Three ways Fleabag depicted grief perfectly

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In this blog, Kate discusses the popular TV show, Fleabag, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. If you’re interested to see how grief is depicted within the series, you can watch Season 1 and 2 on BBC iPlayer.

Fleabag, the witty but empowering story of a single woman trying to navigate her way through life. Our unfiltered heroine is admired for her hilarious narrative and sharp one liners, but this is more than just a comedy. The audience is quickly introduced to the perpetual grief Fleabag carries whilst she’s learning to cope with the loss of her mother and the loss of her best friend Boo who tragically took her own life.

Just like Fleabag, I’m also learning to understand my grief

Since Fleabag first aired in 2016, it’s become an obsession of mine. When I first watched series one, I binged it all in one night. Fleabag reminded me of myself; I’m career driven(ish), I’m single and find dating hard, I’m constantly trying to juggle my finances, and I’m slowly learning to balance fun with reality, but it’s a hard thing to get right. And just like Fleabag, I’m also learning to understand my grief. When I was twenty one my best friend killed himself after battling a string of mental health problems. Then, last year I lost my mother to cancer; she died at the age of 57.

As you can imagine, things haven’t always been easy. My twenties have been centred around grief. Recently, a kind work colleague asked, “How is your heart?” I replied with “Honestly? It’s in pieces”. The thing is, I find it almost impossible to describe the heartbreak caused by bereavement; it’s like an entangled tree and every twisted branch represents a new problem. It’s hard to make sense of it.

The reason why I love Fleabag so much is because grief has been depicted so perfectly. There were three moments which really stuck out to me:

1. I just want to cry all the time

This line hit me so hard. Fleabag is sat with her recently divorced insurance broker, sharing a cigarette and discussing their losses. The insurance broker starts by listing the things he misses the most, “I miss dancing with my wife, and I miss taking clean cups out of the dishwasher and placing them on the shelf”.

To this, Fleabag replies with “I just want to cry all the time”.

I probably could cry all the time but, unfortunately, I’ve got things to do and places to be. So, I’m going to allow myself some space, take a deep breath, and keep going.

2. The pencil rubber and the hamster, the smallest of things remind you of them.

Everyday something will bring back the tiniest memory, reminding me of the time I once had with my loved one. After a moment of reminiscing I realise they’re gone and a tidal wave of sadness hits.

Phoebe demonstrated this perfectly throughout both series. At one point, Fleabag looks at a pencil rubber and is reminded of a time when she was reading an unfortunate story involving a hamster and a pencil rubber. Boo responded to her friend “That’s why they put rubbers on the end of pencils, because everyone makes mistake”.

Fleabag smiles to herself, looks into the camera and says, “She was always full of surprises”.

The warm glow in Fleabags eyes as she remembers her loved one is a moment I’ll always appreciate. Grief is unexpected, it’s not linear, and there are no rules to when it’ll re-surface.

3. I don’t know what to do with it, with all the love I have for her. I don’t know where to put it.

In season two, the audience delves into Fleabag’s memory as she relives her mother’s funeral. As I watched the scenes unfold, I was quickly reminded of my own funeral experiences and the weirdness they’d entailed.

Starting with Fleabags frustration of looking too good, “I don’t know what’s happened, I just woke up looking amazing and now everyone’s going to think I got a facial for my mother’s funeral”.

I can safely say I’ve never experienced this exact problem, but I’ve definitely worried about the insignificant. What shoes should I wear when saying a final goodbye at my mother’s funeral? Your mind creates a minefield of worries which cover up your true sadness.

The two people I’ve loved the most are now gone and I’m left with all of these emotions and nowhere to put them

Later, we see Fleabag successfully hiding her emotions with small talk, food, and regular cigarette breaks. But, as she listens to her father express his love and loss, tears appear in her eyes and a moment of sadness finally breaks through.

The episode is deeply reminiscent, but the point that really resonated with me was Fleabag’s conversation with Boo, “I don’t know what to do with it, with all the love I have for her. I don’t know where to put it”. Boo responds, “I’ll take it”.

Where do you put that love? The two people I’ve loved the most are now gone and I’m left with all of these emotions and nowhere to put them. But I guess Boo is right, take that love and focus it on other parts of your life, let yourself grow, and share that love as you move forward.

Grief is hard, it creeps up behind you and gets under your skin. We like to fool ourselves into believing we can wash the grief away and start anew, but that’s not how it works. We grow around the sadness and slowly learn how to carry it with us, a new layer of skin bound together by love and loss.

Kate Mabbett

“Cheers to Phoebe for her excellent writing. Cheers to my Mum and Greg, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.”