This will probably be the most personal Therapy Tape I’ve written so far, and I hope it hasn’t crossed any sort of line. In the year-plus that I’ve been writing this newsletter, I’ve tried to make sure it’s more of an open exchange of creative ideas and less of a glorified public diary – more a notebook or scrapbook than a journal – and I hope I don’t tip the balance too far this week. Essentially, about three weeks ago I lost both my last surviving grandparent and my family dog within about three days of each other. I haven’t really spoken to that many people about it, or shared it much, because both types of grief, as they snuck up on me, felt a bit like grief-once-removed rather than being something that was actually really profoundly affecting me. Any attempt to discuss or share it in public would’ve felt quite inauthentic and performative, because I wasn’t really sure how I felt about these losses yet. I’ve spent the last few weeks turning it over in my head enough to put down in words how I feel about it all, and this week am going to try to write about it in the hope that some of what I have to say might intersect with the experiences of some of my readers and prompt some interesting thoughts and responses. If I’m wrong and all I’ve done is write a solipsistic journal entry, feel free to let me know and I’ll avoid going so personal again in future!
I’m fortunate enough to have got this far in my life without having experienced a loss that has really ripped things out from under me – the sort of grief that comes at you with full force, and without caveats, without anything for me to hold onto to make sense of it. By and large, the only major losses in my life have formed a sort of “strange grief” – the type of grief where at the same time as the loss descends on you, your brain is also telling itself all the reasons why the thing that’s happened is ok, is unexceptional, is normal – why you don’t really have permission to be profoundly affected by it. My grandma turned 90 at the start of the year, died the same day that she went into hospital after a fall and, due to various complicated dynamics within my family, was someone I saw very rarely over the last decade or so. So, at the same time that I found myself upset by the loss, I also found myself thinking things like “She had a good, long life. She had a quick, uncomplicated death. I hadn’t seen her properly in a long time” – as though grief is an indulgence, as though really feeling any loss requires the ticking off of various qualifiers. In a funny way, I felt like I was mourning someone I used to know more than I was mourning someone who I would really feel the absence of from day to day, and then felt a lot of mixed guilt over that feeling. Over the phone my uncle told me that my grandma really appreciated my trying my best to keep in touch even after various rifts in our family made that difficult, and I apologised for not having done so more. He said I had done as much as I could, and that he understood. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter that much if our family really forgives us, because sometimes they never really judged us in the first place – sometimes it’s just about them saying the right things for us to be able to forgive ourselves.
With Spud, the caveats were different – he was only 12, which isn’t that old for a border collie. He was very much an active and loved presence in my day-to-day life. “But he’s a dog,” says my brain. “It’s not the same as really losing someone.” So the loss still settled on me with a collection of caveats telling me why permitting myself to get really upset about it would be an indulgence of sorts. But I can’t help but remember things he used to do, or look at pictures of him, and feel a real ache in my heart that I won’t get to share more moments with this guy.
When my other grandma died in 2018, one of the most insightful pieces of advice I was given afterwards was from someone who said “Be prepared for the grief to come out in ways you don’t expect. When my grandma died, I would just feel unaccountably furious at the strangest times and for the strangest reasons for weeks afterwards.” They were right. When she died, my brain did the same acrobatic loops to contextualise what had happened and limit my own ability to permit myself to feel real grief – “She lived a very long, happy, wonderful life. She must have been much lonelier since Grandad died, and it’s nice for her not to be lonely any more,” etc – but the weeks afterwards ended up being very hard for all sorts of other reasons. I wasn’t in a very good way at the time, and my life kept finding more and more reasons to feel difficult around then. It was almost as if, by telling myself that any grief I felt over her death wasn’t real grief, and that I didn’t really have permission to feel it, I was giving myself permission to find the expression of that grief in other places, to look for sadness elsewhere in my life. This time, I’ve tried not to do that. I’ve tried to fill the weeks since they died with things that have made me happy – going on holiday, celebrating Miranda’s birthday, taking a show to a lovely comedy festival, being Best Man at my friend’s wedding, and so on. I suppose I’m just lucky that the weeks since that sad news have happened to be weeks filled with such happy things, it would obviously have been impossible to plan it that way. Maybe it’s life’s way of letting me know it’s ok to feel happy and sad at the same time – that it’s just different versions of the same big thing.
RIP Iris. RIP Spud.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The latest batch of Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps have just been put out online, and there’s some great stuff in there. I’ve not seen them all yet, but I really enjoyed the brilliant Kiell Smith-Bynoe’s sketch pilot Red Flag.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I’ve been rewatching clips from Nathan For You, one of the best comedy shows of the last ten years. Nathan’s invention of the “Turbo Clean” maid service is one of my favourites, because it encapsulates one of my favourite things about the show, which is that all Nathan’s ideas, no matter how ludicrous, are based on sound business logic taken to the extreme. It’s such a brilliant show, give it a watch if you somehow missed it.
Album Of The Week – WE, the new Arcade Fire album. People keep making fun of me for having only just got into Arcade Fire, but it turns out I timed it pretty well to be able to enjoy their new one with maximum hype. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s a track that Peter Gabriel guests on which I think is fantastic. Pretty exciting news for Peter Gabriel to be being introduced to a swathe of younger listeners by collaborating with a cool, new, young band like Arcade Fire!
Book Of The Week – I just finished The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s been one of those “Oh yeah, one day” books for years, and it turns out it’s brilliant. Pretty much every way in which in innovates with time travel mechanics was flat-out stolen by Doctor Who over the subsequent 10 years or so. Brazen.
Film Of The Week – Boiling Point. This is a film set over one night in the kitchen of an upmarket restaurant filmed all in one take. It is unbearably nerve-wracking. Stephen Graham is absolutely brilliant as the head chef, and you pretty much watch the entire film holding your breath, and screwing up your entire body a bit more every time somebody else says something awful. It’s fantastic.
That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoyed it and would like to send it on to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves, and all the best until next time,
PS Here’s another nice pic of Spud