5 Lessons On Life And Love From Netflix’s Good Grief

by | Feb 9, 2024 | Entertainment

Not only did I walk away from Netflix’s Good Grief with a surprising obsession with Elton John’s 2001 single This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore and inspiration to someday host a sing-along party featuring my favourite songs of all time, I also took away some sobering life lessons – some pretty mundane and some too progressive for many to fathom.

Set in London, Good Grief is a film about a married queer couple Marc (played by Daniel Levy, who also wrote, produced and co-directed the film) and Oliver (played by Luke Evans) who’ve just hosted the most delightful Christmas party, when Oliver suddenly has to leave for a book signing in Paris. Minutes later, Oliver dies in a car accident not too far from their house. Following Oliver’s tragic passing, Marc’s best friends Sophie (played by Ruth Negga) and Thomas (played by Himesh Patel) step in to help him sort through his grief – a journey that unravels some hard truths to swallow. Starting with the fact Oliver had been secretly renting out an upmarket apartment in Paris, and had been seeing a young professional dancer Luca (played by professional dancer Mehdi Baki) for some time.

Two pertinent questions arose from the above scene, which also formed the crux of the film: Was it really cheating if Marc had agreed when Oliver suggested that they make theirs an open marriage agreement? How do you even begin grieving while feeling betrayed by the deceased?

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See, as a 40-year-old divorcee, love has dragged me off my moral high horse enough times to finally understand that nothing is either black nor white – and that the grey areas is where ‘real life’ happens. Life has humbled me enough times for me to know how to navigate it optimistically – but not so rosily that disappointment floors me and has me bedridden the entire weekend (as was once the case in my mid 20s). To that end, Good Grief reiterated – so beautifully and effortlessly at that – some of the lessons I now hold dear to my heart. Let’s dive into them , shall we (without giving away all of the impeccable storyline)?

1. An Oldie That Never Gets Tired

Say what needs to be said now because regret is always lingering about waiting to be housed. About 15 minutes into the film, Oliver’s dad reminisces about his son’s childhood days, detailing how Oliver went on to become a bestselling author inspite of him (the father) downplaying his talent (possibly due to Oliver’s sexual orientation).

What The Experts Say: A 2018 study by psychologists Shai Davidai and Tom Gilovich, who investigated the psychology of regret, found that 24 percent of participants regretted the things should have done, while 76 percent regretted the things that they could have done, but did not. The difference? “Action-related regrets are easier to learn from, and therefore turn into a growth opportunity.” Another study by Dr Giorgio Coricelli at the Centre of Cognitive Neuroscience in Lyon, France found that regret can be utilised as a learning tool that propels us forward to act differently and make better decisions in the future. For example, if you experience a friendship break-up, you can use it as an opportunity to self-reflect on what went wrong and do things differently with another friend. The good news is that regret reduces over time, whereas that type of regret that is related to inaction tends to last longer and gains strength over time, concluded a study published in Psychological Review.

2. The Art Of Separating Issues

No truer is this lesson than in the context of romantic relationships. Hands up if you’ve once found yourself criticising or bashing yourself after discovering a partner’s affair. Something worth remembering, and which Good Grief captured beautifully, is that: When the other person cheats it has absolutely nothing to do with you and it doesn’t mean that they love you any less (the latter shouldn’t be misconstrued to suggest that cheating is acceptable). When Marc meets his late husband’s lover Luca during a weekend in Paris, in between apologising Luca tells Marc just how much Oliver adored him – huh, how’s that for separating issues!

What The Experts Say: Here’s a reality that most of us aren’t prepared to hear: your partner can love you but still cheat on you. Often times the cheating has everything to do with the person’s unresolved issues and trauma. And being married or in a committed relationship doesn’t suddenly exempt you from finding other people attractive, according to a Baltimore Therapy Centre paper.

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3. Fear and Love Cannot Co-Exist

During a conversation with his best friends in Paris, Marc finally shares the contents of a Christmas card that his late husband had written him, in which Oliver shares that he’s met someone and they should discuss it further when he gets back from his trip. March further shares that he’d agreed to an open marriage for fear of losing Oliver. Up until the point where he read the card, Oliver had loved Marc openly and loudly, often sharing how much he appreciated his presence in his life [Oliver to Marc at their last Christmas party hosted in their home: “My love, may I someday be worthy!”] Glaring lesson here: Perhaps to never dishonour ourselves by agreeing to something that doesn’t fully resonate with us – even after endless hours of self-reflection.

What The Experts Say: In The Course Of Love, British author Alain de Botton poignantly paints some of the underlying childhood traumas that bring about challenges in adult relationships – a theory any good therapist will happily introduce you to. De Botton shares that much of the insecurities adults battle in their adult romantic relationships wouldn’t be half as lethal if people got into the habit of sharing the roots of their insecurities. For instance someone with an irrational fear of losing their partner could still be mourning the loss of a series of loved one from their childhood days and may therefore find it comforting to hold on to partners and friends at all costs in adulthood. “When our minds are involved in transference (transferring an emotion from the past on to someone in the present who perhaps doesn’t entirely deserve it), we lose the ability to give people and things the benefit of the doubt; we swiftly and anxiously move towards the worst conclusions that the past once mandated,” states de Botton in The Course of Love. Essence of this explanation, seeking help when uncomfortable with something in a relationship helps us contextualise our emotions.

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4. Friendship Exhaustion Is Real

In fact, it’s so real that it’s surprising that we never speak about it often. During their Paris weekend trip, an angry Thomas shares his frustration at how he had to pick up a highly inebriated Sophie from a police station after she’d been found sleeping at the bus stop following a rendezvous with a stranger. Meanwhile, Marc left the karaoke bar where they’d all gone for a nightcap saying he was going for a quick walk with a stranger and only made it home at daybreak. Yep, being the over-caring, responsible friend can be exhausting. But being friends with someone doesn’t automatically slap you with the responsibility to be an overbearing Mother Hen.

What The Experts Say: “No matter how tempting it may be to step in and help solve friend’s problems, resist the urge to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. The best way to protect yourself from ‘mothering’ a friend, so to speak, is to support them with regular check-ins and positive reaffirmations, but ensure that the responsibility to remedy their situation is still on them,” advised Durban-bases counselling psychologist Lindani Mnyaka.

5. Sit With Your Feelings

In an effort to foster a fresh start with fewer reminders of his husband’s passing, Marc decides to sell their marital home, saying that the house was always the husband’s and not his. His financial advisor Imelda (played by Celia Imrie) responds with: “I trust you’re not running away (from him). Physiology has a clever way of protecting us from what we perceive to be a threat to our bodies, which is why the more we close ourselves off, the less we feel. You can survive that way until the usualness of it all starts creeping in. And the new life you’d built as a refuge feels like a betrayal…”

What The Experts Say: How often have you heard the statements “sit with your feelings” or “Feel your sadness” used on social media or in a movie line. Often, right? “Allowing a sad feeling to just exist without judgement can help you better understand it. Then start noting things like – when does the feeling usually pop up? What symptoms usually alert you to the feeling’s arrival?,” advises Mnyaka. He adds that sitting with your feelings sometimes means setting time aside to explore the feeling in its entirety and not shove it under the carpet. “The problem with unprocessed thoughts and feelings is that they keep recurring because, essentially, they are begging to be acknowledged.”

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