How fanfiction helped me grieve the loss of my grandfather
In a time of grief, solace can often be found in unexpected places.
Sahar Arshad and Editors
12 Mar 2021
I’ve always loved to read and I’ve always loved to watch films. The fictional world has often felt more real to me than the world outside my window, so naturally, I found a safe haven in fanfiction. There is something so fascinating about how the stories of characters could be written in multiple universes. When characters die in one story, their legacies can be continued, re-imagined, and honoured in another.
When I lost my grandfather, Abu, last year, I never thought that fanfiction would be the thing that would help me grieve his death. The magic of fanfiction is that there doesn’t have to be a single ending. A character’s physical presence may be gone, but their legacy doesn’t have to be over. Their story doesn’t have to end. And since my grandfather’s passing, I realised his story doesn’t have to end either.
I started reading fanfiction back in 2012, when every fandom flocked to Tumblr and raved about their latest fictional obsessions. I continued to read it throughout the years, sometimes at 3am when struggling to sleep. Other times, I’d bond with my friends as we sent each other these imagined realities. The most recent fanfic rabbit hole concerned my favourite character from a TV show called The 100, who, in my opinion, was unreasonably killed off. I, along with the rest of the fandom, was not yet able to let go of his character.
“When characters die in one story, their legacies can be continued, re-imagined, and honoured in another”
When I was about eight, I stayed the night at my grandparents’ place. I read the newspaper with Abu and he asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It sounds silly now, but at the time I was training to be a competitive swimmer, and I loved to read. I responded, “I want to be an author, and I want to be one of the best swimmers in Pakistan.” Afterwards, we ate apples and he told me to bring a pair of scissors. He cut a clipping of an article showing one of Pakistan’s youngest female competitive swimmers from the newspaper, folded it up and handed it to me.
“To remind you of where you want to be,” he said.
I tucked the clipping into a secret compartment of my diary at the time. 11 years later when he died, I found the diary, but no clipping. It felt like a sign – he was well and truly gone. But it also made me think about the little girl who had all these hopes and dreams, who was so multifaceted and held a world of ambitions. I had a thirst for life then and my grandfather supported it.
I can’t exactly pinpoint when I started letting practicality outweigh my genuine happiness with the choices I was making. Suddenly I was 19. University had started, I was drowning in hustle culture, the job market was failing young professionals, the planet was dying and the rose-tinted glasses were slowly falling off my face. It felt as though the only way to be ‘successful’ was to squash away the more imaginative parts of me and make decisions with the highest probability of ensuring financial stability and ‘success’ – even if that felt that only part of me would be truly living.
“Just like in fanfiction, the people who leave us aren’t really gone”
But with his passing, it struck me. If fictional characters could exist differently in multiple different universes, why could I not strive to let all of me live? And more importantly, why couldn’t I continue his legacy through living my life in a way I know he’d want me to?
That’s when I realised there was a way for me to honour and continue Abu’s legacy. By remembering the life lessons he imparted on me, parts of him will always be alive. This epiphany meant everything. Just like in fanfiction, the people who leave us aren’t really gone. We honour them by remembering the advice and love they’ve given us as well as the special conversations and experiences. We can write them into eternity.
This past year, I began writing again. I started my freelance journalism journey, striving to write and share stories with the world. I no longer squash away that part of me. Remembering Abu in this way means he’s still alive through parts of my life. I often struggle to make choices, to stick to a single path, but often I hear his voice and he tells me that being multifaceted is a strength.
This past year, there has been so much grief in the air. And many of us are finding strange ways to find closure and healing. Reconceptualising death through fanfiction has helped me in ways I couldn’t imagine.