In 1992, DC Comics published a storyline titled “The Death of Superman”. In it Superman dies but is later resurrected.**
Ever since then comics, books, television shows, and movies have been “killing” characters for dramatic affect only to have them re-emerge in the final act.
While this relieves us of our initial emotional sorrow when watching or reading, it is not an accurate reflection of death and its affects in life.
Regardless of whether or not you have religious or spiritual beliefs that give you hope for seeing passed loved ones in another life, death is a closed door. When someone dies, they are not going to show up at your door in thirty years or come speak to you secretly after a few days because they have faked their death as part of a conspiracy plan to save the world.
And by making death not final in fiction, it makes us ill-prepared for death in the real world. Without realizing it, we come to expect unfinalized death.
This week, Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Daniel Simmons Sr. were killed in a tragedy that has raised unanswerable questions, hateful accusations, and indescribable grief for the family and friends of the victims.
Death is terrible. It leaves us feeling hollow, angry, depressed, and a whole host of other emotions we cannot describe.
But it is part of life. To quote a regenerating robot from Battlestar Galactica, “To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return.”* The end of a life is just as important as the beginning of a life even if the end is more painful.
I hope writers of any type of story understand that the correct portrayal of death is not a “downer” or something to be frowned upon. It’s quite the opposite.
Writing about death the way it happens in real life gives us avenues to process and talk through our own pain.
And maybe, just maybe, it can help give us closure.
*Title taken from Coldplay’s song of the same name.
**Synopsis summarized from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Superman.
***Said by a Number Six Cylon named Natalie in season four episode ten of the 2004 television series Battlestar Galactica.