Can you make it through an episode of This Is Us without tearing up? Then you're either immune to its brand of gentle sentimentality or you're a much stronger person than me. The time-jumping NBC drama uses flashbacks and references to the past in present-day scenes to reveal little by little how the Pearsons became who they are. And who they are is a family who lost their loving father while the kids were still growing up. Jack dies young on This Is Us, but the series hasn't shared how that happens or exactly when. But I suspect that evidence has been planted throughout the first season. Does Jack die of heart failure on This Is Us? The hints are there.
At one point during their marriage, Rebecca can't overcome her frustration about Jack's drinking. He's overwhelmed and using alcohol to cope. And after This Is Us introduced Jack's abusive, alcoholic father, the psychology behind Jack choosing booze as a coping mechanism became pretty clear. But Jack is not his father. His curbs the drinking to be there for Rebecca — so she doesn't feel like she's going through this alone. But according to the American Heart Association, excessive drinking can be the cause of stroke, high blood pressure, or heart failure. Jack changed his habits, but the damage may be done.
Also, Randall's relationship with William might reveal something about how Randall lost his adoptive dad. He's so eager to spend as much time as possible with William, because they know he doesn't have much left. There's an element of desire to make up for those many lost years. But Randall could also be drawing from a past experience — one where something happened suddenly, and he didn't have the chance to say goodbye. His behavior with William tells me that Jack's death was unexpected.
Finally, there's the Toby factor. In the last episode before its holiday break, This Is Us left viewers with a big Toby cliffhanger. He keeled over in Randall and Beth's family room, and it did not look good. Toby survives his arrhythmia; he's awake and cracking jokes in "The Right Thing To Do." But when the doctors recommend that he opt for surgery, Toby wants to decline. It's Kate who talks him through his fear and encourages to have the procedure. It's scary, but heart health is scary stuff. He needs more than a quick-fix stent if he wants to live a long life. Kate doesn't hesitate for a moment in supporting the cardiologist's call. She could just be more rational than Toby, but again, her urgency speaks to personal experience. Does she wish that her dad had taken better care of his own heart?
For me, the most telling clue is the symbolism of it all. Jack has a huge, generous, and warm heart. In conjunction with Rebecca's, it built this beautiful, messy clan of human beings. It would fit right in with that This Is Us sentimentality I mentioned above if that heart simply gave out.
However Jack goes, there won't be a dry eye among This Is Us fans.