Death and grief aren’t easy subjects to deal with in real life. So naturally, it is far more difficult to capture its true essence in art. It’s heartbreaking, it’s ugly and it’s different for everyone. 


It’s not a perfect picture. It’s a jigsaw that fits in accordance with the emotional depth of the one pursuing it. And yet, exploring the boundaries of grief that follows the hollowness left by death in its wake is a common motif in literature and in TV and films. 


But nobody does it as beautifully as Ricky Gervais’ After Life

Even though the subject has been dealt with certain efficiency on different mediums, they have more often than not, focussed on the over pouring of positivity from society. It can be roughly described as society’s overdependence on optimism and a search for perpetual happiness.  

Digital Spy

But this search for perpetual happiness is at odds with those who have suffered from traumatic loss. 

For some people, like Gervais’ Tony, who is grieving from the loss of his wife of 25 years to cancer, smoking heroin and drowning in a bottle of alcohol seems like the only way to find solace, to be lost in memories of the loved ones. 

Digital Spy

Mind you, this doesn’t have to be the right way to do so but it happens. It’s a natural reaction and it’s more real than we care to admit. 


It is heartbreaking to watch Tony believing that he would never be happy again. But in the midst of that, Gervais, the true genius behind The Office (UK) finds a home for his sharp wit. 


Tony is an atheist. So without religion and God, more specifically the promise of an afterlife to comfort him, he relies on his dry wit and not having any fucks to give in general. 

His jibes are cruel and even though they are funny to us, they dig deep into the wounds of all those around him. 

He is bitter and saying and doing whatever he wants, seems like the only way to go forward and live his life because in his mind, the filter that stops you from acting on your worst instincts, that makes you a good person is pointless in this world, as evident from the untimely death of his wife. 

He in fact believes the desire to say and do whatever he wants to be his superpower. 

If I become an asshole and do and say what the fuck I want for as long as I want, and then when it all gets too much, I can always kill myself. It’s like a superpower.


Of course, one cannot just stop being a good person on a whim. You might get pissed and you might react badly and make bad choices but you can’t just not be good if you are essentially a decent person. 

Tony tries to kill himself multiple times throughout the series but is stopped by his dog. Once he just stops because he sees that his dog is hungry and he has to give him food. 


He connects with a homeless addict who loots him after getting him drugged. But Tony invites him to his house again and listens patiently to him about the death of his partner due to a drug overdose. 

He meets a sex worker and befriends her despite getting looks from the people around him. 


This idea of finding a connection with the unlikeliest of strangers is something truly fascinating.  


Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, someone who doesn’t tell you to move on, someone who can offer a fresh perspective about the void you are living in and says it’s okay to be scared to climb out. 

The other character who truly gets through to him is an old woman he meets in the cemetery. She spends her day sitting on a bench talking to the grave of her husband of 48 years.


He sees that while the whole wide world was trying to get him to move on with his life, Anne from the cemetery is the only one in the foxhole with him. And she gets it. 

She tells him that no matter how bad a day he’s had, someone’s having worse. She tells him to be happy for the people around him, even when he’s miserable. 

Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.


When he’s perplexed by how she’s happy now that her husband is gone, she tells him: 

I’d rather live missing him than for him to live missing me. That’s how much I love him.


And finally, through the relationships, he makes with people- a sex worker, a fellow widower, his brother-in-law who tries to cheer him up, the nurse who cares for his senile father, and the deep bond he has with his dog, Tony begins to live again. 

It’s not a sudden epiphany. It’s not perfect nor is it even remotely complete. 

Actually, he still hasn’t moved on but he is trying. He is still paddling away through his grief but at least he is making a conscious effort to try. 

Life is still sad for him. And without his wife, it will always very different. But it can also be good. And that’s just about it.