Comedian and actor Rob Delaney moved from Los Angeles to London with his wife and family to write and star in the tv series Catastrophe. They settle in, but when their youngest child, who had been born in London, is a year old, he is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He dies aged two. The book relates, beautifully, the stages of Henry’s life. The initial culture clashes that come from being Americans in the UK; navigating the intricacies of the NHS for his birth; the initial realisation that something is wrong; the difficulties in getting a diagnosis. And then the surgeries, the chemo and other treatments, getting him home, the care they needed to provide due to the disabilities he had from the surgeries to save his life. The cancer coming back. The death of a beautiful little boy.
This is not a misery memoir. Rob Delaney is a comedian and he leans funny throughout, even though the ending is horrible. He also doesn’t linger on Henry’s death. It’s there throughout, you know it’s coming, but it is much more, to me anyway, about his life. The love his family had for him, and that which he had for them. His personality is in these pages, you can picture him easily. He is described with such love and care by a father who is absolutely devastated – and often furious – that his child is no longer here.
I seek out people writing about grief now. I’m in that zone since losing my mother last year. I need to know people feel the way I do. And even though a parent losing their child is a different kind of grief to a child losing their parent, it’s in the same frame. I appreciate people putting their feelings out for others to read if they need to, for people to share, because we as a society are so thoroughly terrible at dealing with grief. So many of us don’t know what to do about it, or how to talk about it. You lose someone and your life as you knew it is obliterated and yet you’re supposed to just carry on as normal. A hole has been punctured in the world but people ignore it. I am thankful for those who don’t.