Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Clara's Dead, Maybe

Riffing on Dr. Who and Grief

At the end of last season, Dr. Who deals with death, grief, and the afterlife. I know the show is not going to go into grief heavy duty, but I want the moments to be real and not tossed-off like they are in so many TV shows.

Dr. Who is a science fiction program on the BBC that revolves around the relationship of the Doctor and his current traveling companion as they jump around the universe through time and space. They travel in a blue TARDIS, which is an old police telephone box.

I’m relatively new to Dr. Who, so I probably miss many of the clues, hints, and connections to what happened previously. Besides the interesting storylines and characters, pings of philosophical rumblings keep popping in my head, and by the time I realize my mind has gone on walkabout, the story has moved on, and I’m trying to catch up.

At the end of last season, Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s companion, died. Probably.

Death and Dying
Clara doesn’t die a noble death or even die for a reason. Not really. She died because of a misunderstanding. She fell into her predicament by transferring the death sentence on an innocent person to herself, expecting the Doctor to do something to save her, which he always did. Her act was one of compassion, not sacrifice, and she was caught in a scheme to nab the Doctor. (I still don’t buy how Ashildr could commute the sentence of Rigsy but not of Clara.)

In real life, people die all the time for no good reason, and those who are left behind are torn apart by what seems to be the senselessness of the death. Someone we love is just suddenly, and irrevocably, gone.

Is Clara really dead? This is where my lack of Who knowledge pokes its head in. Clara is an unusual Who companion in that she has died a number of times over the centuries yet keeps coming back in new incarnations. She also leapt into the doctor’s time stream and multiplied into a thousand versions, so, theoretically, she could keep reappearing for a long time.

But Clara’s absence may be long term simply because the actor, Jenna Coleman, has taken on new acting roles. She won’t be an every-episode character, but I hope she shows up here and there.

Her final words to the Doctor were touching, mostly about him not taking revenge, but I need to listen to them again before I say anything.

Afterlife
Clara’s reappearance after her death by raven touches on the afterlife, or at least the part where one’s spirit hangs around for a matter of weeks or months, as many religions believe. Forget the four billion or whatever years Clara has been dead, and the stepping back in time in “Hell Bent” to borrow her just before she died. It’s the visitation part in the diner that I’m focused on.

The Doctor walks into a diner. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one.) Clara is the waitress. In their conversation, the doctor says he would know Clara if he ever saw her again, although he can’t remember what she looked like or anything she said, because his memory of her has been wiped clean. While Clara knows she is talking to the Doctor, he doesn’t pick up on the “Clara-ness” of the waitress. He doesn’t notice her caring, her gentle guidance, or her wit.

Would we know if our loved ones stopped in for a visit and spoke through someone else, or would we be so numb with shock that we also wouldn’t notice?

Then Clara goes off in a white TARDIS, which could be symbolic of heaven, but probably is also a nod to the white TARDIS connected to Captain Jack, but I don’t care. Everything in Dr. Who seems to carry double meanings, and there’s a lot of nodding and winking going on among the writers and producers. Or maybe they’re reusing old equipment to keep cost down. Whatever. Also, how long can Clara be “borrowed” from the moment before her death? I imagine forever in Who world.

Grief
This is a fictional story with characters that never existed. Yet we grieve Clara’s death because she has become part of our lives, as much as people we’ve never met but see every night at 6 p.m. on the evening news. BUT the writers behind these stories have drawn from their own life experiences to create the stories. These writers have probably lost loved ones. How honestly they write the words is how realistic the accounts of grief will be. Will they gloss over the death and sugar the sorrow for cinematic purposes, or will they open the door into something deep and give us a glimpse inside?

The doctor’s grief? He is having trouble grieving someone he can’t remember. He knows he misses her and that she told him something he needed to remember, but he can’t. He’s left playing riffs of Clara’s melancholy song on his guitar.

This brings up an interesting point. How much does our grief reside in the details — the experiences we shared with the one who died, their prized possessions, their hobbies, favorite foods, and music? Without specific memories, would we grieve as deeply? Maybe we would also be left with a vague sense of missing someone who changed our lives.

What I want to say to you is this.

If you are talking to someone about grief and the death of your loved one, do so as honestly as you can. Do not blunt the sharp edges. Do not soften your sorrow or dampen compassion into something that resembles pudding. We will know.

Do not dumb grief down. Death is devastating. The journey of grief is traumatic. Even if you are happy again, you were not happy at the beginning of grief, or even months into it. Speak to the truth of that.

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Whovians, feel free to let me know what important details I’ve missed.

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