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After Life

For many weeks after Ben’s death we didn’t, couldn’t, turn on the television. Why? Because nothing else that was going on in the world mattered to us. Nothing.

The idea, during those first few weeks, that we could escape the reality of our circumstances, or numb our pain, by plonking ourselves down in front of the idiot box – let alone somehow be entertained by what we were watching ‑ well that was just fanciful. And the longer we went without watching the TV, the harder it became to even think about doing so.

Eventually of course we dipped back into the news, or watched some part of a sporting contest. But anything else seemed a bridge too far.

Until one night Linda passed on the details of a programme she had read or heard about. I was initially dubious, but after discussion we made a group decision, along with Tim, to watch the show “After Life”, the latest offering from the British comic genius, Ricky Gervais. It was the perfect choice, for a number of reasons.

Like us, the main character, Tony, played by Gervais, has had his life turned upside-down by the death of a loved one. In Tony’s case it is his wife of 25 years, Lisa. Tony’s grief, and the resulting anger and bitterness he feels towards the world at large, is acute. So much so that he initially contemplates suicide, only being dissuaded from that course of action out of a sense of loyalty towards the family pet, a lovable German Shepherd called Brandy.

Having committed to pressing forward with a life minus the love of his life, Tony decides to effectively punish anyone and everyone with whom he comes into contact – by saying and doing whatever the hell he feels like.

Gervais is in his element playing the acerbic Tony, dealing out sarcastic judgments and heavy-handed criticism to all and sundry; more often than not people quite undeserving of such treatment. The overwhelming sadness, the seemingly inappropriate and unwarranted outbursts, the unresolved, and unresolvable frustration at the cards fate has dealt him – these were all things with which we identified immediately.

And yet, amongst all this grief and grimness, there was truth, and there was humour; Gervais’ great gifts to the world.

For the first time in a long time we found ourselves laughing out loud. And not at some random piece of inconsequential twaddle, but at a character grappling with the same weighty issues we were. It felt good to laugh, and it felt right to do it in this context, bizarre as that may seem.

Because the show is not just about raised voices and vitriol. Far from it. There are also moving and heart-wrenching moments; most obviously those occasions when Tony re-visits his wife in video-recorded snippets of their shared life together, created before her death.

But for me the highlights were the conversations shared between Tony and Anne; a widow who, like Tony, enjoys spending time sitting in the cemetery at the grave of her dead spouse. The insight and guidance Anne provides about how to cope with life-changing loss, and how to do so without sacrificing one’s good humour, humanity or optimism, made a big impression on me ‑ and even managed to pierce Tony’s seemingly impenetrable armour of self-pity.

And I suddenly realised, indeed I think we all did, that not only was it OK for us to laugh again, but just maybe it was an essential ingredient to our survival.

Well over a year has passed now since we watched those first six half-hour episodes of After Life over two nights, during which time a second series ‑ not quite as good as the original it must be said ‑ has been made and viewed. So much has happened to us during the period in‑between, and since.

But one thing has not changed. Having made the decision, like Tony, to press on with our lives, we have committed ourselves to continue searching for the joy, and the humour, that life after Ben has to offer.

We just need to keep working out where to find them.


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