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The Art of Turning Trauma into Comedy

By Patsy Trench January 10, 2023 Family

My annus horribilis began some time ago, right at the beginning of the year when I told my husband of 28 years that I wanted to separate.

It was not a sudden decision on my part, but what surprised me, amazed me, was that it came as a total shock to my husband. We had had a good marriage and produced two wonderful children, now grown up and fled the nest. We were still polite and civilised to one another, but for me all feelings of affection and emotional engagement had disappeared long ago.

The Surprise Was My Husband Was the Only One Taken by Surprise

My kids suspected the marriage was over, as did my friends, without my saying anything. My husband, on the other hand, reacted strangely: first he pretended I hadn’t said anything, then he thought I was joking.

Finally, he became angry and started to make dreadful threats: he would leave the house one day, and I would never see him again. He would drive off into the sunset and nobody would see him again.

Throughout All of This I Was Steadfast

I knew I was making the right decision; that the civilised, friendly relationship we just about had would quickly descend into mutual dislike. It was already beginning to happen. We were still young enough – me in my 60s, he 10 years older – to make a future independently of one another. We just had to sell the family house and go our separate ways.

Selling the House Was the Easy Bit

So we thought. We even had a card put through our door by a young couple wanting to buy a house on our side of our particular street. They were cash buyers: they didn’t have a property to sell, and we could do the deal between us without the need for an estate agent and save ourselves a barrel of money.

It Didn’t Quite Turn Out Like That, However

Having fixed a deal, and haggled a bit as a result of a survey, we arranged a date for exchange of contracts. The date came and went and neither our buyers nor their solicitors were answering our phone calls. A month later they telephoned to say the deal was off because their buyers had pulled out – so much for not having a property to sell.

It Was Back to Square One

Throughout all this, I struggled to keep the proverbial still upper lip, to remain calm in all the chaos, above all to steer my husband through the mess and stop him from scarpering.

It wasn’t easy. He mistook my calmness for coldness. He told me I should just leave and surrender the house to him. He told me I would never manage on my own, that I’d be destitute. He said he was too old to begin a new life with a new partner.

Time passed. A further sale fell through. And then finally, 15 months after I said The Terrible Words,

We Sold the House

I went to lodge with a friend while I looked for a flat to buy, my husband stayed in a hotel before lodging with a friend of ours and her family; and he spent the last 10 years of his life in a rented flat with his new partner, who nursed him through his final illness.

I Kept a Diary of This Horrible Year

And turned it into a book, which I called One Glorious Adventure. I showed the manuscript to my agent, he liked it and sent it around to publishers. No one picked it up – it was too short, and crossed genres – but one television company got back to my agent and asked me if I could turn it into a sitcom.

A sitcom?

One day at the height of all the drama I turned up at work and said to my colleague, ‘The house sale has fallen through, my husband is threatening to kill himself and I just stubbed my toe.’

And you know what she did? She burst into hysterical laughter.

After a stunned moment, I joined in and I realised, then if not before, that

Comedy and Tragedy Are Very Closely Related

I had written the book with a light touch, but it wasn’t until I broke the story into episodes, each one featuring yet another unexpected hiccup – such as our neighbour’s satellite dish, which overlapped onto our property slightly and did not bother us in the least but threatened to be a deal-breaker for our buyers – that I began to realise, in hindsight, what a chain of absurdities it had all been.

I wrote a treatment and a breakdown of episodes, but I did not send it to the television company. It was all too raw, and personal. It didn’t feel right.

But it did teach me a valuable lesson, which is

To Look for the Funny Side

I am not saying that all human tragedy has a funny side, but in this instance, looking back, and knowing we somehow all survived, it was a very good coping mechanism, and one which I have tried ever since to turn to whenever life shows signs of going pear-shaped.

It Takes Just a Few Tweaks of Perspective

To see the absurdity in our everyday lives, to recognise how easy it is to lose one’s sense of proportion, to agonise over things that are neither life-threatening nor, when you consider them soberly, particularly important.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What was the most recent ‘tragedy turned comedy’ in your life? What would it take for you to see the funny in the difficult times? What is your coping mechanism when hardship comes?

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Yvonne Frost

As the person who was blindsided I struggled with the lack of apparent empathy towards the ex spouse. Whilst both parties are deeply hurt the lesson to be learned is that it is essential to communicate in marriage. I agree with healing from our hurts and coming out stronger but I felt this came over as laughing at someone else’s expense.

Patsy Trench

I was certainly not laughing at anyone else’s expense Yvonne – I obviously didn’t express myself clearly. My husband in particularly benefited from our awful experience, and after more than a year of extreme stress and depression I found it a relief to eventually be able to laugh at myself.

Carol Terry

I have just literally moved in with my cousin and her husband. My health has been declining.
This morning I noticed that I seemed to have more energy and I was walking fairly quickly. It turned out that the floors sloped down where I was walking!
Still, it gave me a little boost of confidence!

Patsy Trench

That’s a great story Carol. We find positives wherever we can!

Sharon Bowman Lessard

Sorry but I see no comedy or helpful information in this life story.

I’m sorry to hear that Sharon. I was trying to explain that what at the time was the worst experience of my life that I didn’t expect to get through, viewed from the distance of time and knowing we all survived it – and my husband in particular I think benefited from it – looked very different. I obviously didn’t express this very well.

Beth Rice

Maybe not always Funny, but ironic. I found cocaine in my husband’s pocket on my 58th birthday. I was completely blind sided. I had a friend staying at my house, my mother lived with us – my son in college. He wanted to pretend that it never happened.
He wouldn’t communicate about the coke, wouldn’t go to counseling etc. though I had asked him to leave, He was going to have shoulder surgery and was expecting us to take care of him. I had him removed from the house by sheriff – he was completely blind sided, I felt he deserved it.
I hope that future generations have better relationships with men than ours.

Patsy Trench

That’s a really traumatic story Beth. I hope you are well recovered now. And yes, let’s hope the younger generation manage their relationships more successfully than some of us.


I am glad someone can find gray divorce amusing. Maybe I will be able to do that myself when I am not in the process. Of course, I am the one that was left behind for a woman 20 years younger and I was as blindsided as your husband, having loved my husband deeply and completely for entire 34 years together.


Thank you Marian for sharing that. I agree it is different when you are the one who didn’t make the decision about the divorce – that was also my case after 27 years and 3 grown children. There is a sense of betrayal that I have for our relationship and friendship. Now, 8 years later, I have let go of a lot of the pain but still feel that gut punch every so often.

Patsy Trench

I’m really sorry to hear your story Marian. There is no way I could see anything amusing while I was in the process of my breakup. Looking back I wonder how I got through it, but I did get through it, and I really hope you do too.

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The Author

Patsy Trench has been an actress, scriptwriter, theatre tour organiser and theatre teacher and lecturer. She now writes books about her family history in colonial Australia and novels featuring enterprising women breaking boundaries in Edwardian and 1920s England. She lives in London.

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