The person who got me through 2021: Fleabag helped me survive my mother’s death

I rewatched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s monstrous and lovable creation after my mother died in lockdown. The show gave me space to live and grieve

Fleabag isn’t really the person who got me through 2021. To confess the truth (and now the Hot Priest is saying “Kneel!” in your head, isn’t he?), she also got me through 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and half of 2016, when the show first aired. It’s been an intense few years. Which is precisely why only a show about a self-sabotaging, black-humoured, grief-stricken, sex-obsessed, charismatic and broken nihilist would do.

However, 2021 has been different. It’s the first year I’ve rewatched Fleabag since my mum’s death. She died last June in the midst of lockdown. She had breast cancer, just like Fleabag’s mum, whose farts sounded either like “a door opening” or a “suspicious duck”, and who also died. My mum was ill – with a remission in the middle that was like the sun coming out – for eight long years. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s monstrous/lovable creation (whom she plays with such startling acuity that I actually felt betrayed when I discovered her own mother was alive) was my (evil) spirit guide through much of the darkness. Now she walks with me on this newly laid, even longer road through the wilderness of grief. I can think of no better companion.

Before my mum died, I watched Fleabag with a kind of “Brace! Brace!” unhinged obsessiveness. My mum was ill, having chemotherapy, being rushed to A&E with hypoglycaemia, dying in intensive care, but still here. Fleabag’s mother, in the first series, had been dead for three years. Fleabag and her sister were on the other side of the road, and it was as though I was (re)watching them in preparation for how sad and insufferable I would become. Series two, episode four, in which we finally see their mother’s funeral, was a lesson in the extremities and absurdities of grief, and the incapacity of any rituals (or language) to express them. Now I have crossed the road to join them. I have been to my mother’s funeral, with my sister and our father, and have become my own sad and insufferable self. It is oddly satisfying. Even, in a warped and perfectly Fleabag way, healing. At which point I know she would break the fourth wall to side-eye me, which is to say she would understand.

Really, it’s the tone of these 12 magisterial episodes that’s so in keeping with the experience of bereavement. Fleabag, like grief, plays out in an overwrought, nosebleed-high register. Both are filled with pain, love and inappropriate laughter. I would never go jogging in a graveyard (largely because I don’t jog), or try to snog Kristin Scott Thomas after she delivered the greatest monologue ever written about women and pain in the history of television, but Fleabag allowed me to live, by which I mean grieve, vicariously through her. I could metaphorically set my stepmother’s Persian house cat free when, in reality, I was lying in bed with my laptop next to my sleeping daughter, weeping silently with my headphones in.

So thank you, Fleabag, for not trying to mend my broken heart. Thank you for knowing that grief, like love, is, “awful”. Fleabag superfans (Fleabaggers?) will know that I’m referencing the priest’s beautiful wedding speech here. Which closed with the stunning line: “When you find somebody that you love, it feels like hope.” Thank you, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, for understanding that when you lose somebody that you love, it can feel like hope, too.


Chitra Ramaswamy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Larry David helped me embrace life as a bald man
I have finally admitted that my hair has gone for ever, and taken great comfort from the reigning king of baldness

Stuart Heritage

21, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund felt like a brilliant old friend
In The Killing, Lund’s incredible brain inspired me when mine felt like mushroom soup. She was a solace and an inspiration

Eleanor Morgan

26, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Huey Morgan comforted me amid a deluge of human waste
I had plumbing problems and his radio show transported me from the faecal hellscape in my garden. It became the ideal soundtrack for my pandemic reality

Sam Diss

22, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Monty Don inspired my new, obsessive love of gardening
My admiration for the Gardeners’ World presenter took seed in lockdown and kept growing, thanks to his calming aura amid the mayhem

Hayley Campbell

27, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Dr Karl Kennedy in Neighbours was strangely reassuring
He became a stand-in for the family I couldn’t see – a paternal character who comforted me amid the loneliness and uncertainty

Ammar Kalia

31, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Miss J and America’s Next Top Model transported me to carefree times
Three years after it ended, scandal surrounds the show, but its familiarity and formula provided a comfort blanket. I really hope they bring it back

Juno Dawson

01, Jan, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Heather Phillipson’s sculpture brightened my trips to hospital
On my way to have painful medical tests, I felt dejected. Then I saw a giant dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top in Trafalgar Square

Tim Jonze

25, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: LayedBakDFR captured the perfect joy of discovering a great song
I was shaken out of my musical apathy by the rapper, whose video channel shows him listening to others’ tracks for the first time

Hussein Kesvani

30, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Awkwafina made me hopeful for success in dark days
In Nora from Queens, Awkwafina’s adorable loser alter ego was inspiring. Faced with constant failure, she kept going, with wit and warmth


24, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Ami Faku sang the break-up track I listened to on a loop
I’ve spent 12 months of the pandemic obsessively listening to the song Uwrongo, with its line: “This is not working, go home.” I’m very grateful to its singer

Dale Berning Sawa

29, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM