Surviving Loss and Claire's Second Chance

Written by: Anne Hawkinson


In the Season 2 finale ("Dragonfly in Amber"), Roger asks Claire, “How do you say goodbye to that one person you’ve loved most in the world?” Claire answers, “Whether you want to say goodbye or not, they’re gone and you have to go on living without them.” Roger is referring to Reverend Wakefield and assumes Claire’s response is about Frank. It’s 1968. Frank and Jamie are both dead, but the heart-wrenching grief she carries is reserved for Jamie. She tells Roger she’s never been very good at saying goodbye. She’s putting on a brave face, but she’s still carrying the devastation of leaving Jamie atop Craigh na dun.


The everyday world puts a time limit on grief, then you must move forward and “get on with it.” You’re allowed one year (if you're lucky) and then you should be “over” your loss and emerge fresh, bright-eyed and ready to face the world as you once were 
– less than that if you have a job and want/need to keep it. What about your friends? How long will they remain patient and understanding while you "get over it?" At first, they acknowledge your grief, but as time passes, they become less and less sympathetic. It's not that they don't care, but perhaps they feel it's time for you to "get over it" and move on. Live in the here and now.

Nothing could be further from the truth. You never “get over” losing a loved one – you struggle to find a way to move forward without them. You stumble and lose your emotional footing, but at some point you find a rhythm that enables you to remember them without falling to pieces in public – most of the time. You save that (falling to pieces) for a place that’s safe and comfortable for you, if you can. Because you still do. Fall to pieces, that is. You can't predict when or where, so you can't prepare for the next wave of grief.

The triggers remain, and they present themselves when you least expect them. A song that comes on the radio, a catch phrase you used to share, or a note in a drawer written in their hand. You can’t protect yourself from the unexpected jolt of grief. Sometimes you make it through without crying. Sometimes you don’t. Then there are the triggers that can’t be ignored. For Claire, perhaps it’s seeing the date on a calendar (April 16, 1746), a significant place (Lallybroch), or the shock of seeing the dragonfly in amber – the wedding gift to Claire and Jamie from Hugh Monro – in a display case. The pain may be less sharp with the passage of time, but it never goes away. You never “get over” losing a loved one.


Claire returned to the 20th century to bear her and Jamie’s child in safety. She fulfilled her promise, but the willful, copper-haired Brianna is a constant reminder of Jamie and the love she left behind. She can’t resent Brianna, even though she’s the reason Claire is living in the 20th century with a man she no longer loves and who demanded Brianna be raised as his own. Perhaps seeing Jamie in Brianna is what gets Claire from one minute to the next, one day to the next. Brianna is all Claire has left of Jamie. But the pain and heartache in loss is never far away, and it catches Claire unaware and unprepared. An innocent activity involving a book about birds triggers the memory of a heron and her life in Scotland. With Jamie. She doesn't have the luxury of falling to pieces right then and there, so she hides her sorrow for another, more "convenient" time.



With Frank’s death, Claire is free to pursue Jamie and find out what happened to him at the battle of Culloden. She seeks out the predictable triggers, but why? They're bound to tear at her heart and uncover the raw pain she's suppressed for twenty years. Is she seeking closure? Is she looking for a sign that Jamie’s spirit is waiting for her at the places that meant so much to him, and them? Is she hoping to feel his presence, some sign that he’s not so far away? It sounds perfectly normal – returning to a place of significance and memory to find comfort amidst the pain. You cry, you wander about, reliving the memories, managing to smile (maybe even laugh), and then, reluctantly, you leave.

Claire visits a crumbling Lallybroch where the voices of her memories are accompanied by sacred-sounding music. This is hallowed, Fraser ground – a fitting place for her to remember and mourn alone. We hear Jamie’s voice, telling Claire of his father’s blood and sweat in the stones, the arrival of Jenny and Ian’s baby Margaret, young Rabbie McNab excited about the new crop of potatoes, and Jamie reciting a poem – whose line or two are found on the inside of Claire’s wedding ring (in the book). Being alone with memories and giving whatever emotions that accompany them free rein helps keep loved ones close - even in their absence. Our quiet minds have an opportunity to appreciate, and re-live, the time we had with them. Keeping memories close ensures they'll not be forgotten.

Photo courtesy: Sweatpants & Coffee

Claire sees an image of Jamie in the entry gate, handsome beyond belief. Is it really him? His ghost? Claire’s memory of him? Is Jamie making himself visible to let Claire know he survived Culloden and is still alive? There are those who believe in a parallel universe where the departed dwell, watch over us, and guide us from where they are. Gone, but not far away. "Random" coincidences or something you swore you saw (really?) could be so much more than your imagination playing tricks on you. You look once and it's there. Look again, and it's gone. The vision may be a sign from Jamie, telling Claire to seek him out, that all is not lost.

Photo courtesy: Sweatpants & Coffee

Perhaps the dragonfly in amber at the museum is a message from Jamie. The tag states it was found on the battlefield at Culloden Moor, so Claire knows Jamie returned to fight as promised. Of course he would. He’s a Highlander. It’s his destiny, and Murtagh was waiting to fight and die by his side. Claire tearfully gave the amber to him at Craigh na Dun before she returned through the stones. “Keep it with you,” she said.

Did Jamie mean for the amber to be found and for Claire to see it? A message, perhaps? It would have little significance to anyone but them. Claire looks surprisingly composed and detached when she sees it. Has she learned to suppress a trigger moment? In an instant, seemingly insignificant items become precious. A faded photograph, a souvenir you picked out together, or perhaps a ribbon tied on your suitcase when you came for a visit. You can’t part with any of them because they felt the touch of someone you’ve loved and lost. Holding them close helps you span distance, time, and even death itself. If you can hold it in your hand, if you can see or touch it, they don’t seem so far away. It might even ease the pain.

Claire visits the Fraser gravestone on Culloden Moor, pours her heart out to Jamie, and says the goodbye she wasn’t able to when they parted at Craigh na dun. A gravestone is where finality has its say. The stark truth of a death date, carved in granite. There is no arguing with a slab of stone. The one you loved is gone - from this world, at least. The physical body no longer exists, but does a part of them live beyond the grave? A spirit? A soul? Claire came to say her final farewell and thinks that’s the end. Can she really put the past behind her with a “Goodbye, Jamie – my love” and leave him in the 1700s? Does she really want to, or does she think her allotted time for grieving has expired Claire doesn’t realize it, but she’s lucky. She's been given a second chance. Something none of us gets.


Claire traveled through time and experienced an amazing three years with a man who became the love of her life. She goes through the conventional motions trying to cope with the loss of Jamie, but something won’t let her rest. Could that unrest be the reason we feel the need to return to familiar places that hold memories of those we've lost? To hold and keep physical items that bind us to them? She touches the antique pistol on Reverend Wakefield’s mantle and smiles in innocent acknowledgement at Roger’s words regarding the Battle of Culloden, like she knows nothing about it. Something motivated Claire to visit Lallybroch and Culloden  perhaps more than grief or the need for closure. A force unknown to her is steering her towards the news she never thought she'd hear. Whatever it is, it wants Claire’s attention. Someone has a message for her. And that message is loud and clear - Jamie is alive.

Photo courtesy: MyMBuzz


Is Jamie the guiding force behind Claire's travels, and the eventual knowledge that he is still alive? Is Jamie orchestrating her return to him?

17 comments

  1. Thank you for this blog post. There is so much if it I want to share with a friend who recently lost the love of her life to an untimely death. I think your words are healing because they recognize the depth and breadth of grief that never dies. However, I don't know if she is familiar with the story around which your post is written so I'm not sure how one might process it without that familiarity. It is a gift just the same and I thank you for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Beth Ann. I appreciate your kind words. I hope it helps in some way.

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Christa. It was not an easy piece to write because, like so many others, I've experienced heartbreaking loss.

      Delete
  3. Anne, what an amazing piece! I really should not have read it while eating lunch at work because now I have mascara running down my face. I absolutely believe that our loved ones watch over us. Many years ago I was pregnant and had a dream that four of my great-grandparents were circled around me. They didn't speak. They just smiled at me and, somehow, made me feel the immense amount of love that they still had for me. At the time, I thought that they were happy for my pregnancy. A week later I miscarried. I will forever believe that my great-grandparents were preparing me for the loss and signaling to me that they would watch over me during my grief. I have not dreamed about them together in a group since that night which only furthers my belief that they were sending me a message. Your lovely writing brought all of those memories flooding back. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Nikki. It was not an easy piece to write because, like so many, I've experienced heartbreaking loss.

      Delete
  4. Ann I'm sure this will touch many people who have lost loved ones. As Jamie says after Faith dies "We will never be the same again." I think one of the things that makes grief very hard to bear in western countries is that the rituals surrounding death have become trivialised. Living in Africa I see how very differently they process death. There is a series of rituals and ceremonies that go on over at least a three week period following death and then a year after. Then continually over the years there are commemorations and rituals that invoke those lost as one of the ancestors of the family and clan. There is a much stronger sense of connection with the departed. Our quick half hour funeral or memorial service a couple of days after someone dies does not give anyone an opportunity or real space to grieve or honour that person. An African funeral is an all day affair. It takes place after numerous prayer meetings and gatherings with the family and includes a service at the place of work. Everyone in the community comes along and brings something to contribute, food, alcohol, cash, blankets. There is no expectation that the bereaved spouse or family must get back to normal ASAP. People don't feel uncomfortable with the reality of death. I'm near sixty and have never seen a dead person other than in passing in a road accident, at a distance. We don't know how to deal with death or the bereaved so we avoid the subject or the person because it is so uncomfortable. My husband always says that ceremony and ritual have such human importance and we dismiss them at our peril. In her books Diana deals with death and it's aftermath often and brings to it her Catholic beliefs and experiences where ancient rituals are still important and valued. I really believe that the dead to look after us. There have been times when I have had such a clear sense of my grandparents and in particular my Nanna who I was very close to. It helps if one does not believe that death is the end but it doesn't take away the pain. Thanks for writing this very special blog post. Jayne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jayne, for taking the time to respond. It is interesting to learn how different cultures handle the death of a loved one. And, I believe that family members I've lost are not all that far away.

      Delete
    2. Jayne, how beautiful. We are a culture that doesn't want to deal with death at all. As you point out they want it over and done with as quickly as possible.

      Delete
  5. You articulated so well what I've been wondering about Jamie's ghost appearance and other signs. I believe Diana has him living up to his promise of finding her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Karen. It has to be more than coincidence, don't you think?

      Delete
  6. What an insightful beautiful post,sadly most of us have experienced some heart renching loss in our lives,you'll never be the same again,but just try to go on,with some normalcy in your life,for me it also was losing a child,but I'm lucky that I do have one who is well & all grown up now!For Claire it was a double whammy losing Jamie going through the stones back to the sixties,no wonder she become a bit numb in life,but season 3 will tell us more!Thank You for this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind response. I think it strikes a (sad) chord with many, and I hope helps in some way with the healing process.

      Delete
  7. I !love reading this blog. The writers do so well in finding nuggets of truth and depth in Diana's characters. Amazing piece!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for that wonderful piece. I am now in bits.... It's not only people who catch at your heartstrings, its animals too. Especially a beloved dog who has been with you since puppyhood. Thank you again ..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agree, I still cry over the loss of my Buster Boy(dog) and my Baby (cat)...

      Delete
  9. Beautiful piece. I have lost so many I have loved, NO you never get over it..you just put that part of your heart in a "box". That is how I deal with the pain of all the losses. And in those times when I hear a song or see something that reminds me of the person I open that "box" for a moment and grief again. Then close it again and go on living. That is one thing I love about Diana G. writting of Jamie & Claire is the people they lose are made so real, we have so much in common with them. At least that is how I feel.

    ReplyDelete

Back to Top