Reading a good story transports you to a different world filled with characters who feel very real. And when one of those characters dies, it’s devastating.

And your grief persists even after you close the book.

You walk around feeling sad and hurt. Furious at how unfair life is. Maybe you’re even angry with the author.

I learned then what grief was. True grief. How it moves in the body. How it inhabits it. How it becomes part of your skin. Your cells. And it makes a home there. A permanent home.

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in The Crown

If you’ve ever suffered a fictional loss, you know what I mean (and what kind of book nerd are you if you haven’t, hmm?).

And I’m not talking about the George R. R. Martin anyone-can-die-at-any-time kind of death either, since those tend to be more satisfying than anything else.

Though I will say that Daenerys in the adaptation is a bit of blatant character assassination that I will never forgive. I also have issues with Matthias in Six of Crows. But I’ll rant about those some other time.

What I’m talking about is real grief.

Lance Corporal Blake in 1917.

Gandalf the Grey in Lord Of The Rings.

Mufasa in The Lion King.

Beth in Little Women.

Ellie in Up.

Wilson in Castaway.

Quentin in Magicians. (Though this is only true in the adaptation, not the books.)

As someone who is constantly consuming stories, I feel like I’m constantly grieving. Fictional characters have this pesky habit of, well… dying.

And as much as I hate that, I’m also not going to give up on reading and watching stories. How empty would my life be if I did that? Please!

I’ve spent weeks crying over dead characters. And, I figured there have to be other people out there who are just like me. So, I thought I’d take a look at some of the most common advice and see if it’s of any help.

Just in case, y’know, you’re just like me and often find yourself crying because a fake character in a made-up world died for fictional reasons.

1. “Don’t feel silly for grieving.”

The best way to cope is to simply express your feelings – and ignore anyone who thinks you’re silly for grieving a fictional character.

Stories are designed to tug on your emotional strings and if you’re feeling as a result of reading or watching a story, that’s a compliment to the writers and actors.

So, don’t listen to the naysayers who think it’s stupid to cry over characters. They’re just dead inside.

2. “Let yourself cry.”

And cry as much as you need to. Though, I will say, this hasn’t ever been an issue for me. I love it when a story is so gripping that it pulls the feels out of me.

I’ll laugh and cry even when no one does.

I regularly cry in movie theatres, even at things where I’m the only one crying about it. (The other people just don’t get it so they’re not as moved as I am.)

The one thing that is uncomfortable is just sitting with your grief, though. I mean, learning to sit with crushing grief shouldn’t be pleasant. That’s kind of the whole point.

But coming out the other end of something like that, you’re a better person.

3. “Talk about it.”

Yes, yes, yes.

This genuinely helps, especially when someone else feels as devastated at the death of that character as I do. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in my grief, which is comforting.

Talking to people who say “it’s just a book” isn’t very helpful.

Though when it’s bad enough, you’ll effortlessly discuss the character’s death at length with anyone who will listen – friends, family, strangers in the supermarket queue, holding a neighbour hostage at the mailbox… The people in your life may hate you for it, but at least you’ll feel better for it.

4. “Amp up the self-care.”

This is just good sense.

Do whatever helps you to just get moving. Especially, once you’ve given your grief time and have cried about it, the next thing is to find new ways to move forward again.

And I’m all for whatever gets you to do that.

Take breaks, go easy on yourself, take baths, eat well, take naps, dance for dopamine, go for walks.

Connecting with nature, getting out in the fresh air, has always helped me feel a part of something bigger than myself. Being connected to the natural world makes it easier for me to accept death as a part of life, appreciate the good times, and not just cry because it’s over, but also smile because it happened.

Because let’s face it, no matter what you try to do, the dead are still dead.

5. “Re-read/re-watch the whole series.”

This seems to be one of those things that divides people down the middle. I have done both.

When I just wasn’t ready to let go, I went back and started from the beginning. In some ways, it makes it all the sweeter when you know how it’s gonna end. On the other hand, it’s like tearing open barely healed wounds all over again.

If it’s a movie or a show, I sometimes find comfort in googling the actor who played a character that died, so that I can just reassure myself that they’re alright.

Then there are the odd anomalies that don’t let things rest. Like The Matrix Resurrections. Though I’ve generally really appreciated re-boots (when done well, ofc) some of them just have the wrong idea from the beginning.

And bringing back characters from the dead once you’ve completed a highly satisfying narrative arc just feels like it’s doomed to fail. I mean, to make it worthwhile, you’d have to have a TRULY good ending that makes it all worth it.

I could go on and on about the problems with Resurrections, starting with the studio only treating it like a cash-cow, and the narrative failing to deliver a satisfying plot twist at the end, but some other day.

5. “Read another book.”

What, so I can get emotionally invested in a new character and then have to grieve their death as well? Not today, Satan.

Or, wait…

Okay, hand it over. It seems interesting.

The whole point of stories is to make you feel, after all. If you’re not ready to have another character die on you, go back to something you already know and love and is death-free.

6. “Write a letter to the character.”

This is a common journaling exercise, and I can definitely get behind this.

I will admit that my go-to alternative to this is analysis. I find comfort and satisfaction in analysing narrative elements (hello, story theory nerd 🤓 here, what else am I gonna do?).

Analysis allows me to take a step back and process the subject material with a different perspective, which allows me to work through how I feel about it.

But yeah, ranting and raving at the character directly in a personally addressed letter could definitely be super cathartic.

If all else fails, spiral into a pit of despair.

There’s always that. And sometimes that’s just what it takes.

Especially, when a character journey comes into your life at the right time and it feels very, very personal, that’s just what it takes.

I guess then it helps to recognise that you’re not just grieving for the character, but for something else.

Like when our old cat died, a part of me died with him. Oscar was there when I grew up. For him to not be there anymore was the end of an era, and I won’t ever be the same again.

But as the only constant is change, that too had to change.

And though I will always carry that sorrow with me, that he’s not here anymore, I can also be genuinely grateful for his 19 years.

So, sometimes the only thing you can do is to let your grief consume you.

Cry in the shower, sleep, eat ice cream, live in your comfort clothes. I believe the technical term for this is “giving it time” and it works, slow as it is. Eventually, the sun will rise. The colours will come back into the world. And you’ll be ready to feel again, to love again.

Then you’ll know it’s time to rinse and repeat.

Can I offer you a suggestion for your next read? Something I wrote? Right this way…