“Tony had a perfect life — until his wife Lisa died. After that tragic event, the formerly nice guy changed. After contemplating taking his life, Tony decides he would rather live long enough to punish the world by saying and doing whatever he likes. He thinks of it as a superpower — not caring about himself or anybody else — but it ends up being trickier than he envisioned when his friends and family try to save the nice guy that they used to know. “
If you have Netflix (who doesn’t) and/or you’re a fan of British comedian Ricky Gervais, you might have heard of this new series, After Life. I was made aware of it by a friend, and I initially avoided it thinking it was a little too close to home. Well I’m happy (?) to admit my preconceived notions were not affirmed. This show gave me ALL them feels. I laughed (a lot), I cried (also a lot), I got annoyed, angry, amused and felt peaceful towards the end of the show. Perhaps what stood out to me the most was the authenticity with which Gervais wrote about spousal grief without having experienced it firsthand. He tells a story that’s so perfect a mixture of the mundane daily life, the profound sense of loss, the internal struggle and isolation one feels, and finally those fleeting moments of joy or levity that don’t happen nearly enough.
My “grief journey” such as it is, has been a messier one. As I settled into life as a widow and the “obligatory period of everyone feeling sorry for you and giving everything you say or do a total pass” ended, it was obvious that my journey was going to be a rough and dark ride. I haven’t turned to Jesus. I haven’t spent my days being nothing but “grateful” for the time Bryan and I had together. I haven’t thrown myself into my work, or taken on some great life goal like running a marathon or starting a foundation, or going on a speaking tour, or any of the other myriad of “acceptable” grief rituals propagated throughout media and society. Instead, I’ve owned my general “zero fucks left to give-ness” with gusto! As I’ve said before, I just don’t have the mental bandwidth to be polite and and listen to your stupid story about your new gluten-free diet, or let assholic people’s behavior go unchecked. The tagline of the show “hell is other people” could have been written about me. If my circumstances have taught me anything, it’s there’s so much wrong and injustice in the world and I won’t have it! And by that I mean, I won’t let it happen without first providing a pithy and cynical comment for the record. So I feel like this is why After Life resonated so deeply with me. Dr. F pointed out just the other day that perhaps it’s because watching a show that mirrored back a grief experience more similar to my own made me feel less alone on this journey. And I think she’s right. Tony’s “superpower” is one I was also intimately familiar with. For a period of time I too thought it was suddenly so freeing not to sweat the small stuff and not give a fuck about what I said or did. I had no fear of death and knew that was always an option in my back pocket. While it didn’t end up being my superpower per se, I considered it my silver lining or consolation prize if you will, to the state I found myself in. [Side Bar: Bryan HATED the phrase “per se” so I just cringed when I wrote it. Sorry B! RIP. much love] Tony’s also got that one thing that keeps him from completely going off the proverbial ledge: a dog named Brandy. His wife loved that dog and Brandy’s a loyal companion, so the least he can do is take care of the dog in honor of his wife’s wishes (which you see periodically throughout the show). I think that’s such an important aspect of grief too. While you’re “in it” you’ve got to have someone or something that keeps you grounded in reality and keeps you going. It’s nearly impossible if you don’t. It can be anything, a hobby you’ve always loved, a pet, a person (but that can be tricky), an event you’re looking forward to, or maybe just the will to see it through. For me, I think it was a Katy Perry concert I’d planned months in advance–we can unpack at another time–and maybe the stubborn desire to not accept that my life would end on such an unceremonious fart. Even when I was at peace with being done, something would just say “yeah, but fuck that. that would be so lame to let this beat you.”
Ricky Gervais has commented publicly that nothing he’s ever done in his years-long career has had this much of a reaction or positive and intense response. Not even The Office (crazy I know! But I think the American one is better, oops)! He’s been reading comments on social media and is writing a second season. I don’t usually tweet, @, or comment on the LinkedIn profiles (that’s still a thing right?) of celebrities, but in the last week since finishing the show, I let him know what this show has meant to me and to thank him for “getting it”. It’s one thing to find a movie, show, book, album etc. that resonates with you and inspires you to be great; it’s a much rarer feat to find that same connection when you’re at your lowest and some piece of mainstream media is willing to get in the trenches with you.