Throughout its six-season run, NBC's ensemble family dramedy Parenthood made us laugh; it made us feel; it made us appreciate our own families more deeply. But mostly, it made us cry. Like, we're talking raging rivers of tears here.
With the series finale airing this Thursday night — that's a reason to cry right there! — we're getting our tear ducts ready by looking back on 27 Braverman family moments that got the waterworks a-flowing. Consider this a warm-up for the finale. (Oh, you know you're going to cry; don't kid yourself.)
1. Adam opens up to Zeek about Max (Season 1, "Pilot")
Parenthood didn't wait long to get us sobbing: In the very first episode, Adam breaks down when revealing his son Max's autism to his hard-nosed dad Zeek, tearfully telling him, "There's something wrong with my son… and I'm gonna need you to help me." Zeek softens, and we shed the first of many Braverman-inspired tears.
2. Haddie forgives Amber for sleeping with Steve (Season 1, "Lost and Found")
Things got ugly between cousins Haddie and Amber when Amber slept with Haddie's boyfriend Steve. After Amber runs away, Kristina and Haddie track her down in a rainstorm, and the two cousins eventually work it out and share a hug as their parents look on, with Ray LaMontagne's aching ballad "Let It Be Me" playing underneath. (The music is so good on Parenthood, isn't it?)
3. Amber snaps at her dad Seth (Season 2, "Do Not Sleep With Your Autistic Nephew's Therapist")
Amber and Drew's deadbeat dad Seth started working his way back into their lives in Season 2, but Amber wasn't having it. Here, she launches into a long rant about how he knows nothing about her and how she can never forgive him for walking out on them: "I look at you, and I just see the same loser who let me down." Ouch.
4. Crosby admits he cheated on Jasmine (Season 2, "Do Not Sleep With Your Autistic Nephew's Therapist")
We all know Crosby is the Braverman family screw-up, and he didn't exactly win us over by cheating on Jasmine with Max's speech therapist. (Hence, the episode title.) But our hearts still break for him when he confesses to Jasmine and she flies into a rage, telling him, "You don't deserve anything good in your life!" Glad those two eventually worked it out — for Jabbar's sake, at least.
5. Adam and Kristina explain to Max that he has Asperger's (Season 2, "Qualities and Difficulties")
Max's struggles with his Asperger's syndrome, and his parents Adam and Kristina's struggles with it, are a regular source of tears on Parenthood. Here, Max's mom and dad try to explain to him what his diagnosis means, and his efforts to understand are just heart-wrenching: "Do you guys have Asperger's? Does Haddie?" he asks, before sadly concluding, "Just me."
6. Zeek scolds Amber after her car accident (Season 2, "Hard Times Come Again No More")
Zeek is a man of few words, so when he says something, it means a lot. Here, in the Season 2 finale, he takes his granddaughter Amber to see the car she wrecked during an irresponsible partying binge, and tells her he's not going to let her bad decisions ruin the family he's always dreamed of: "You do not have my permission to mess with my dreams." The first of many great Zeek-Amber moments.
7. Kristina's baby Nora is born (Season 3, "Nora")
Amid all the tragedies the Bravermans have suffered through, it's nice to see them get a fleeting moment of joy. They welcome a new addition when Kristina gives birth to daughter Nora, with Crosby by her side (Adam was busy trying to convince a hip-hop star to record at the Luncheonette). And seeing the whole family ooh'ing and ahh'ing over Nora in the hospital, we can't help but smile ourselves. In between tears, of course.
8. Haddie yells at Max for running off (Season 3, "Missing")
Adam and Kristina's teen daughter Haddie often got shoved aside in favor of her special-needs brother Max, and that simmering frustration boils over here when Max runs away to go to a museum. After the cops bring him back, Adam and Kristina are forgiving, but Haddie isn't, screaming at him, "You have to think about other people! You only think about yourself!" before breaking down in tears.
9. Julia realizes Zoe is keeping the baby (Season 3, "Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You")
Of all the emotional gut punches Parenthood has delivered over the years, this might be the hardest. Throughout Season 3, Julia and Joel worked with surrogate Zoe to adopt her baby, but when they arrive at the hospital to pick up their new child, Julia looks into Zoe's eyes as she holds her newborn — and realizes she's not giving it up. Warning: This clip is called "Utter Devastation" for a reason, people.
10. Crosby and Jasmine get married (Season 3, "My Brother's Wedding")
We've watched these two overcome major obstacles (see: above), so it's sweet to see Crosby and Jasmine finally tie the knot — in Zeek and Camille's backyard, no less. Add in Adam's heartfelt big-brother toast at the reception, and it's a welcome case of Parenthood inspiring happy tears, rather than the usual sad ones.
11. Haddie leaves for college (Season 4, "Family Portrait")
One of the pleasures of Parenthood is watching the Braverman kids grow up, so when Adam and Kristina's daughter Haddie went away to college at Cornell, we felt as proud (and as nervous) as Adam and Kristina did. And when Haddie runs back from the airport security line to give her parents one more hug… well, that pretty much cinches it a place on this list.
12. Kristina announces she has cancer (Season 4, "There's Something I Need to Tell You…")
Kristina's cancer diagnosis in Season 4 pushed Parenthood's tear-inducing powers into overdrive (see: the next three entries), starting with her telling the rest of the family about her condition during a pizza party for Victor. After Haddie flies back from college unannounced to see her, Kristina can't keep it a secret anymore, and the scene turns silent as we see each Braverman strain to process the terrible news.
13. Max's student council president speech (Season 4, "I'll Be Right Here")
Kristina's cancer treatment kept her from being at Max's school as he made his pitch to be student council president. Which is a shame, because his speech starts out rough, but turns out triumphant as he refers to his Asperger's as "his greatest strength," with his sister Haddie cheering him on from the sidelines. And c'mon: Even though Max was a pain in the butt sometimes, we're all cheering for him in that moment, right?
14. Kristina teaches Max how to slow dance (Season 4, "You Can't Always Get What You Want")
With her cancer diagnosis forcing her to consider that her time with her kids may be limited, Kristina encourages Max to put himself out there at the middle school dance and ask a girl to dance with him. (He is president now, after all.) She even teaches him how to slow dance, with Adam beaming from the kitchen. One of many Parenthood moments where the emotions underlying the scene speak louder than the actual words being said.
15. Adam watches Kristina's goodbye video to her kids (Season 4, "What to My Wondering Eyes")
OK, this one ranks as a 9.99 out of 10 on the Cry Meter: While Kristina clings to life after going into septic shock, Adam is left alone to watch the video she made for their kids in case she doesn't survive. Her words to Haddie and Max are hard enough to hear, but by the time she gets to baby Nora and then tells them all, "I'm so lucky I got to be your mom"… if you're not sobbing, you're made of stone. Of stone, dammit!
16. Drew breaks down after Amy's abortion (Season 4, "Small Victories")
Season 4 wasn't all Kristina, all the time; we also had an affecting teen-pregnancy storyline with Drew and his girlfriend, Amy, who made the tough decision to have an abortion. Drew kept all of this from his mother, but here, he finally collapses sobbing into Sarah's arms. And without even knowing why he's crying, she comforts him, saying, "It's OK, it's OK…"
17. Victor's official adoption ceremony (Season 4, "Because You're My Sister")
Season 4 was a rough ride, no doubt about it. But that made the ceremony where Julia and Joel officially adopted Victor all the more rewarding. The whole family had been through a lot — and Julia and Joel had been through a lot with Victor — but this is a chance for the whole Braverman clan to get together and celebrate a positive milestone for once. And it ends with Victor calling Julia "mom"!
18. Kristina loses the mayoral race (Season 5, "The M Word")
Life isn't a success-only journey, and Parenthood knows that. After finding out her cancer was in remission, Kristina made the bold (some might say insane) decision to run for mayor of Berkeley. She faced a tough campaign against former colleague Bob Little, and ultimately fell short. But in her concession speech, Kristina says just being alive to run is victory enough. And a visit from a young girl that she helped find a new school reminds her (and us) that even a loss is a win, sometimes.
19. Julia and Joel tell the kids they're splitting up (Season 5, "You've Got Mold")
Divorce is never easy — especially when it's inexplicable, like Julia and Joel's Season 5 split. (What the hell was Joel thinking?) But even when the circumstances don't make sense, the emotions still ring true, like when Julia and Joel sit down Sydney and Victor to tell them about the divorce. Sydney frantically wailing, "No, you can't do this! We're a family!" is agonizing, but Victor's silent resignation is the real heartbreaker. (He's used to being let down.) Just devastating.
20. Kristina climbs into the backseat with Max (Season 5, "The Offer")
Even though Max found a teacher who believed in him, he was still getting bullied by his peers, who urinated in his canteen during a field trip. Here, as Adam and Kristina drive him home, Max wants to know why the other kids hate him: "Is it because I'm weird?" Kristina unbuckles her seat belt and gets into the backseat to comfort her son. And even though he says he doesn't want it ("I don't like being hugged!"), we can tell he needs his mom's shoulder to cry on.
21. Kristina pays a final visit to her friend Gwen (Season 5, "I'm Still Here")
Just when we thought Kristina's clean bill of health meant that Parenthood was cancer-free, her friend from chemotherapy, Gwen, took a bad turn and Kristina had to say goodbye. Here, she tells a bed-ridden Gwen how excited she is about Max's new school, and thanks her for giving her the strength to survive: "I don't think I could've done any of this without your help."
22. Zeek gives Drew the car (Season 5, "The Pontiac")
Throughout Season 5, Zeek enlisted the grandkids to help him fix up a beat-up old Pontiac. And though he came off like a grumpy drill sergeant, he had good intentions: Here, he surprises his college-age grandson Drew by handing him the keys to the fully restored car, telling him, "From the very beginning, I was doing this for you." Aw, Zeek, you old softie.
23. Amber tells Zeek she's pregnant (Season 6, "Happy Birthday, Zeek")
The circle of life hit the Bravermans hard in the final season, as Amber's unexpected pregnancy dovetailed with Zeek's mounting health problems. That made this tender granddad-granddaughter moment all the more touching, as Amber tells Zeek she's pregnant and cries, "Are you disappointed in me?" But the old codger brushes off her fears, laughing and telling her, "It's the most beautiful thing in the world… it's magic."
24. Zeek urges Joel to fight for his marriage (Season 6, "These Are the Times We Live In")
Craig T. Nelson had a lot of strong moments in Parenthood's final season (are you listening, Emmy voters?), and he goes into full papa-bear patriarch mode here as Joel tries to say goodbye with his divorce from Julia looming. Joel thanks Zeek for being a role model to him, but Zeek's not ready to let him give up, telling him, "I took you in, as a son" before imploring him, "You love her, Joel? You fight for her." And thankfully, Joel listened.
25. Dylan tells Kristina she'll never love Max (Season 6, "Aaron Brownstein Must Be Stopped")
Guest stars can bring tears, too! In Season 6, Max developed a crush on classmate Dylan, and Kristina worried she'd just break his heart. She was right. Here, Dylan tries to explain to Kristina that she'll never like Max like that, and Kristina has to comfort her and tell her that's OK… all while her son's heart (and her own) is being ripped out. A tricky balancing act, and Monica Potter plays it beautifully.
26. Amber gets a baby shower in the hospital (Season 6, "How Did We Get Here?")
Parenthood's 100th episode was just wall-to-wall tears, with the Bravermans all holding vigil in the hospital as Zeek goes in for emergency surgery. But we get a few smiles, too, as the gals throw Amber an impromptu baby shower in the hospital cafeteria. The ladies giggle and share their best maternal wisdom ("Embrace those curveballs"!)… and then it's Sarah's turn, and we just dissolve into a sobbing mess.
27. Amber names the baby Zeek (Season 6, "We Made It Through the Night")
The penultimate episode of Parenthood didn't let up on the cry moments, either, as we learn that Amber's newborn baby will be named Zeek, after his great-grandfather. It's a gorgeous full-circle moment for a show that celebrates the ups and downs of everyday life more exquisitely than anything else on TV. Thanks for all the tears, guys.
The series finale of Parenthood airs Thursday, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. on NBC.