Tragedy has struck in my life. True and horrible tragedy.
It hasn’t directly affected me but family whom I care deeply about. I couldn’t do anything for a while. Not write. Not clean. Not cook.
It wasn’t really from sorrow or shock as one might expect. Yes, I did feel sorry for the family affected of course. But I was more put into a stasis by the simple fact of I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.
I’ve never dealt with Death before. I was too young to have developed a relationship with any of my grandparents when they were alive and I haven’t made any elderly friends (or stupid drug addict friends or stunt devil friends) that would afford me the experience of feeling such a keen loss.
What do I do for them? Saying “I’m sorry” never seemed like a comfort to anybody. It made them cry harder in my limited scope of things. “How are you doing?” Is just a moot question and damnably tactless. I watched everyone else around me cry or get angry or be “efficient”; cooking, buying groceries, keeping an upbeat attitude, trying to distract with toys and games and movies.
What do I do? How should I feel? Feeling nothing makes me look like a soulless witch-monster. I can nod and smile with the best of them. I can offer shoulders to cry on and babysit to give relief. Those are actionable things that seem like “the right thing to do”. But it still doesn’t answer the question. How should I react to Death?
How should anybody?
Thinking about this I, naturally, applied it to my writing. (Come onnnnn you saw that coming! It’s always about writing up in the bakalove hizzzouuuuuuse!)
I’ve read about tragedy. I’ve cried over powerfully emotional scenes and the deaths of characters I grew fond of. Dumbledore’s death warranted a book thrown across the room at my door and denting the cover. The death of Prim in “Mockingjay” left me sobbing inconsolably until the end of the book. And eventually that was thrown as well. I still can’t read the end of “Where the Red Fern grows” without a box of tissues and a heaping bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Is this how people are supposed to react to death? Ice cream binges, throwing things, and boxes of tissues? Is this how I was supposed to WRITE tragedy because it’s how I experienced it?
Somehow I think putting these reactions on paper would seem hollow and weak. (Unless we were talking about like, a teenage break up tragedy. Then it might seem apropos.) The simple truth is that I’ve never experienced true, heart-rending, soul sucking tragedy and I can only mimic the emotions until I do.
Not that I want to. I’m fortunate in some ways to have been able to mature as an adult before having to deal with Death’s cruel miasma. I’m sure I would be able to function as I should and keep it separate from my professional life. But not having this terrible experience denies me an important part of life. I can’t write the truth about something I’ve never felt. I can only echo it.
This is why going out and expanding your world is important, as a writer and as a human being. We need adventure and challenges and tragedy to fill us out and make us wiser beings. We need to soak it all in, to ruminate on it, to accept it within ourselves and then, for those of us that ARE writers, we need to pass it on. Tell the truth about it. Remember every cut of searing pain ripping through your rib cage and every gasping, panic-stricken sob. Remember the numbness and the vehement anger.
Write it down. Tell the truth, even if it hurts. The world and your readers need it.