Ricky Gervais’ “After Life” is a realistic depiction of grief

With the Netflix show just releasing its third and final season, fans had to say goodbye to a show that made grievers feel seen in a world where loss is typically ignored. Ricky Gervais, who plays Tony, writes and directs this British series that follows his character’s journey coping with the death of his wife, Lisa. Each season is a mixture of emotions: giving the audience a raw depiction of loss and the mental health impacts while also offering moments of comedy and lightness. Grief is full of complexities and conflicting emotions which After Life captures well. It is no wonder so many viewers have fallen in love with this series as it tugs at the heartstrings while simultaneously making you laugh. 

In the first season, we see Tony delving into his anger and bitterness after Lisa’s death, claiming this nonchalant attitude is a superpower and punishment to the world. He loses interest in life and by season two, we see his mental state decline after losing his father. With these crushing losses, Tony contemplates suicide and falls deeper into depression. He is angry, bitter, sad, and in deep despair. His hatred for others’ happiness and mockery of simple problems is relatable. Sometimes being envious of people who aren’t experiencing grief is the hardest feeling when it comes to loss. You would never wish this pain onto someone else; yet when someone belittles your suffering or complains about a minuscule issue, you cannot help but think, “you don’t get it!”  

After Life doesn’t shy away from the trauma of grief. Yet, with its comedic elements and heartfelt friendships, Tony begins to accept Lisa’s death (not get over it, but decide to live with it). And it shows the audience that you can still live and have happy moments despite your personal loss. Which is often a reminder many grievers need. After Life conveys the life of a widow in particular: showing Tony’s guilt and hesitancy to re-enter the dating scene as well as the everyday moments where you are reminded of your loss: someone asking if you’re married or hearing their favorite song. Tony still memorializes Lisa in his everyday life: talking about her to coworkers, visiting her gravestone daily, and watching old videos on his laptop to soak in all of their memories together. Living with grief is the constant reminder; the never-ending love.

The most important aspect the series gets right is that grief is forever. It is not something you get over; it holds no expiration date. The people we lose will always be a part of us and our lives, no matter the number of years that pass. But what season three in particular showcases is that life goes on (something every griever realizes harshly enough), but it can still be beautiful to move through the seasons despite your pain. Especially, with people, you love by your side (or a dog). 

I am thankful to Gervais for using his platform and talent to create a story about grief; something that most people dismiss as they feel uncomfortable. But, by acknowledging a universal experience, we can help people live amongst their loss. Losing someone you love will always ache. After Life does a beautiful job at not only bringing us into Tony’s mind but giving us a picture of who Lisa was. 

If you know someone who has lost a loved one, ask about their person. Many times grievers just want to know their loved one hasn’t been forgotten. In After Life, so many of Tony’s friends, co-workers, or relatives are constantly there to share in his feelings and give him the space to process. Tony even makes new connections amidst his loss like Anne, a fellow widower who visits the same graveyard as him. While neither had met each other’s significant others, they understand each other’s loss on a deeper level than most and offer one another comfort throughout the series. The most touching relationship in the series for me is with his brother-in-law/boss at the Tambury Gazette. The two of them represent how people who are experiencing the same trauma, can hold different responses and react in their own way. Tony is very outward with his loss, while his brother-in-law, Matt, inwardly deals with his grief. Neither expression is wrong and reminds the viewers that any way we choose to deal with our hurt is valid and ok. There is no “right” way to miss someone. 

If After Life shows us anything, it is that life is fragile and precious. We do not know how long we are here, and the only guarantee is the present. So, cherish it as much as you can. To anyone who is grieving right now, remember that you have every right to live loudly and should not feel guilty for doing so. There is no shame in the grief game. If you are struggling with your mental health after losing someone, reach out to a professional for resources or a mental health hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. Just as Gervais’s work tells us: you are not alone, even when you think you are. 

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Meghan Nelligan View All →

Meghan Nelligan is a freelance writer and creative storyteller based in New Jersey. She is incredibly passionate about mental health awareness, creative writing, and social media. She also manages an Instagram account and portfolio site for her own personal writings.

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