If you haven't read Part 1 of this series, you might want to go back and at least read the introduction before continuing here. There's also a Part 2.
Parts 1 and 2 got the crazy, ugly, incredulous reactions out of the way. This post covers reactions which are a lot more understandable, and which are a lot easier to generate empathy for.
DepressionIt happens. A survivor could be having a perfectly nice conversation with someone, and they'll say something like, "How long have your parents been married now?"
And so you explain, as briefly and with as little drama as possible, and the person you're having the conversation with falls apart.
I have made people cry by merely saying, "My dad died when I was thirteen." I was just giving information; it was not my intention to make them cry, and they weren't looking for an excuse to.
All that's happening is that the person is so able to imagine the same thing happening to them they have a grief reaction. All you can do is reassure them and, if necessary, change the subject.
AngerI mentioned in Part 1 my dad died of a heart attack. While the exact cause was never determined, he smoked. He had a lot of work stress. Even though he was strongly against any and all junk food (including a lot of food which isn't even thought of as "junk food" in North America), he had trouble keeping his weight at healthy levels.
Starting about ten years after he passed away (so around 1993), I began to encounter people who would quiz me for health details. Once the ones I enumerated in the previous paragraph came to light, they would declare he was a bad father who should have taken better care of himself. They would say he was no better than a father who willfully abandons his children.
I will not provide my entire counter-argument here, but I will say it is not for them to decide how fit a parent he was.
I always wonder what has happened to these people that they feel so strongly about passing judgement on someone they never met.
BargainingSometimes when people learn what happened, they don't become sad or angry. They become fascinated with hypotheticals.
"What do you think your life would be like it that hadn't happened?"
"Do you think it was harder on you or on your brothers?"
"How much do you think that affects you today?"
The answer to all of the above is that I don't know, and that I'm not sure they're even answerable.
OnwardsThose who have been keeping track of the phases will know I left out "acceptance". I can't think of anything to discuss there — people just say something along the lines of "I'm sorry" and then things move on.
The series wraps up next week with some reflections — including some things I learned as I wrote these posts.
I'm also going to tie this back to fiction writing, both to plotting and to characterisation. But more on that next week.