The Mourning After: When Fictional Deaths Evoke Real Emotions

Source: General Hospital

Nothing can prepare your tear ducts for the raw emotions death brings to the table — not even spoilers tweeted by the deceased themselves. After all, even though it’s not uncommon for popular TV shows to kill off major characters nowadays in an attempt to capitalize on the shock value, the surprise isn’t any less devastating.

When Detective Nathan West (played by Ryan Paevey) “General Hospital” died from a gunshot wound to the chest recently — an injury inflicted by his criminal mastermind father Cesar Faison, no less — I was stunned. Like many fans, I simply didn’t see the twist coming. Even though I discovered the news via Twitter spoilers, I found my breath catch in my throat as I quickly scrambled to confirm these facts. It was clearly true, but I started to explore related trending topics in search of fan theories expressing the contrary anyway.

Much like the actual mourning process, I was in denial.

Despite the fact that Paevey remains alive and well, it was hard to fathom that Nathan’s shy smirk, the one that twitched to life whenever he’d gaze upon his on-screen love Maxie Jones (played by Kirsten Storms) with those baby blues, would no longer be part of my afternoons. He’ll no longer save Port Charles from the bad guys that roam the docks. He’ll never offer his sister Nina (played by Michelle Stafford) another supportive pep talk.

When you stop to think about all the “never agains” that come along with death, even in the fictional sense, it’s difficult to absorb and accept the wasted potential of a young life curtailed. In this case, Paevey’s decision to leave the acclaimed daytime drama was motivated by his desire to pursue his dreams and embrace said potential. Nathan’s tragic death subsequently tapped the emotions we hold deep within, evoking a visceral, involuntary reaction that one can only be attributed to genuine acting talent from the entire ensemble and brilliant writing from the creative team.

Each actor’s grief reached beyond the screen, tugging at the heartstrings non-stop. It’s hard to watch such scenes, no matter your attachment to the character specifically, for the tears appear to come from the cast’s mourning for a dynamic that can never be reclaimed. Just as the audience was suddenly forced to grapple with their emotions, the actors involved with this storyline had to bring the words on the page to life in the face of his on-screen death.

Of course, having watched soap operas for most of my life, I’ve already eased my sadness by brainstorming ways for the writers to bring Paevey’s character back from the dead down the road, should the actor choose to return. (It’s simple, really. This entire string of events was merely staged, you see. Nathan’s just in hiding — the Witness Protection Program, or something similar — in order to protect his unborn child until the threat of evil fades. It’s been done before, I believe, so it’s within the realm of possibility.) It’s the only way I’ve been able to get through these scenes without bawling alongside his fictional family.

While viewers are aware that the given death isn’t real, the brain can’t seem to convince the heart that what’s depicted isn’t true. Because we can empathize by putting ourselves in their metaphorical shoes, we feel what the actors feel — we sob when they sob, we ache when they ache, we crumble when they crumble. Even though we know we can easily connect with the actor in question via social media, five seconds after they flatline, it’s hard not to mourn someone we invite into our home each day. It’s hard not to grieve the end of something familiar.

Paevey’s character arrived in Port Charles just over four years ago, but the actor has left an indelible mark on the show in a relatively short period of time. Nathan’s one of the few characters in soap history who’s maintained their “good guy” vibe — even when he was being secretive, it was only in an effort to help his friend Amy (played by Risa Dorken) pay for her wounded brother’s medical bills upon his return from Iraq. It’s no wonder Paevey’s departure launched an endless stream of crying emojis all across social media. He was an instant favorite and, wherever the wind takes him, his devoted fans are sure to follow.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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Here’s to Goodbye

Music evokes emotion, plain and simple. For that reason alone, I will never forgive Eve 6 or Vitamin C.

By the time I graduated eighth grade in the spring of 2001, “Here’s to the Night” and “Graduation (Friends Forever)“ were seasonal mainstays. (Honorable mentions go out to “Closing Time” by Semisonic and that so-called song about sunscreen all our parents were obsessed with, as they were both irritating in their own right.) You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing one or more of these songs on the nightly Top Five countdown, and you couldn’t attend one single school dance or graduation party without finding clusters of sappy 13-year-olds singing along.

Despite the fact that my friends and I were all moving on to the same high school, these songs triggered an odd sort of melancholy that I haven’t been able to shake since.

What’d I learn that year? I hate endings. Even endings that aren’t exactly endings. I’m like Jude Law in The Holiday—I cry all the time. I’m a major weeper.

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I’m overwhelmed with sadness whenever I watch the series finale of any television show, even if it ended years ago, because I realize how difficult it must’ve been for the cast and crew to go their separate ways.

I feel an ache—an emptiness—once the curtain closes on any live musical or theatrical performance, for I know that the experience itself and the ensuing high can never be recreated.

Heck, I even tear up during You’ve Got Mail, but not because I’m thrilled that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love. I cry when Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, locks up her bookshop for the last time, instead, because I cannot even imagine how heartbroken she must be to know she’ll never step foot inside again.

Now, as we say goodbye (ahem, good riddance) to 2016, we are bombarded by ‘In Memoriam’ reels that remind us of all those we’ve lost within the last year. (Turner Classic Movies ran one prior to their showing of The Shop Around the Corner—on Christmas Eve, no less—which really killed the ‘holly jolly’ vibe.) Some people still cannot seem to comprehend why so many internalize these celebrity deaths, as they’ve likely never met in person, but those who chastise fans via social media fail to recognize the influence such stars can have on the average individual.

For those mourning the loss of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, for instance, the pain goes beyond losing two iconic actresses. Both women reached beyond their on-screen personas to inspire generations of women to embrace who they are and who they want to be. Public figures have the capacity to impact private lives, and any such guidance can transform total strangers into honorary relatives.

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Death also causes us to call our own mortality into question. We’re forced to admit that those we love will not be alive forever. Thinking about what life might be like without them by your side may cause some to hyperventilate, as your mind conjures all the worst-case scenarios, which may spark mild bouts of insanity and uncontrollable, ugly sobs. In fact, you might not want to jump down that rabbit hole if you can help it. Your head will feel like it’s about to implode and you won’t be able to see straight.

Might straightjackets and padded cells be the next step on this journey toward total mental collapse? I’m asking for a friend…

But if Semisonic’s “Closing Time” holds any truth, perhaps we need only focus on the positive side of even the bleakest situation in order to keep the sorrow from eating us whole. We must push our minds to look for the proverbial light, even when we’re lost in the metaphorical dark. We must be thankful for what was and excited for what will be, instead of longing for what will never be again. After all, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. If we don’t at least try to focus on the beauty of the future, we may all end up breathing into brown paper lunch sacks for the rest of our days.

 

(Images courtesy of Odyssey and The Los Angeles Times)

“I’ll Be Back, But I’m Coming as Oil!”

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Mrs. Doubtfire introduced us to the idea that, with enough strength, everybody can exact revenge on their enemies by yanking the emblem off the front of their Mercedes-Benz with one swift, gratifying motion. Sean Maguire taught us all that we’re just kids—that what we’ve learned from books can never substitute the education that comes from experience.

Robin Williams, himself, showed the world how beautiful laughter can be.

Yet, tonight we mourn the loss of this undeniable talent. This beloved man, whose comedic wit will forever remain in our hearts, took his own life because sadness had overwhelmed his. Tears of sorrow have replaced tears of joy, for our world has lost someone who will not be soon forgotten.

You see, Robin Williams managed to achieve what only the rare few can do. Robin Williams used his unique blend of humor and emotion to breach the barrier between comedy and drama, appealing to fans across the spectrum. While his family-friendly films, such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, will remain part of every child’s repertoire for decades to come, his dramatic works, such as Good Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come, will forever cause us to question our own mortality and direction in life.

But, while today’s events may represent loss, his life and legacy are gifts that will never relent. We’ve gained so much simply by having known his humor. Often times, those who suffer from depression feel as if they’re all alone in the world, but as the outpouring of shock and sadness has proven, Robin Williams had the entire world in his corner. His life affected so many others, and his spirit will remain for generations. Perhaps that’s the beauty of celebrity—though he may have passed, Robin Williams will live on as long as his films allow. We can only hope that he has now found the same happiness he’s blessed us with for all these years.

For now, “All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right… Bye bye.”

What May Be Gone Tomorrow

Today will be the only (insert date here) of your lifetime — in the history of the world, even. Each day is unique, each minute, each second. They pass with the blink of an eye, yet there will never be another moment exactly like this.

Some fill each moment with excitement, while others become enveloped in despair.  Some moments are filled with tears, though others are filled with laughter.  Some moments are accompanied by music; others are awash with silence.  Yet my biggest fear is a moment filled with nothing.  Moments filled with empty wishes for the day to be over or the storm to pass leave us longing for the eventual despite the fact that we can only be sure about the here and now.  So much can happen between this very minute and that moment you’re longer for, so much that you can never be quite sure it will arrive.

What we must do is fill each and every moment with something – a laugh, a scream, a tear, a hug, a kiss.  But most importantly, we must fill each moment with a piece of ourselves.  Whether we are here tomorrow or gone for eternity, the seeds we sow now are what will live on long after we’re gone.  We may not be able to fill every moment with something distinct, but we can constantly work toward something worthwhile.

All we can hope and aspire to during our brief time on this earth is to leave something or someone (even just one person) better or happier than they otherwise would have been without our presence.  Even the simplest of smiles or the kindest of words can take deep roots, for such gestures may brighten someone’s day and instigate a domino effect of positivity.