by Biljana Likic
Sadness can be tough, I find. It can be hard to see when you’re going overboard. And since everybody handles grief differently, it can be tricky to suspend disbelief so much that everyone reading believes in the sadness, and not just the people that would react similarly. For example, if somebody found out their pet had died, and they went into the kitchen and blindly broke every plate and glass, an animal lover who’s been in that position before might understand why they did it, but somebody who hasn’t known that type of relationship might not. Personally, I would consider it an overreaction, but how can I judge the bond between pet and master when I’m not an animal person, and don’t have any conception of what the pet meant to them?
So the first thing to do would be creating a deep connection between the griever and the thing lost. If the reader doesn’t believe that the lovers love each other, when the woman dies and the man throws himself off a bridge they’ll think it’s contrived and silly. You need to show throughout the story that what they have is special, and I find one of the best tricks for doing this is subtle repetition. This means keeping the woman in the man’s thoughts. If you can have him naturally think about her, you’ll remind the reader about all the things he sees in her, which leads to a subconscious understanding that he loves her and that losing her could potentially crush him.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
He walked through the crowd, hands in his pockets, and the sun warmed his face when he stepped out of the shadow of a building. Fiddling with the keys, he crossed the street to his apartment and slipped sideways between two parked cars. His eyes followed a blonde briefly before remembering that she was out of town for the day. Letting himself into the lobby, he called an elevator and tapped his shoes against the carpeted floor.
Little things like this happen to everybody. You have a girl or boy on your mind and suddenly everyone with the same hair colour could be them. But you have to use this in moderation. In real life our thoughts move too fast for them to seem repetitive about stuff like this, but written down they’re painfully obvious if you overdo them. Hence, subtle repetition.
So they’re in love. But now she’s gone.
How does he find out? Is he at work? Does he hear about it the next day because his cell phone ran out of batteries? Does he watch her die? Did he have time to kiss her one last time, to say goodbye, hold her hand, believe that it could still be her on the sidewalk by his apartment?
Then there’s his reaction. His devastation, numbness, denial, whatever fits his character or stream of events best. It’s something that should come naturally. If you don’t know what his reaction should be, maybe he doesn’t know either. Maybe he flounders in a desperately emotionless void until those around him think he’s inhuman. Maybe that’s followed by inexpressible anger at everybody who dared imply that he didn’t love her, and general fury that she left him in the state of things as they are. Perhaps he starts analyzing the day of her death; if he’d convinced her to stay for coffee, the car would’ve just driven by. If he had noticed her fever, he could’ve gotten her to a hospital in time. If he’d realized how icy the sidewalks had been he would’ve forced her out of the heeled boots.
A person can drive themselves insane with if only’s. And notice how each one puts the blame on his shoulders.
Underneath everything though, there is a constant, aching sadness. The numbness is just the mind trying to protect itself from the acute sense of loss. Behind it all there’s the knowledge that something was taken away forever. Even if he finds it again in another person, it won’t be the same. And that’s where the deepest grief comes from.
But the most soul-stirring part, for me at least, would not be his anger, or his tears; it would be his acceptance. The strength he would need for this isn’t something that can be put into words, because accepting loss doesn’t mean forgetting it. It means continuing life, adjusting where he can. It doesn’t mean learning to live without her, but admitting the pain of loss, allowing himself time to mourn, but not letting it control his life. With acceptance comes the gift of being able to breathe without the air hitching in your throat, and being able to think about the future without the grip of total fear wrapping itself around your heart.
If the man can grasp that, or even just give us the hint that he will, the story is complete. Grief comes around full circle and the reader reaches a forlorn closure. But most importantly, they’re given the awareness that the man will go on. That it’s possible.
Along with the sadness, the reader is given hope.
That’s something I don’t mind walking away with.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.