1. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    How to comfort someone when...

    Discussion in 'Research' started by stormcat, Nov 17, 2014.

    ...somebody just sacrificed their lives for them.

    Now, I know the one who was saved would feel a range of emotions, Guilt, Anger, Sadness, maybe even disbelief. But how do you help a person get over something like that?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends on the character and the person. Having dealt with a strange mix of people over the years some react the way you'd expect - a range of emotions others are quite usual. They might feel obligated to turn their life around to honor the person who died.

    As for getting over it. Again truly depends on the person. You could have a character distracting them if it's all they can think about, or motivate them if they've withdrawn and taken to sleeping a lot. Or getting them to slow down and face it if they're pretending nothing has happened or even going to some kind of survivor's therapy.
     
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  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a real tough question. When you're writing about something you have not experienced yourself, you've got to do lots of research into the way people have felt when they're in that situation. Unfortunately, there aren't going to be a lot of online support groups of folks who've had someone sacrifice their lives for them.

    So much is going to depend on who this person is, the relationship between the characters, why and how the sacrifice came about, how emotionally fragile this person is -- way more than you can explain to us in a question here. I think you've just got to seriously, seriously really know both of these characters to be able to figure out how they might feel.
     
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  4. James Random
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    James Random Member

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    You can't. Quite simply it's impossible. All you can do is be there to support and talk through the person's feelings.
     
  5. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Does your character know? Do they need to do it correctly?
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've wrestled with your question for a few days, and have no real answer. Unless you can find some angle the person hasn't thought of themselves, then probably just do what @James Random suggested, and just 'be there.' I guess you can offer comfort, but if the person isn't in the frame of mind to take it, there isn't much else you can do. You can only offer an ear and a shoulder to lean on.

    Lots depends on circumstances, though. If there is guilt involved—other than pure survivor's guilt—that will be especially tough. In other words, if the surviving person knows it's their fault the dead person was put in that position, I think it would make it very hard indeed for them to get over this.

    This is one of the best questions I've ever seen posted on this forum. Why? Because there is NO easy answer to it. Unanswerable questions are writer's gold.

    I do hope you're asking this question as a writer, not as a person who has had personal experience of this kind of dilemma. If you have, you'll have more answers than the rest of us, I reckon.
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree with @jannert , this is not an easy question at all.

    Different people react to grief in different ways and if you tried to force a solution, even if well-intended, it will likely cause them to drift from you, cause them to resent you. You can't force them to "just get over it" after going through something like that. Just be there for them and help out when you can like James said. If it looks like they're about to do something very drastic, that's when you intervene for them.

    But yeah, if the person knows it was their fault the deceased is dead, then that could be a one-way ticket to severe depression I think. Possibly even suicide if the guilt was that great. God knows I would never forgive myself if I wound up causing someone's death due to my own stupidity.
     
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  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm wondering, though, what you're seeking here. There is no way to comfort someone after any death. So are you asking what could happen to make your character feel better or how to enable him to move on so you can get on with the story? Or are you seeking info on what your other characters would do to try to get your character to move on?
    This is going to be a tough thing for your character and actually he's never going to "get over it". He will just be able, eventually, to get t a place where he can function, at least on a minimal level. How well he's able to compartmentalize and work through it depends on him.
     
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  9. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    Basically my character is having a mental breakdown over the incident. She needs comfort and fast or else she may do something drastic.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could go a couple of ways with that, but ultimately, it's your own character who's got to pull herself through.
    You could have her about to kill or harm herself, but she doesn't have the means or opportunity. There's no weapon around, or as she's about to do it, she's called away on some other task - someone comes to the door, or she's ordered to do something on the job, or she hears someone cry for help or whatever. Remaining too occupied or unable to harm herself while she's at the mental point where she'd seriously do that might work until she can later work through it on her own. Or gets some reason why she needs to live (typically something like caring for a child).

    Alternatively, someone else could stop her, reassure her that that person is there for her, it's not her fault, the person who sacrificed himself would not want her to harm herself, and how it then would have all been for naught, etc. But even if you have another person saying all this, ultimately, your character has to reach that conclusion herself and accept it.
     
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  11. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    I've already prepared a way for my character's gradual acceptance of the incident, but I need to have a second character step in immediately to help with the panic attack she's having right now. What should character #2 say or do to help?
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's impossible for me to say, having no other info about your story, but my guess as to what #2 would say would be along the lines of that Sacrificed Guy needed and wanted her to live, and she has to honor that -- she can't give up or die, because then Sacrificed Guy would have sacrificed himself for nothing. So she owes it to him. She cannot harm herself.

    #2 can also point out whatever the other goal is that she needs to go on for -- she has to focus then on whatever it is that they need to do.
     
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  13. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I really don't understand how, if none of us know what to do, your character will. I think us not knowing is open license for your characater to not know either.
     
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  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    It's impossible to know the answer without knowing your actual characters and what makes them tick. As you are the creator of those characters, only you would know how they would deal with something so stressful and whether they would fight or fly. Saying that, I think there are a couple of things to think about in general:

    A lot of people will make snappy decisions when forced into a corner. So if the character having the breakdown is acting like a wild animal, the comforter might slap her face as a shock tactic if she fears the one having the breakdown will attack her. On the other hand, if the one having the breakdown is a pile of mushy mushness, crying and wailing, the comforter might simply want to hold her tight and repeat words like "I'm here for you, I won't leave until you're ok ..." etc etc until she calms down and is able to talk rationally about what's happened.

    ~Then there's the effect of someone giving their life to save yours. Was the action a split second decision (like jumping in front of a bullet) or was it a slow thought out thing like, I don't know, for instance lets say two people were kidnapped and the kidnapper says "one of you has to die, both of you will choose who lives and who dies and the survivor goes free" which means they have both had time to get themselves worked up before one lives and one dies.

    I know this is slightly (actually it's well off on a tangent) but about 20 years ago, I was 21 and on my way to the central library in town. I came out of the bus station and to get to the library, you had to go under one subway/underpass and then walk past the entrance to a second one. Not far, just a stones throw away. So I get off the bus after work, it's winter, it's dark and I survive the first subway underpass. Just going past the second, and a female voice calls out to me for help. All I can see in the second subway/underpass is a dark heap trying to get up. First thing that entered my mind was "it's a trap and I am going to get attacked"

    My split second decision was not to ignore her. I went in the underpass ...

    Turned out the woman had been attacked and had her bag pinched. The attacker had pulled her to the ground and she'd banged her elbow. As it was dark, I couldn't see anything wrong but she was screaming as if she was dying so I helped her into the library and asked them to phone for an ambulance. I staid with her and kept her calm until the ambulance got there. She was complaining bitterly about the pain in her arm and so the paramedics decided to give her oxygen and asked me to hold the mask for her while they cut the sleeve off her coat. OMG! How I didn't pass out! Not only had her ulna and radius bones been broken in the attack they had pierced the skin and were sticking out! Looking just like a dog had been chewing on them!

    I went with her to the hospital and contacted her family. When they arrived, I took them to her then swiftly said my goodbyes, phoned my husband and asked him to come pick me up. He did, he drove me home and all was fine, until I walked in the door of our house and that's when it suddenly hit me, everything that had happened. I just burst into tears and I couldn't stop.

    So maybe adrenalin and it's effects on the human body would be a good thing to research too.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    From a writer's point of view, I like @chicagoliz 's suggestion. Rather than being comforted or thwarted from committing suicide (or whatever dire action she was planning to take), maybe she should get some major responsibility plonked on her shoulders immediately. If she can be made to see a Pay It Forward situation, that might help. In other words, she owes the Universe, and this is one way she can deal with her debt, and her guilt.
     
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  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Or she may go the way of the Final Destination people, that death was cheated and is now looking to get her any way he can ... which would make her pretty paranoid!
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    The comforter could convince her there was still something immediate she could do for the one who sacrificed himself for her and she needs to get to it. What that might be is up to you and your characters.
     
  18. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    I wouldn't have a character to comfort them, letting them wallow in their misery and anger over their helplessness would help build the character into something greater.
     
  19. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would it kill the plot if the beneficiary of the sacrifice was humbled and grateful and between crying jags (because he was so wonderful and she misses him so much) devote her life to the forwarding of his work and the preservation of his memory?

    Frankly, I'd be loath to sacrifice myself for anyone I thought would give up in despair because I'd died for him or her. :confused: At that rate, what's the point?

    The sacrifice could be just the thing the character needs to convince her she's worth something after all. (She sounds pretty down on herself so far.)
     
  20. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    I like this idea very much. But in the meantime, how to comfort the person while she's having a crying fit?
     
  21. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess it depends on who's doing the comforting. In my work in revision my main female character has two lovely crying fits. No, three. First one's out of anger at being betrayed, and since the would-be comforter is the one who's betrayed her, he just has to let her cry it out. He can tell her how penitent he is after she calms down. Second one's after she's been attacked, which is bad enough, but it evokes suppressed memories of a prior attack, kept secret for years. The main male character is willing to comfort her, but she repulses him. She settles down eventually, but is still upset. He very patiently puts up with her sarcasm the rest of the evening. Third time is after circumstances conspire to make the MFC tell the MMC about the long-ago attack. This time he's able to hold her until she feels calm and safe again.

    That doesn't help you much, does it? One thing I think I have right is that the comforters (or would-be comforters) actually say very little. It might be more useful to you for me to draw upon my pastoral counselling experience (yeah, I'm ordained). In the book of Job, Job's friends do their best work when they're just there with him keeping their mouths shut. It's when they start looking for explanations and giving him pep talks that the misery begins.

    There is a time for that, but not while someone is in the depths of grief and anguish. Last thing anybody needs at that time is to be told to buck up, or to look on the bright side, or be loaded with a sense of obligation. The biggest thing is to be there, and if necessary, make sure the grieving person doesn't hurt herself or cry herself sick.

    That said, in your story it might be apropos if the comforter would say something like, "He loved you very much"-- assuming that's true. Just that, no drawing of conclusions. Getting the survivor to focus on the departed for himself and evoking their relationship might eventually get through. But nothing about the sacrifice per se. Not now.

    Offering a literal shoulder to cry on is good, depending on the relationship. And tea always helps. Hot tea. Or a glass of wine. Very strong brandy if shock tactics are in order.
     
  22. Some_Bloke
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    Some_Bloke Active Member

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    It heavily depends on the characters involved, how said characters react to the death. The comforting character could empathise with the character who's been saved if they knew/were close to the other character, saying things like "I know how you feel" and talking about what the person meant to them. I personally don't like this method that much (it's not something I'd use in real life per say) but it really depends on the characters in your story. I don't use it because I've only really lost one or two people my entire life.

    In real life I'd give the person a bit of space first to let them figure out a thing or two on their own before I try to comfort them in case I make the person feel any worse (I've made this mistake in the past). I think in some cases it's a lot more effective if the saved character wanders off quietly on their own rather than bursts into tears on the spot or (god forbid) shouts "NOOO!" at the top of their lungs.

    In that case, the comforting character eventually walks over and tries to talk to them.

    There's also the "tough love" route. You have to do it well or the comforting character will come across as a great big tosser. It should only be used if the character is in denial, or the situation requires it (such as being in danger, or the character wanting to end their own life in guilt). Phrases like "Jake died for you. If you throw your life away he died for nothing!" come to mind.
     

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