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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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I think the use of the word “tragedy” here is horrible. Seriously, people go through real tragedies in life and though this may have been hard for you, it is not a “tragedy.” Very insensitive.

Tabia Coulibaly

It hasn’t happened yet; that turning thing. I have not called the list of challenging situations i have
and am facing going thru these seventy nine years, tragedies. They are more like Eeyore situations, or perpetual potentials like the cloud of dust around Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
What I am seeking is the ‘how to”. What are at least a few guiding phrases or positions to assume which starts the attitude and brain shift? At one point I thought about taking a comedian class. I located a school nearby and then I told my son. He told me that I wasn’t funny…

Patsy Trench

The fact that you thought about taking a comedian class sounds positive to me Tabia. I found it helpful to keep a diary recording my day to day experiences, and in order to survive them I tried to write with a light touch, because it felt as if the constant Eeyore situations, as you call them, were simply piling up and up until I felt almost suffocated by them.


i was married 34 years, the first three were good, my ex handled all the money, which i did not know was going to happen. thru all the turmoil of those 30 years, i got strong enough to ask for a divorce. the funny think is i get good alimony and i get to control my portion. don’t have to ask or beg or depend on anyone! i had to get a divorce to get my share!

Patsy Trench

Congratulations on your newfound independence Teresa! My mother depended totally on my father financially and when he died she was left completely high and dry. It’s not a good place to be and I did not want to end up like that.


Great Article, Patsy! As they say….Laughter is the Best Medicine!

Patsy Trench

Thank you Donna. I do realise many things are easier said and done but if you can laugh at things it can be helpful.

Hennie Fitzpatrick

So glad to see this. Fifteen years ago I had a cardiac arrest caused by a” mistake’ the anethesiologist made as he was dosing post op meds after a knee replacement . It took me a long time to recover my memory and even longer to recover from the PTSD which wreaked havoc in my busy life as a recently divorced working mother of 5 ( yes 5) fabulous kids
The best therapies I found included group therapy focussed on writing and performing a sketch turning Trauma into Comedy and the Womens Circus where I became an avid participant . Since then I have developed different kinds of play therapy for healing which has been SO helpful to me as well as to the women I care for in my medical practice .
Thanks for this. I would love to collaborate ways to use comedy and fun as a way to heal from trauma and truly recover. My latest endeavor is to take classes in musical improv and to continue bringing ACRO GRANNY my clown character to as many events as I can find just for fun

Patsy Trench

That’s a fabulous story Hennie. It shows such strength of character and positivity. The way you have turned your life around and become a healer through comedy is truly inspiring. I would love to see a performance of Acro Granny! Could she make an appearance on YouTube perhaps?

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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