Living emotions through drama

Working out emotions through fictional characters, Full of life, full of joy, loneliness, grief

William Hurt in ‘J’enrage de son absence’

A good review of a new French film, “J’enrage de son absence” (Maddened by his Absence) reminded me that living through painful emotions through fictional characters can help, especially if the emotions are complicated and confusing. Of course, jumping into a film about grief-stricken, lonely people when you’re feeling much the same can lead to a sense of drowning in it, so it doesn’t always work… But if, like me, you don’t quite know what you’re feeling and can’t quite sort out why and what and how and when, watching a drama play out through fictional characters can help get things a bit straighter and – bonus – make us realise again that we’re far from being alone in feeling this way.

When my sister rang to tell me she had cancer, it was just as I and a friend were going in to a cinema to watch ‘Love Actually’. Disaster. The upbeat, sweet romantic comedy was so much at odds with my feelings that it meant me crying silently through most of the film, especially at the end, with the images of happy people greeting each other at the airport. Hundreds of them, all ecstatic at seeing their families and friends. Instead of thinking positively about what I could do for Ginny, and being able to talk it through with my friend, I was stuck in the dark cinema with my imaginings and all this happy sweetness. In contrast to the feelings on screen, I was picturing the worst and starting to grieve for what was in danger of being lost. Not good.

Have you had an experience of fiction affecting your emotional state for good or ill?

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Death teaches us a lesson in life

Mirror columnist Brian Reade has written a powerful piece today about the lesson to live well and make the most of life. This was prompted by the death last week of Paul Rice, well known among Liverpool’s business community.

When my sister Ginny got really ill from cancer, not only did she show great courage and strength in facing the pain that the experts couldn’t stop, but while she was in the ward at Exeter hospital she was a quiet exemplar of love and compassion to other patients. Whenever a new person arrived, Ginny would get out of bed and go over to her, introducing herself with a smile, which must have done so much to break down the loneliness and fear of being in that place. Never passive, she didn’t let her approaching death stop her from living as much as she could. She became deep friends with a woman on the ward called Ruth, sneaking outside with her for a crafty fag, and talking for hours. Ginny was shattered when Ruth died very suddenly, but when a teenager arrived in Ruth’s place, Ginny was there with the same warm smile and some remark which made the girl laugh and relax.

I took Ginny out in a borrowed wheelchair one Sunday, about three weeks before she died. She’d decided that sitting in bed waiting to snuff it was not an option, so she rather shakily got dressed, and we went into Exeter. She made me push her up a steep cobbled hill to the cathedral – laughing evilly at my puffing efforts. She took charge and left me to watch as she sped round the cathedral, doing racing turns at each corner and knocking bits of ancient stone off one pillar, to her shameless glee and my horror. We had a glass of wine and a few olives in a bar close by (Ginny’s first ever olives at the age of 56), and after watching people racing around and playing on the beach at Exmouth, she had espresso and chocolate brownie at a cafe. She’d hadn’t been able to eat much for ages, and she paid a price for the delicious treats later that evening, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her enjoying herself to the full.

The approach to our death might be the loneliest time, as no-one can share it with us. But as Ginny and Paul Rice showed so brilliantly, it doesn’t have to stop us having a giggle, loving life and sharing their joy of it with those around them. As Brian Reade says, it can take a touch with death to make us realise how to live. If only we could all learn the lesson early and remember it every day.