I’m a latecomer to PBS’ Call the Midwife, a show that follows the lives of nurse-midwives, some of whom are nuns, serving the poverty stricken residents of the East End of London following World War II.

When WGBH’s Drama After Dark team decided we would cover Call the Midwife for our next season, we set out to complete a somewhat daunting but ultimately enjoyable task: to binge-watch eight seasons of the beloved show in about a month. Having never watched an episode before, I expected a mostly lighthearted, woman-centered charm-fest; in short, as Miranda Hart’s character Chummy would say, “a bally good time.” However — and I say this with all the love in the world for this show — I could not have been more wrong.

Like many British Period Drama fans, I fall squarely in the category of “a bit of an anglophile.” And while I can safely say some of the mannerisms I’ve absorbed have come from watching hours upon hours of these shows and reading a steady diet of C.S. Lewis as a child, the main reason for my tea and Marmite obsession (and, with apologies to my editor, the holdover British spelling) is my mother. She lived and worked as a nurse in the UK in the mid 1970s and brought back bits of the culture, which I absorbed as if by osmosis and haven’t yet lost.

I have, however, lost her. My mother died just over a year ago after a brief illness. It was, obviously, shocking and horrible, and only made bearable by the support of family, friends, and the incredible nurses and doctors at the hospital where she died (and where she worked for decades after returning to the US).

People who have been through a major loss will know that, for a while, you can run on a sort of auto pilot: your brain refusing to acknowledge the loss, your body going through the motions of normal life. Our culture is one that doesn’t like to talk about death. We no longer grieve publicly to the extent that was not only accepted, but expected, even a few decades ago. After about a week or so, it is relatively easy to go on as if nothing has happened. After all, someone else surely has it worse than you; who are you to complain? Talking about grief would be admitting that you’re not ok in a culture where being ok is such an accepted default that we regularly ask how someone is doing while walking away from them.

So, for the better part of a year after my mother died, I went around acting like everything was fine. I kept a stiff upper lip through her memorial. I told my colleagues everything was ok, and got (unfairly) annoyed at anyone who checked in on me. I congratulated myself on remaining even-keeled.

And then — watching Call the Midwife made it impossible for me to keep pretending nothing had happened. The dialogue, drawn from real-life nurse Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, features oft-used nursing phrases that I heard dozens of times growing up. The uniforms (especially the one the characters wear when they are seconded to The Royal London Hospital) look exactly like the ones I recognize from my mom’s pictures from her time in the UK, even though she was there about 15 years later than the events of the show.

With each new episode, I felt like I had a unique window into my mother’s time abroad, which of course is not true: these characters, as much as they remind me of her, are not her. But watching the stories of these characters unfold has given me a gift, albeit a painful one: a way to think about the person I’ve lost in small increments; making it possible to parse my own feelings, like slowly wading into the ocean, giving yourself time to adjust to the freezing water. And while my mother was on my mind from the opening credits, a character introduced in the show’s second episode, particularly resonated.

Chummy, played by Miranda Hart, is in many ways so achingly, eerily similar to my mom that I had to take a long tea break after she was first introduced. Friendly to everyone (even when it makes her seem a bit ridiculous), a devoted Girl Guide, a talented seamstress — they even look a bit alike, Chummy and my mother, two tall, broad-backed women. I swear they have identical hands. It’s hard not to watch Chummy’s story and imagine what my mother’s life (what my life, for that matter) might have been like if she’d stayed in the UK instead of returning home. It’s comforting, in a way, to watch Chummy live a soft and happy life with a nice policeman; a life that follows a very different path than my mom’s but nonetheless leads similarly to fulfillment, sisterhood and community.

Like most people, I prefer not to cry in front of my colleagues, but this show has nearly had me a few times, especially the episodes following Chummy’s indomitable mother Lady Browne’s death. For a show that reportedly focuses on birth, Call the Midwife also offers careful portrayals of death, which is all well and good until you’re blindsided by a scene you lived through less than a year ago at your desk, halfway through eating your lunch. Forget about wading slowly into the sadness ocean; this felt like the equivalent of being dropped into the grief version of a carnival dunk tank. Catharsis is a hell of a thing. So is affirmation.

It is a statistical inevitability that everyone will, at some point or another, lose a loved one. Death is part of life, as horrible and challenging as that is. I happen to believe, like our narrator Jenny, that there is such a thing as a good death: one made comfortable, comprehensible (as much as that’s possible) and which allows space for both the dying person and their loved ones. Chummy’s mom had a death like that, and so did mine. Yes, it was the worst day of my life. Yes, it was a traumatic experience. Watching something so familiar to me play out on the screen hurt, but it also reminded me of what went right. Everything was quiet and calm when my mother passed, with dimmed lights and her favorite music playing. She wasn’t in pain. I had space to grieve and to say goodbye, surrounded by the kindness of the staff and the love of my immediate family. This is, unfortunately, quite rare, and something for which I will be forever grateful.

So yes, I’m happy to have watched all eight seasons of Call the Midwife, even though it hasn’t been easy. Frankly, it’s a relief to admit that a lot of things aren’t easy for me right now, but through this show I discovered a window into my mother’s life, and a space within which to heal. In these uncertain times, when the constant access to scary news can be overwhelming, I’m looking forward to the comforting certainty of Call The Midwife’s bittersweet mix of joy and pain. I just hope everyone’s prepared for some tissues on the Drama After Dark couch.