Someone thought it was a good idea for me to watch the Netflix series, After Life.
After Life follows Tony, played by Ricky Gervais, whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer, he contemplates suicide. Instead, he decides to live long enough to punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants. Although he thinks of this as his “superpower,” his plan is undermined when everyone around him tries to make him a better person. The show is set in the fictional town of Tambury, where Tony works as a journalist at a local free newspaper, the Tambury Gazette.
The show has a brilliantly dark sense of humor, punctuated with chillingly familiar events to me, having just lost my wife to cancer only two months earlier. The moments where Tony doesn’t see any point in going on and contemplates ending his life, only to realize he has a dog that needs him; that was me. The moments he is with his aged and infirm father and trying to do his best to hold it together for him, I’m in that place. The moments where he’s utterly unmotivated in his job; me. All of that and more was me.
It was too soon, and I couldn’t do it. Watching the show reduced me to a sobbing idiot in a matter of minutes. It hurt too much. I also resented the person who suggested it to me, though not as much as the asshat who, when I told him my wife had stage IV cancer, suggested I watch Sophie’s Choice.
Anyway, while still grieving a couple of months later, I try to watch After Life again. Nope, no good. I couldn’t handle it. Blubbering mess, pathetic, really.
Then, another two months later, around six months after Lynn died, I tried to watch it again. I don’t know what it was about this series that kept me returning to it after repeated bad experiences, but I did. I guess I thought it had some wisdom to impart. I thought it might have something to bring me a little peace, or solace, or something. Maybe I was inducing the most suffering I could or trying to lance a boil to get the puss out. I don’t know, but I came back to try to watch After Life again, a third time.
This time, it was different. Oh, I certainly cried, but it wasn’t the gut-wrenching, pitiful sobbing like before. I watched and identified, and most importantly, I listened. Between all the jokes were genuinely inspirational moments – nuggets of wisdom. There were things I needed to hear; hopeful, little things:
“I Still Have My Downs, But Then Life Throws You These Interesting Little Things, Doesn’t It?”
“A Society Grows Great When Old Men Plant Trees Whose Shade They Know They Shall Never Sit In.”
“It Is Everything. Being In Love, I Mean.”
“Nothing’s As Good If You Don’t Share It.”
Those last two quotes resonated with me at the time. I had achieved some peace with the fact that Lynn was gone and wasn’t coming back, though it left me empty inside. I also came to terms with the fact that my ongoing grieving was something I was doing for me, not Lynn. I was grieving that I missed her so much, but this benefited her in no way. It made me a burden to those around me and who cared about me. I was determined to do a little better every day at carrying my grief without spilling it all over those around me, and I got stronger. I didn’t stop grieving, but I wasn’t breaking down in tears every day, and that was a marked improvement. I just carried it forward better.
It was then that I recognized something that was there all along – I was lonely. I wanted to be with Lynn, but that could not be. She was gone, and I was still here. It was that emptiness, and the loneliness that I was feeling now.
I will say this – from my experience, I learned that you never appreciate someone like you do when you know the day is coming that they won’t be there any longer. The last year with Lynn, as sick as she was, I loved her deeply and cherished every moment I had with her. That’s something I should have been doing all along, but I took for granted she would always be there. And then she wasn’t.
I was determined that, should I be fortunate enough to fall in love again, I would do my best to appreciate that woman with my whole heart and soul every single day, as if she won’t be there the next day, because one day, she won’t be there. Or I won’t.
We all die, eventually. I don’t want to focus on that depressing thought, but I want to emphasize that the time we have is finite. We should appreciate it, appreciate the people around us that we love and who love us. We should make the most of the time we have. Be the kind of person that makes the world a better place just by the way we live their lives.
Watching After Life helped me arrive at that conclusion. More than that, that I was able to watch After Life was a litmus test, the yardstick by which I could measure how ready I was to re-enter life and pick up the pieces. Even the ability to find someone to love, which I did, and I do.
The core message of After Life is this:
“Good People Do Things For Other People. That’s It. The End.”
Being self-absorbed and rude gets us nowhere. Being nice, spreading love, offering a helping hand, and committing the occasional random act of kindness are the way to make our time on this Earth count, and if you have someone special to do it with, all the better.
Should you watch After Life on Netflix?