Anna Lindner was at her father's side when he died. Then she wrote a TV show about it.

Anna Lindner hadn't really considered that life would lead her here, on the other side of a phone, talking me through all the intimate, vulnerable ins and outs of her grief.

"I probably didn't think about this part," she laughs down the line.

But reliving her grief is something Lindner's done a lot since the death of her dad in 2017. Firstly, she wrote and starred in a TV show about it. That led to some pretty weird, meta on-set moments. And now she's promoting the show, which involves opening herself up once again about the hardest moments of her life.

Watch: A Beginner's Guide to Grief trailer. Story continues below video.

Video via SBS.

But for Lindner, grief usually comes with an accompanying friend: laughter.

Lindner's dark comedy series A Beginner's Guide to Grief arrives on SBS On Demand on September 4 (Father's Day, which feels both sweet and... darkly funny, considering the premise).

The show is semi-biographical. 

Lindner stars as 31-year-old Harriet, who left her dream New York arts scholarship to return to her regional South Australian hometown after her father Nicholas' terminal cancer diagnosis. Later, her mother receives the same fate and dies just weeks before the show timeline.


(In real life, Lindner's mother was diagnosed 48 hours before her dad's death. This is where her story slightly differs from Harriet's. She chokes up talking about it: "I can't say this without crying. But I'm so grateful that she is still with me.")

The show begins with Nicholas' deathbed confession: despite living as Lutheran Revivalists, neither he nor her mother actually believed in God, and his final request is to be cremated.

From there, Harriet must work with her pyrotechnic childhood foster-sister, Daisy, to fulfil her dad's wishes - against the rest of the town and her very religious extended family, who are determined to give him a full-blown, Holy Spirit-certified burial.

Image: SBS.


Along the way, Harriet listens to a series of rather unhelpful tapes on grief left behind by her mother (voiced by Ted Lasso's Brett Goldstein), learns a lot about her family, Daisy and herself, and also... maybe drugs most of the community.

It's affirming, poignant and most crucially, funny.

"I really want this to be reflective of my experience of real life, which is that darkness is always followed by comedy," Lindner says of the tone.

"There is light in the darkest places. I think we're just very practised at pushing it away. So to me, it felt like a really natural approach to telling this story... throughout my life I've just felt in the darkest moments, there is always something humorous; a flash of light amidst the darkness. I've always found that quite peculiar and glorious, because I believe it's there for a reason."

She likens it to putting on a set of floaties.


"You're very much bobbing, you're underwater one second, taking a gulp of murky water, and then you've got a moment of oxygen and light, and then you're back into the murky water. I think [humour] is designed to keep us afloat."

Image: SBS.

Like her character in the show, Lindner cared for her dad until his final moments.

"Something truly profound happened for me, and I am not a religious person," she recalls.


"I've tried to describe it in the past as like, my dad passed through me and with him, he kind of scraped this layer off my entire being that I had been protecting myself with."

She remembers feeling the duality of light and shade.

"All the things that I had worried about - in terms of other people's opinions and being approved of - all of the stuff that we get caught up in our world, it was like it was all stripped away," she explains.

"He just ripped it from me. And I felt such extraordinary presence and love. And that stayed with me from that moment.

"So there was this really strange dynamic happening where I would shift between grief and the deep loss and this extraordinary sense of freedom and joy. I couldn't believe what was happening. And there was a sense of guilt around that. So I was very quiet about it."

But she had been documenting everything for herself - including "all of the absurdity and hilarious shit that kept happening," and when she saw SBS and Screen Australia's Digital Initaitive, which develops innovative short-form drama projects, she knew in her gut that she wanted to share joy and grief co-existing with an audience.

Image: SBS.


A Beginner's Guide to Grief does just that, particularly by weaving humour into the moments you least expect.

Actually creating the show brought about one of those moments of realisation, maybe similar to the one we both had on the phone, about Lindner having to relive these moments over and over.

"It brought up a lot of very visceral memories," she explains of filming. "And when I realised that was happening, I just had to reassure myself that this was my choosing. There is a reason behind telling this - which is to reach people, to make them feel seen and okay about their experience of loss. Whatever they are going through, whatever mess they're in."


She kept returning to the thought that this was now bigger than her, but she didn't shy away from those feelings. A really important part of the production was to ensure a safe environment for anyone to feel whatever they needed to.

"Often I shared that with the cast and crew and said, 'hey, just letting you know that he's feeling really familiar and close to home, so if I burst into tears in the middle of our conversation, that's nothing you've done'," she says, with a chuckle.

"I made it very clear from the beginning for all the crew that if anything was coming up for them that was completely okay too, and there was support for them."

Ultimately, Lindner hopes A Beginner's Guide to Grief extends that support to anyone who needs it.

"We all know that feeling of loss, on whatever level we've experienced in our own personal lives. We can all tap into that feeling. But I want to give people an avenue to tap into both at the same time and realise that there is no shame in that," she says.

"I would love for people to feel just okay about whatever it is they're going through."

A Beginner's Guide to Grief premieres September 4 at 9.20pm on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.

Feature image: SBS.

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