How TV alienates the grieving

I saw a trailer on Sky the other day for the next big thing in hospital drama – Critical. A fictional series based on saving (or not) the life of a patient filmed in real-time (over an hour). The filming looks slick and the actors serious. It’s sold as being ‘ground-breaking and the most realistic hospital drama to date’.

Great!

Not!

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I’ve long-since wanted to write about why I find watching TV so hard now. Since Abi died, every telly programme seems to feature a death, a trauma, an argument, distress, pain, gore, fear… I instantly felt alienated by my TV, which is something we use every day for a bit of light relief. We’ve been living on trivia and gentle humour – endless episodes of QI, Would I Lie to You?, anything with Jimmy Carr in it and the comediens that usually feature with him. I’ve pretty much exhausted all those and have moved on to Top Gear now! My new ‘happy pill’. Sigh.

We have the whole Virgin Media Cable TV package, yet we can only watch a fraction of the channels simply because we can’t bear the programmes that are put out. Each night we scroll through the listings and there is nothing cheery on at all! And all of it sandwiched by the News, which isn’t much better (I’ve written about how I conquered that particular battle here)! We’ve even got Sky Movies and Netflix to widen up our choices, and some days I just put on a Disney Pixar film as that’s all I can handle!

The hard thing about this is that we used to really enjoy watching telly. We could easily watch a good old murder mystery – Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, Silent Witness etc – but we’ve not watched one since February 2013. Not that Abi was murdered, but it’s that these programmes inevitably have blood in, a dead body, perhaps a scene with someone performing CPR, grief, crying… ahhhh!

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Then the endless shows about bodies and health! We used to enjoy watching Casualty or ER, pretty easy viewing for a Saturday night, but now I rush to the remote if anything remotely medical is on the screen.

Every channel, every night there is something about death and trauma – it could be a drama like Holby City, this new Critical, or a documentary-style show like Benidorm ER, 24 hours in A&E, or as I’ve said, gritty crime thrillers.

We used to watch these shows just like ‘everyone else’. They didn’t bother us much at all, they were happening to other people. In fact some of the documentaries gave fascinating insights into how much our NHS staff have to put up with to save lives day in day out, and I feel it’s stuff we need to see in order to understand what goes on. But I can’t watch anything now. I see someone pass into death (the flatline is just horrendous!) and I am thrown back to the moment my daughter died. I see blood and CPR and I’m thrown back to the terrible moment I had to perform CPR on my daughter when she collapsed. I see people crying, screaming, pretend grieving and it cuts deep to know I feel it for real.

It is easy to say ‘switch it off then’, ‘read a book or do something else’. But our bedtime routine is long and drawn out, putting our children to bed; our days are hard trying to get on and live normally. TV is our escape and watching light-hearted silliness for an hour is essential to help us unwind before trying to go sleep. The Rev. Kate Bottley from Gogglebox once said something about how her day is a mixture of highs and lows – one minute she’s burying a baby, the next she’s dancing around at a school assembly – so she watches ‘trashy’ telly as a way to zone out a bit from the day. I totally get that. One minute I’m mourning Abi, the next I’m laughing on the floor with my children – a constant life/death ride.

We live with real life trauma and sorrow and hardship every day and I feel it’s becoming ‘critical’ that TV offers us more in the way of positive stuff, shows that inspire and give us a lift. I’m all for pretending, but why not do pretending happy instead of pretending sad?

So, as ‘brilliantly accurate’ as Critical may be, I won’t be watching. I’ll be too busy channel hopping!

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13 thoughts on “How TV alienates the grieving

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I think you’re a mind-reader who has taken the similar thoughts out of my own head. I have such similar feelings to telly and films. Added to the programmes you list, I can’t watch reality and vote-off shows (not that I liked them much anyway) – I get irritated that a soggy-bottomed pastry is taken as a life-and-death situation. Grrr…. I used to love One Born Every Minute and 24 Hours in A&E. The reason I avoid them is obvious, but it shows how bereavement takes away so much more than the person you love – it changes so much about your life, from the big things to the trivial xxx

    1. Totally Leigh. Much of my therapy is about me mourning the loss of ‘me’ and what I was able to do before this happened. I am able to watch bake off and reality shows now, although I didn’t the first year or so. I have been able to enjoy them more this year… perhaps in part because I’ve exhausted all the million episodes of QI and really needed to find something else! I don’t like things like the Kardiashans though – stupid people caring too much about stupid things! Hugs to you xx

  2. I do get a lot of comfort from things you say, because it makes it normal, it makes me normal.
    We watch movies. All the time. Actual TV drives me mad. I don’t mind sitting devoting 2 hours to watching a film and if I cry that’s fine, but anything like soaps or mainstream evening TV is just an annoyance. Like you say, inane people who’s worst thought that day is that their hair is a mess. We actually watch tons of horror films – I think seeing things there is what we expect and it doesn’t affect you the same way that ‘surprise’ reminders do on all other types of TV.

    1. Thank you so much Jenny x I get what you say about being able to watch movies and not TV. Movies take you to a pretend place, no matter what they are about. We still have to go gently though, and there are a number of ‘good’ films we’ve not been able to watch yet. I know what you mean too about it not being a ‘surprise’ when you see something horrible, I’m not as scared of horror as I once was. But I’d just watch Monsters Inc, again rather than choose that. I wonder if this will ever change… Hugs to you xx

  3. TV is an insensitive shallow medium for anyone coping with any kind of loss – it seems more trite and callous these days than ever before – while striving/pretending to not be or revelling in appealing to our morbid and baser fascinations.
    Remember that car crashing into a motorbike at a junction ad a couple of years back? That’s similar to how my Dad was killed and I nearly threw up. Ads are worse than programmes as they appear with no warning at all and are gone in a flash leaving the wrong viewer shocked and sent to someplace dark. Then there are the fullscreen images of rapists and killers that flash up on the news years even decades later without warning as if the victims and their families need reminding…
    Yes, there’s a lot of suffering and pain but sometimes I’d like not to see it on my telly for a day or two xx

    1. Lord, Freya! I didn’t realise. That’s awful. I do remember that advert, it was horrible for those of us who hadn’t experienced it, let alone what it must’ve been like for families who have!

  4. Such a moving post. It’s something I wouldn’t think about it, but it makes perfect sense. And it is so hard to avoid these scenes, they appear on so many programmes, often unexpectedly.
    To be honest, a lot of the time I can’t handle ‘heavy’ TV either, for no other reason than I just want a laugh or a bit of relaxation after the bedtime marathon and before going to bed myself.

  5. This is so true – we were exactly like this when my husbands brother suddenly passed away. Everything seemed to somehow relate back to death or losing a relative etc etc and for a good while it was really tough. It did eventually get a little easier for us though and I hope it will for you too. xxxxxxxx

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