There is nothing decent about Rob Delaney’s grief

About halfway through Rob Delaney’s 2020 special, “Jackie,” which was filmed in London, the American comedian announced his desire to have sexual fun with Britain’s National Health Service. Delaney’s career as a comedian took off on Twitter, where he amassed a large following who reveled in his focus on absurdity, unfazed by his poop, genitalia, and masturbation attacks. The NHS part looks like it’s watching a series of these tweets on stage. Delaney explains that in America, when you seek medical attention, “you have to take your credit cards, your mother’s credit cards, your neighbor’s credit cards, melt them down, make them into the kayak you paddle to the hospital and beg them to help you.” Plus, “you’re instantly full of hot, molten diarrhea coming off your ass,” because you’re so terrified of what’s going to happen to you financially. However, the NHS protects you from all of that. “If the NHS had my penis, I would suck this penis,” says Delaney, who has lived in the UK since 2014. “If the NHS had a pussy. . . He grumbled and shuddered at the same time, overwhelmed with excitement.

Most of the public has likely heard Delaney rave about the NHS before. He and his family moved to England so he could star in the British sitcom Catastrophe, which he starred in and co-wrote. Sharon Horgan. After the show took off, Delaney and his family stayed behind; In the years that followed, he became a household British name. In 2015, his wife gave birth to their third son, Henry. Shortly after Henry turned one, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He spent most of his life in hospitals and died before he was three years old. Since then, Delaney has been publicly outspoken about his grief and appreciation for all the NHS has done for his family. He made a Campaign video for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party, sharing his family’s story to give emotional weight to arguments against health spending cuts and healthcare privatization. He made similar appeals to the American public, urging people to vote for Bernie Sanders, join the Democratic Socialists of America, and fight for health care as a public good.

in guardian An article published in the run-up to the 2019 British Parliamentary election wrote about how Henry managed to die at home, in the comfort of his own home, thanks to help from the NHS. Having a child die is horrific; The crux of Delaney’s argument is that, within horror, there are degrees, and that political choices can influence the degree you experience. He took time, amid controversy over income inequality and political fantasy, to talk about moments of happiness in Henry’s life, such as the first time he climbed onto the roof of a hospital and, after several months inside, feeling the sun and wind on his skin.

Delaney’s Skinny New Book,”Heart worksHe tells the story of Henry’s life and Delaney’s grief, freed from constraints—of length and tone—in the short campaign video or political opening. There is a linear story, which Delaney sums up at the end in a tone of stunned disbelief:

Our child got sick.
We went to a lot of doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
We found out what it was.
It was too bad.
It got worse.
Then he died.
And now he died.

From the beginning, everything is told from the present tense that Henry is actually gone; Just as in life, where sadness explodes and time warps, everything seems incredibly close one second and so far away the next. “Henry started to struggle very quickly,” Delaney wrote, describing an incident in which his son’s breathing tube was removed to see how he was doing, “and I started crying, and now I’m crying as I write this.” The book may feel like a dagger stabbing you again and again. Delaney and his wife receive bad news. Worse news. We watch over his shoulder as he recreates moments of intimacy he knows will never return. We recognize Henry and see him leave.

But we also laugh along the way. Alongside the narrative of panicked hospital visits, frightening infections, and breathing tube struggles, there are comic barbs and sideshows that wouldn’t be out of place in Delaney’s stand-up collection, or on his Twitter feed. These two lines — sadness and laughter — don’t just sit side by side; They work together. When Delaney grapples with the confusing nature of hospital layouts, or his troubles making sense of his American voice through a phone list designed to answer British, he does a few things at once. It’s a temporary, albeit partial, reprieve from the book’s immutable run. It is the solemn embodiment of Delaney’s advice, to other parents of seriously ill children, about finding opportunities for instant cheer, and resisting the power of the shadow of disease to darken everything. this is funy. Then Delaney sends you back to grief. You wonder, with guilt, if I’ve been holding onto the reprieve so impatiently.

Sometimes these rapid jumps in the recording coincide, to powerful effect, with Delaney’s drifts through time. Talk of the hospital’s schemes comes early, before Henry falls ill; Delaney visits Whittington, the hospital where Henry will be born, and where he will later live. Suddenly, we slip through a chronological wormhole: “If I counted correctly, 13 Whittington nurses attended Henry’s posthumous memorial.”

It’s a bad punch, delivered with the facility of comedic action with timing and surprise. Delaney says early on that he knew that accurately recalling his experience would hurt people. Therefore, he writes, he wants to harm people. But he shies away from easy feelings. He knows he’s writing a teardrop, and he’s obviously wary of the genre; He doesn’t want Henry’s life to be just a pile of sadness. On first reading it is easy to overlook how severely he avoids filling the reader with details of Henry’s suffering. He’s certainly there, but we learn just as much – and maybe more – about his passion and enthusiasm: the relationships he had in the hospital, the TV shows and music he loved; his connections to his family members; Dancing and playing that filled their apartment when he came home. The pain comes not so much from the terrifying details as from the way Delaney pulls us in touch with aspects of our lives that are so easy to ignore: our vulnerability, our constant proximity to disaster, our inability to control what life brings, or when.

Describing the changes in Henry’s influence during the last days of his life, Delaney drops a sentence that I have returned to several times, marveling at how simple details can act as cracks through which feeling seeps in, first as a drip, and then all at once, as a flood. “A big Lego Duplo ice cream cone became very important to him, and he loved to hold it in his hand all day.”

Delaney describes watching Henry die at home. It encourages people to spend time with the bodies of recently deceased loved ones, conditions permitting. He remembers saying, “We had to keep the windows open, so please stop working for the day.” The rowdies stopped building. “I will tell you nothing more about the moments before or after Henry’s death,” Delaney wrote, choosing instead to define the intensity of those moments negatively, taking an implicit stand against the notion that writing faithfully or usefully about the worst things in the world should mean reciting All the details of what happened. “I can talk about them, but I don’t want to try to pin them down. You may have experienced something like them, or maybe someday you will.”

If Henry’s story, in Delaney’s campaign for public health care, serves as an opener—his personal relationship to a political subject—in A Heart That Works, it tenaciously fills the frame, relegating everything else to the edges, including the politics. In “Jackie”, which he recorded two years after Henry’s death, Delaney doesn’t mention him, and it felt like an experiment: what is it like to be Rob Delaney facing the audience and not talking about death, even when he’s talking about the NHS? ‘Heart works’ Another experiment: What is it like to talk about Henry without focusing on the cause of public health care? It’s not that the topic never comes up. Delaney praises the NHS and cares about Henry’s quality of care. He refers to American private insurance as a “pyramid scheme/murder”. To any of his readers who work for private insurance companies, he has a message: “Fuck you and lick you forever.” British politicians and newspaper owners trying to advance the cause for healthcare privatization “need to backtrack ten times, then gargle with a big bowl of diarrhea”. He quips about a lack of funding from the NHS, and describes Kafka’s case in which Henry was medically allowed to leave hospital, then told to stay put due to staffing problems at the home care office. The many meetings it took to resolve this problem, he wrote, “has radicalized me several times.”

But that’s the bottom line for the NHS: “A discussion of national healthcare policy would be a book in itself,” notes Delaney. It’s one thing to talk about Henry for a few moments in a political campaign video. To talk at any length of those policies in a book about Henry is, we might imagine, another. In the campaign video, Delaney has a mission: rally his audience. On “A Heart That Works” he has a different heart. If you come up with a new appreciation for health care as a public good, Delaney will probably like it. But that is not the point. He tries to coax you into coming to the brink of grief, does whatever it takes—even telling you jokes—to make you look inward a little longer than you might have otherwise, and in doing so, perhaps begin to learn something about how you want to live (which is related). , but cannot be reducible, to the question of how you want to vote).

All the while, the jokes keep coming, allowing you to laugh, sometimes just to laugh, sometimes to get hurt even more, laughter and hurt increasingly intertwined, long after the point where they can be distinguished from each other. At one point, Delaney’s father-in-law, Richard, says he wishes it had been him, and not Henry, who had brain cancer. The family is in the midst of an emotional group hug. “So do we, Richard,” says Delaney, and everyone laughs together. In another, Delaney’s mother and sister begin telling an acquaintance what the family is dealing with: In addition to Henry’s cancer, Delaney’s sister’s husband has killed himself. When an acquaintance leaves, defeated in their quest for emotionally safe small talk, the women break into the “chattering, dolphin-like laughter of the lunatic”.

Delaney wrote, in a similar vein, about his newfound love for horror films: The way the disaster builds up, in increasingly intense chronicles, feels therapeutic. “Mother of Christ,” he said, remembering laughing his way down Midsummer with his wife and another bereaved father, “This movie made me happy. If you’re mentally well-adapted and wondering why, don’t worry. For most people I know this movie made me A state of shock and aversion.” It’s not hard to imagine some readers being similarly moved by the marriage of Delaney’s comic style with talk of grief. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care. Cancer knows nothing about propriety, nor does grief, and so Delaney—who was never interested in propriety to begin with—doesn’t want to know either. Recently, an unsuspecting Twitter user posted a picture of the British version of “A Heart in Action” alongside a box of Kleenex, showing his awareness of the grief and tears to come. Delaney retweeted the photo with a little caption attached. He did not deny that the book would make readers cry. But he had an order, one that contained a mixture of obscene weaponry and deadly lethality. He wrote, “Please, don’t continue with my book.” ♦

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