor. (For the most part, except for Seth, the character played by William Windom, I don’t find anything particularly funny. This is no doubt a result of its being family-friendly show, which in the 80s and 90s meant, I think, that the humor had to be so understated, it was boring. But I digress.) The important thing to note is that no matter what circumstances have transpired in the show, by the end of an episode, Jessica is happy, emotionally light, and care-free.

Well, that’s good, right? Aren’t mysteries supposed to return to the status quo at the end? Isn’t everything supposed to be right with the world? Sure, but in the case of Murder, She Wrote, there really should be some sort of an emotional toll, shouldn’t there?

Think about it this way. How would you respond if someone you knew, even slightly but had seen recently, died violently? Pretty shaken up, right? How about if you discovered a dead body of an obviously murdered person? Very likely, this would upset you and your horror of the situation would probably affect you for longer than a few minutes.

New scenario: Suppose the dead murdered person was a former beloved student, or a person you had dated, or a close friend. Perhaps this would make the situation worse?

Nothing fazes Jessica. Over the course of 12 seasons and 22 episodes per season, Jessica has been, at a minimum, associated with over 264 murders. Of course in some episodes, it’s worse because there are shows that have 2 or even 3 murders! So every episode, Jessica encounters victims of violent crime, and nearly always these people are at minimum her acquaintances; usually, they are friends, if not close friends of many years.

(Yes, I know that there were a series of episodes around season 6 where Jessica just introduced the mysteries and didn’t discover the bodies, but really, is only discovering and solving 230 rather than 264+ murders supposed to explain why she is the very picture of robust mental health?)

Let’s consider a few other facts as well:

  • In the first several seasons, most of Jessica’s nieces and nephews are charged with homicide. They all get off, of course, but only because Jessica saves them. Her nephew Grady (the one that Jessica raised) becomes accidentally mixed up in a minimum of 5 murders. Geez! If Grady were your nephew, how often would you want to visit him? Ever?
  • Many multiples of times, the person who has done the killing is a close friend of Jessica’s. In one case, it was the man she almost dated instead of the love of her life, Frank. In another, it was a woman who considered Jessica her best friend. In yet another, it was a former student she considered a close friend. WTH? Think about how your life would be different if you discovered over time that numerous people you loved and trusted were not only capable of, but had actually committed murder. Perhaps you would be thinking about issues of trust and communication and how we really can’t know anyone, thereby turning Murder, She Wrote from a traditional/cozy show into the darkest noir.
  • In the course of solving crimes, Jessica has been subjected to threats and insults.  Frequently, she is told that she will be injured or killed if she doesn’t stop meddling. While looking momentarily rattled or chagrinned, she never listens and stops. The most common insult she receives is to have her books attacked. She is often called a liar and/or a person unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
  • Jessica has regularly been manhandled and assaulted. Having this happen once is enough to slow many people down. Jessica has these events occur routinely throughout the year with no change in her demeanor or actions. She laughs in the face of death and doesn’t care how often she gets slapped. Actually, Jessica has never been slapped, but she has been pushed down a flight of stairs and held at gunpoint too often to count.

Jessica, throughout the run of the series, never waivers in her pursuit of the truth, nor does she ever pause when it comes to helping a friend or righting a wrong. These are admirable traits indeed, but how does she do it?

Maybe those summers off rejuvenated her?



I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 2

So last week, on my birthday, I wrote a post about Make-A-Wish and wanting to be a volunteer wish granter, and I said I would call them on Wednesday and ask a bunch of questions, and hopefully, push through some of my emotional and psychological reluctance. In a bit of a swivet, and allowing stress to push me to do something I didn’t want to do (I hate the telephone), I made the call.

The volunteer coordinator wasn’t there.

Because I am me, and impatient and easily frustrated, and because I had worked myself into making this contact, I was not happy. I was also disappointed because I wanted to report back in this blog post. Oh well.

I received a call the next day while I was at work. Of course. This week, I finally had time today to call them again, and the coordinator was out, again. By this point, I couldn’t wait any longer. I practically pleaded with the person who answered to be put in contact with someone else who could talk to me and answer my three questions. I seriously was willing to call someone long distance. This was getting ridiculous.

Two friends of mine who know me really well (Mark and Donna) have told me that when I’m frustrated, it is an indication that I’m being prevented from doing something I really want to do, and I should (sort of) see this as a positive thing. I like that. It is an interesting insight into my character. I also know that I think I have something I’m going to call emotional ADHD. I can have a limited attention span, and delay can cause me to deflect. Put me off too long and I’ll move onto something else. There are a lot of kids who need help, and Make-A-Wish is not the only organization.

But I love Make-A-Wish. The training I went through made me into a fan.

An hour after I pleaded and was transferred to yet another answering machine, I got a call from a brand new person. I think whomever I spoke to realized that I really needed someone to talk to me. And the person who took on this Herculean task was terrific.

I explained that I was a new volunteer having trained in March and that I wanted to grant a wish. I was concerned though about three things:

  • Most of the wishes in Ohio (my Make-A-Wish group is actually made up of three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. That’s a lot of area.) were far away from me. The closest Make-A-Wish kids were over two hours away. This was fine with me; I love driving, and certainly, it would be worth it to drive that far, but, was that fair to the kid? As volunteers, we are expected to make the journey to the child and family at least twice. Would it be a problem if I couldn’t go more often?
  • There was a child who was 45 minutes a way from me, but his family speaks a foreign language. I have some German and some French though not enough to discuss wishes at any deep level, and the family didn’t speak these languages anyway. Did the child speak English? Should I only go to families and children who spoke English?
  • The way we new volunteers find out about children in need is through an email newsletter. The children are listed with their geographic location, the disease that they have, some identifying characteristics about things they enjoy, and the number of days that they have been waiting for someone to pick them. It is very difficult to pick a child based on a geographical location when a child who lives far away has been waiting for 5 months. That seems so awful to me. I wanted to know how best to pick a child and wanted Make-A-Wish to help me with this.

April, the kind woman from Make-A-Wish who was willing to answer my questions, was great. It turns out that we really do only make two trips, though we can make more if we wish. Most of the communication with families is done through email and Skype and the telephone. Also, when we visit a family, there are always two volunteers. As long as one of those volunteers is fluent in a language, it is fine for the second volunteer to know only English. (OK, OK, I really do need to crack down and really learn French. I’m chagrined at my lack of a second language.)

Finally, before I even finished sharing the child I had been considering helping who was 45 minutes away, April knew who I was speaking of. It turns out that this child has been waiting for three months, and they are eager for him to have volunteer. She was as excited by my phone call as I was to have someone talk to me. I will not only help a child, I’ll be helping someone who has been on the list for too long. Yay!

Am I now relieved and excited? No, but I think I will be. Here’s how I am going to help myself feel less nervous about this. Let me share with you what I’m most enthusiastic about (besides of course helping the dying child have a happier life, helping the family, yada yada yada 😉

My job as a volunteer with Make-A-Wish is to

Get to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Doesn’t that give you goose bumps? It does me. What could be more wonderful?

And Make-A-Wish has a strategy to do just this. I see this as being a two part strategy, and if you read my blog in part for the writing prompts, you can use this as either a prompt or as a goad to creating some wonderful goals. For those inclined, grab a pen.

Strategy #1

Make-A-Wish says that there are Five Types of Wishes

(Can you guess? Try.)

See if you can come up with 10 possibilities, 10 desires per type of wish.

  • I wish to go…
  • I wish to be…
  • I wish to meet…
  • I wish to have…
  • I wish to give…

If you want to feel better about the world, let me share something I learned in training. There was a time in the not too recent past, when Make-A-Wish volunteers only had the first four of these in my list when working with a child. In recent years, “I wish to give” has become one of the more popular wishes.  In the past month, one Make-A-Wish girl wanted a neighborhood park to be cleaned. Over 1000 people turned up to clean it. I just read about another child’s desire to purchase beautiful, colorful bandages to give to children in the hospital. These children are amazing.

As a Make-A-Wish volunteer, I get to ask children and teens about their wishes. We are strictly prohibited from making suggestions or in any way pushing them in a direction, and I think that is right, but we are encouraged to do something quite wonderful instead.

Strategy #2

Getting to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Ahhh. I love that statement. We do this by asking a slew of questions, and I really love these questions. You should consider using these questions for your own desires. Here are some of the great questions:

  • Why do you want this WISH?
  • What would this WISH mean to you?
  • What do you know about this WISH?
    • I love this one so much. Let’s say a kid says he wants to go to Hawaii. Our job is to ask what the kid knows about Hawaii. It might turn out that what the child really wants is to surf, or to play with dolphins, or to experience climbing a volcano, or, maybe it really is to visit Hawaii. Make-A-Wish wants to know what is undergirding the wish so that we can give the child what he or she really wants and needs. That is truly awesome.
    • Why does this WISH/thinking about this WISH make you smile?
    • How does this WISH inspire you?
    • What does this WISH mean to you?

OK. I have to say now, after writing about these two strategies, I’m actually getting quite motivated to go and work on the first wish. I did sign up today with the child who lives 45 minutes away, and my name has been officially entered into the system. I could know as soon as tomorrow when our first contact with the family will be. I’m being paired with a seasoned volunteer, so that helps me greatly.

I have a whole packet from Make-A-Wish as to what steps to take (for example, we will be bringing presents to the child and any siblings in the home, and we’ll do that every time we go to the home. I love this.) and I’ll be reading and rereading the information beforehand. I will also be driving up with my fellow volunteer and will grill her with questions.

Besides wanting to grant wishes as a profession, I learned that Make-A-Wish kids and their families make some astonishing gains:

  1. 98% of parents feel the wish experience gives them the opportunity to be a “normal” family again
  2. 81% of parents observe an increased willingness by their wish kids to comply with treatment protocols
  3. 96% of healthcare referral sources observe increases in wish kids’ emotional health
  4. and 89% of nurses, doctors, social workers, and child life specialists say they believe the wish experience can influence wish kids’ physical health

For me, though, the most powerful thing I learned in the training was that “When a child knows you chose them, it has a profound social and emotional impact.” This has such a deep resonance for me. It didn’t occur to me before I heard this that this is what a Make-A-Wish child feels. The child who is granted a wish feels special. The child feels chosen.

What could be better than helping an ailing child and the family and making them feel as if they matter at a time when things seem so bleak.

It’s hard to imagine anything more worth doing.


*This information came from Make-A-Wish Foundation of America Wish Impact Study 2010, 2014