Life, After

By Emma Pearson

May 25, 2024

Images from various places on the internet

7th September 2020

Sometime after Mike died – perhaps a matter of months – Megan came to me and said, “Muuuuum – my Netflix account isn’t working”. It’s possible that I said, “What’s Netflix?”, but I don’t think I was living under a rock to quite that degree. But I most probably did say, “Netflix? You have a Netflix account? Since when?”

Turns out that when she had started boarding school in the UK, about 3 weeks before Mike’s first symptom, she and he got in cahoots and he set her up with a Netflix account. I was impressed. By then, not only had I, honest-to-God, heard of Netflix (we are talking 2017, after all), but I was even aware that some of my most erudite and brilliant friends indulged in Netflixing. What impressed me even more was that neither Mike nor Megan had let it slip. It had been their little secret.

Anyway, the secret was out because his credit card, with its monthly direct debits, stopped working, and so she came to me and we looked into it. I quickly realised that by golly we needed a family Netflix account, and Megan no longer had to watch in secret when she came home.

I have barely watched a video cassette or even DVD since 1999, 2001 and 2004, (during my maternity leaves, when Mike and I watched a lot during baby naps – Alias (or Ali’s Ass as Mike called it), 24, West Wing, perhaps even House and Harry Potter – you get the era), and despite its “on-tap-ness”, I didn’t really develop a Netflix habit. I absolutely adore watching films, but like to go to the “proper cinema” for my indulgences. (Lollipop, hot flask of tea, granny cashmere shawl – all this is covered in myriad other posts). At home I inevitably feel that something needs to be done, so I don’t make time to sit and watch telly or Netflix.

But occasionally someone provides me a hot tip and I pay attention. On this occasion it was my friend and former colleague and boss, John, who I love and respect for both personal and professional reasons. We are not in touch that often so I tend to remember when we are. He wrote, “btw I am watching “After Life” with Ricky Gervais, who plays a widower in a touching, extremely un-PC series about grief. I recommend it. I cry and laugh while watching it……” That was on 10th May this year. Some months later – a mere two or three weeks ago, I started to watch it. It’s so short that I was done with all 12 episodes by last night. I even watched three episodes one evening, they are so short. (Perfect for Grieflings).

And yes, I cried and laughed too. As John wrote again, once I told him I was watching it, “V saaaaaaad and Ricky G did not steer clear of laying bare all the messy aspects of dying and grieving. Hats off to him”.

Messy grieving. Yes indeed. John is not a widower. But neither is he a stranger to widowing, having married a widow. Which means he deserves about 50,000 gold stars, in my book. A year after Mike died, he was one of many US-based friends who invited the three kids and me to spend a while with them. By then, I had realised, deep into my bones, the enormity of what he had done by marrying a widow. (It’s not that widow(er)s are freaks or anything. But we can be prickly pears for sure. Quite cactus-like, to be fair. Remember, we didn’t want our relationship to end, unlike most separated or divorced people. And we’d, honestly, rather still be with them, because by golly there would be so much more simplicity in our lives, not to say intactness in the family).

I had a conversation with John around that time, about how HUGE I realised it was, that he had married a widow. He made a beautiful, simple, yet deeply poignant statement, which I have oft-repeated to anyone who will listen, including Medjool. “There are three of us in this marriage. My wife, Stephen, and me”.

Were we to carry on the conversation today, I would have more questions. For both him, and for his wife. Maybe another time. I would actually like to do a bit of research into what qualities are needed for someone repartnering with a widow(er). That can be another blogpost sometime.

But back to Ricky Gervais (Tony) and “After Life”. Yes, it’s meant to be funny, and it is, in its twisted, dark black humour way that Brits seem to manage uniquely well. Yes, it’s full of truly awful characters that, after a few episodes, you find yourself rooting for. (Except for the fucking awful therapist – bad language intended). Yes, it’s full of hope – rather too soon after the death of the amazing Lisa, in my mind. Though that hope does come and go and come and go and go and come and go and go and go and … Yes, it’s full of crass wisdom and wise snippets. It’s also full of friends who are so uncomfortable with Tony’s grief that they take him to see comedy and awful stuff like that. It’s also full of life and yet more death going on after the death of your person. Ongoing losses – dying parent, potential loss of income. And memories and more memories of his wife, and how they said goodnight every night. And it’s CHOCK FULL of the unconditional love of a beauty of a dog, Brandy, who time and again, keeps our hero, Tony, from topping himself. (There’s also an Emma who is, quite frankly, wonderful, but we will keep her a secret for now. I can’t seem too biased).

So yes – it faced some of the ugly messiness of grief, the ups and downs of grief and life after loss, head on. It had a character who had been your average guy pre-loss in a beautiful and simple loving relationship, felled to his knees time and time again by the gut-twisting immensity of his wife’s absence. It had him trying to justify why he “seemed like he was functioning”, knowing he was but playing a role to keep his friends at peace.  It had wisdom from other widow(er)s who were further along in their after lives – or lives after – who were irritatingly zen-like about the whole goddamn experience, and used the so-far-from-the-truth expression of “moving on”. (Clearly Ricky G didn’t have bona fide Grieflings helping with script-writing, but I can let that one pass). 

The piece I think he really got wrong was having Tony try to start dating within months of his wife’s death. (Nooooooo!!!! Don’t do it!) Needless to say, it didn’t work. ‘Nuff said. Most of it was good though. Even if, had I behaved half as badly as Tony did, and I know I didn’t, I would have lost all my friends, not just half of them (and he appeared not only to lose none, but even to gain some, which I also did. Fair enough).

I was in fully body-wracking sobs as I finished watching it last night, closing with the line, “I’ll take Groundhog day”. You have to watch it to understand the significance of that apparently, “settle for less than the best” line. If it’s the life Tony had with the love of his life, I’d also take Groundhog day.

Any day. Every day. Every single Groundhog day.

With that kind of love, Groundhog day is mighty special.

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