Mourning a Fictional Character's Death!

 

Edited by Aneesha Chandra

 

Do you know what the greatest grief is? The grief you are going through right now.

- Alan Wolfelt

The idea of mourning the death of a fictional character who doesn’t technically exist may sound absurd to a stoic mind. As Peter Van Houten from The Fault in Our Stars said, “They are fiction, they all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.” Yet one can't help but wish otherwise. Be it the heroic death of Tony Stark (Iron Man) in the movie Avengers: Endgame or the unfair death of Beth in Little Women, they made us wish for a different outcome. In a movie, we get to experience various emotions. For some, the experience of grief may end with the movie. However, others may hold on to the grief and carry it with them. 

Alan Wolfelt, the founder of the Centre for Loss and Life Transition explains that  mourning the death of a fictional character or feeling extreme grief relative to the rest is perfectly normal. He defines grief as an instinctive human response to loss and the counterpart to love. He explains how our culture tends to deny and judge the pain of grief. In his book Understanding Your Grief, he writes that it is through grief that the process of healing begins. 

While the relationship between the characters and viewers of fiction is one-sided, oftentimes a deep connection is formed. Although fictional characters may not suffer when they die, true fans do. It is worth noting that death is a common occurrence in movies — especially in horror films. Many “random” characters suffer fatalities but one doesn’t mourn for them. We feel deep remorse when a character we loved or had grown to love dies. Filmmakers play a significant role in making their viewers feel this way. In a film, we get to see the protagonist or supporting characters go through character development or start out as  likable from the very beginning. We tend to relate to or root for such characters and experience actual grief when the connection is broken. 

As Mr. Woflelt puts it, “Healing is not returning to an old normal but rather creating a new normal.”

How does one deal with such a loss? This is what Mr. Wolfelt recommends: Active mourning helps one integrate loss into their life. This involves acknowledging one’s sense of loss, understanding the appropriate role of hurt in their experience. Going backward and remembering what the character brought to one’s life. And most crucially, receiving some support from other people who can affirm the legitimacy of one’s sense of loss and need to mourn. It helps to find like-hearted fans who share a similar sense of loss. Wolfelt suggests reconciling with one's own grief. That is when the full reality of the loss becomes a part of life. 

How do we help a person grieving such a loss? It’s hard to know what to say and do when someone you care about is grieving. Mr. Wolfelt suggests that one of the “most important ways we can help is to learn about the grief experience; the more we know, the less likely we are to unknowingly perpetuate some of our society’s harmful misconceptions about grief and healing." One should try not to delegitimize or mock their sense experience with grief. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to realize that our culture sees the experience of grief as weakness and tends to judge it. We should try to be understanding. Even if it’s well-meaning, we should refrain from rationalizing with the person in grief. Try to avoid cliché statements. Most of the time, all a grieving person needs is someone to listen or to share their loss.

 Loss is not solely confined to the real world; most fiction deals with loss on some level as well. It is not unnatural or inexplicable. It is not an illness or a mental health issue. Loss is not about what's real or not, it’s about an emotional connection and the pain of separation. It's about saying goodbye and wishing we didn’t have to. So, it’s okay to mourn the loss of your favorite character!