The stages of grief/death in a character.

I’m reading  a YA fantasy knightish novel in which one of the characters, a thirteen year old girl, sees her party murdered by the enemy.  She comes across the protagonist and his party and cries, collapses, etc as she tells them of the grisly crime.  Then the next morning, she’s better!!! It’s a miracle from Miracle Max!! No more crying, no trauma, no nightmares, nothing. All of this got me to thinking about traumas I’ve endured and how I survived them.   My friend committed suicide years ago and for one year, it haunted me.  I went through the stages of grief.  So why not bring those stages into our female character from the knight story?

Shock and denial.  Ok, so the girl was in shock, but no denial.  No “Well, maybe they’re still alive.  Maybe we should go back and see.  I can’t just leave them back there!!”

Pain and guilt.  I shoulda, coulda stage.  I should have tried to save them, I could have fought back. I hated this stage!!

Anger and bargaining.  I’ll kill the enemy for what he did to them!! I want revenge!!  And the If I could just talk to her one more time, just to say, I love you.  I forgive you.  I think this is the worse stage, at least it was for me. 

Depression, reflection, loneliness.  My God, she’s really gone.  I won’t see her anymore.  I remember one time she did this really funny thing.  Then the loneliness hits cause she just ain’t there no more. 😦

The upward turn.  Ok, I’m getting my life back.  I think I’ll make it.

Reconstruction and working through.  I’ll get back to living again without her.

Acceptance and hope.  I miss her and always will.  She’ll always be with me.  I’ll never get back to us again, but I have to move on.

This is how some of us deal with grief.  But remember, it can be different for everyone.   Some folks skip stages or just deal with it, but they WILL experience something.   As for the named character, well, she just zipped past all these stages and went straight to being normal!  MMM. . . now yes, she did help the protagonist kill the baddies, but what about when nightfall comes and all is quiet except your own breathing and these stages creep in like a restless ghost?  I hate night time, hate it when I have to face all this junk and pray God takes it all away from me.  (In the TV movie, BROKEN TRAIL, the protagonists rescue five teenaged Chinese girls from prostitution.  But the baddies raped one girl.  She went through these stages, especially loss of appetite, depression and then suicide.  Poor thing.)

I think when we have the character go through these stages, even just a little, it makes her a little more like us and less like a person in a book.  Yes, she can go after the baddie, but still the stages cling to her, trying to pull her away. I had my little dog Tiffany for almost 16 years.  She grew up with me, endured with me, cried with me.  When I had to put her to sleep, I tried to keep busy at work, making sure I didn’t stop to think about her.  But I did think about her and the stages hit me between the eyes . . . hard.  And that’s what should happen to her, it’s hits her . . . hard.

Now for some research on the subject.  Here’s a quote from a juror who had to serve on a trial for a serial killer:

“I too, have served on a jury that haunts me to this day. I can only hope and pray that the public officials of the Courts would understand that when the trial ends- the suffering does not. Not only did the trial i was on last 7 weeks, but its been months since- and a day doesnt go by that i feel it has hurt my entire life. Its as if i was the victim(s). Hearing/seeing and watching this trail go on has disturbed my life- and i dont know if i will ever be the same. I think jury selection needs to be more cautious when selecting for high profile cases. You wont fully understand what any jury member is going through until you sit on a jury of a horendous crime. Please consider providing help for those of us who have served and yet are suffering. I am seeking counseling for PTSD, however it is at my expense- and thats a pretty penny. ” 

Now this character saw the grisly death of her best friend and the guards accompanying her and was alone for 10 days while trying to avoid the enemy. She was half starved when they found her.  So not only did she have the shock of seeing her friends die, but she also had the stress of staying alive.  So what kind of mental stress would that involve? She traveled by night, and stayed hidden in the day.  Would she have the sense of mind to do that in her condition?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  But she also knew the enemy was close at hand.  So would she have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all she had experienced?  Maybe.  And without her family to comfort her or talking about her experience,  would the stress cling to her? Would she still be afraid the enemy would find her even when she was safe with her brave knights? I wonder.  I think I would be a basket case. 

Here’s more research:

“Although the Delta is now returning to normal, a year after Nargis, the task of recovery and reconstruction remains monumental. Millions of survivors are now haunted by the memories of that night and the “ghosts” are there to remind them.

The ghosts of the dead and the missing usually come when there is no moon and when the wind picks up, Dr Sylvia Wamser told Mizzima. “They can hear them walking along the rice terraces and along the riverbanks,” she said.

“Some of them cry out: they sound sad, and others are angry,” said Maung Maung, an elderly male farmer whose village, deep in the Delta, was washed away. He lost most of his family, except his wife and two grandsons. “We are all frightened when they wail.”

“Hla Htay escaped with his family in a boat, but it was smashed to pieces by the strong winds and waves. “All my family members fell into the water. My children were crying and shouting for help, I can still hear them now,” he said. He lost his wife and four children that night – only one son survived the ordeal.

Throughout the delta, the story is the same – survivors who have lost many of their loved ones. Nwe Nwe, a 40-year old woman lost 36 members of her family. “I moved from my village after Nargis, because I couldn’t bear the memories there,” she said. “I can’t eat or sleep, I don’t dare leave the house. Every night I have strange and evil dreams — I’m now afraid of nighttime.” 

““After the cyclone, I had very strange dreams about my children,” said thirty-five-year-old Kyi Kyi Win, who lost three of her five children during the height of the cyclone. “I constantly dream that my children are asking me to follow them. I get very scared and I feel like I am in hell. I went to a fortune teller and he told me that the children will go to a good place because they are innocent, but I still get unusual and strange dreams.”

“When it gets windy I can’t eat anything and I cannot sleep. It makes me think about the cyclone and about my dead children and I can’t stop crying.”

Kyi Kyi now constantly suffers from headaches and back pain. She also has trouble concentrating and has lost all interest in working. “When I think of my dead children, I just want to die,” she said.”

The signs of post-traumatic stress are all too evident, according to aid workers in the Delta. People are still suffering from nightmares, limited attention spans, listlessness, problems concentrating and loss of appetite. They also complained of a host of physical symptoms — back problems, headaches and other pains – all psychosematic results of trauma. ” 

Now imaging pouring some of these same symptoms into that one lost girl.  Zowee!!! Gives me chills. So the moral of this strange and long story?  Dig into the character, how does she experience trauma?  Don’t let her blow it off because no one can just blow off trauma.  They WILL experience something.  Patricia Hickman taught me to dig, dig, dig into the character and see what you pull out.  I never once stop to think about poor Imogene, my character, ripped from this world and plopped down into a strange and unknown world.  She’s thrown into a prison, sees dead people lying on the ground, is almost raped by a man she thought she loved and trusted.  She has gone through the first two stages of grief.  So I need to let her go through the rest of the stages as the guys she is with try to find a way to get her home. As Emer questions his faith, Imogene can’t eat, can’t sleep and jumps at every sound and poor Conell has no idea how to handle all of this. If Imogene can’t hear from the Ancients to lead them to the weapons, and Emer can’t help her b/c he’s losing his faith in Them, and poor Conell doesn’t even believe They exist, then maybe the demon villian will win and kill everyone.  Ahhh . . . what a tangled web we weave.  So let the character grief, let her go through these stages, don’t blow off making a minor character even more interesting.  Just because she’s minor doesn’t mean she’s minor.  🙂


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