Loss is a part of life, and if it’s a part of life, then it’s a part of literature. Millions, me included, sobbed through the final chapters of The Fault in Our Stars, and one of my favourite recent reads was Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. A well written book, whether it touches loss or faces it head on, knows grief is complex and highly personal.
In one of my previous posts I talked about the stages of grief when we lose someone, but what about moving on from the loss? How do we make meaning from the loss of a loved one as life continues on without them? Although that answer is an individual as there are people on this earth, there are some guidelines you can use when creating your characters.
Susan Berger, a researcher and practitioner in the health and mental health fields, offers five identity types that encapsulate the different ways we make sense of and understand life after loss. Each of these identity types represent a different way of creating meaning from the loss of a loved one, sometimes redefining ourselves and our lives, sometimes finding a reason to grow spiritually and emotionally.
Berger predicts that people will respond to loss in one of the following ways:
Like the name implies, these characters are your wanderers and drifters. Nomads are characterized by a range of emotions, including denial, anger, and confusion about what to do with their lives. If this is your character, then they have yet to resolve their grief and they don’t often understand how their loss has affected their lives.
If one of your characters are committed to preserving the memory of their loved one they are a memorialist. They could build gardens, art or buildings, they may write poems or songs, they may create foundations in their loved one’s name. No matter what form it takes, these individuals reason to continue is tied up in creating concrete memorials and rituals to honour their loved one.
These individuals place their focus closer to home and emphasise the connection with their family, friends, and community. They are committed to creating (or re-creating) them because of their sense of having lost these valuable connections when their loved one died.
Your character may create meaning from their loss by contributing to the quality of life of others, thereby also giving them a sense of purpose and action. Their main focus will be on education and helping others who are dealing with the issues that caused their loved one’s death. This response is far more likely after a death caused by violence, a terminal or sudden illness, or social problems.
Seekers look outward and ask questions. They turn to the universe and seek answers to existential questions about their relationship to others and the world. They tend to adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives and provide a sense of belonging that they either never had or lost when their loved one died.
As I read through these I realised one of my characters in my current manuscript is a Nomad. The loss of his mother has scarred him deeply (literally and psychologically), but he has yet to resolve it, nor is he aware of how it drives his actions. This wound is the basis for his character arc, the one that a young woman about to muscle into his life and challenge in ways he won’t see coming. So, hopefully you’ll get as much out of this article as I did!
What about you? Is one of your characters a Nomad, or a Seeker, or a Memorialist? How does it impact their actions and reactions? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
Have a wonderful week,