Diablo 4, grief & the acceptance of loss
CONTENT WARNING This article contains spoilers for Acts 2 and 4 of Diablo 4, as well as discussion of grief and loss. Please be warned before reading on.
I have been playing Diablo 4 as a relative newcomer to the series mostly with a friend of mine, a veteran of Diablo 3 and its many seasons. As we blew through Act 2 in a region called Scosglen, we worked with an old, ex-Horadrim called Donan.
Early on, Donan's son Yorin was introduced, and we both pronounced him dead on arrival. I may be fairly new to Diablo, but I have quickly cottoned on to how this story goes. We skip the pathos in Sanctuary, and beeline it straight to the depressing and macabre endings.
Sure enough, before long young Yorin was caught up in the big bad's plot and sacrificed in the name of reviving some ancient, world-shattering Lesser Evil, a demon amongst the most powerful of its ilk. After my friend and I dispatched the demon in about three minutes, alas poor Yorin was not to be saved.
We left old Donan to grieve his son and pressed on with the story. My friend has already finished the campaign and I am doing my level best to catch up so we can tackle the endgame content together. Later, while playing on my own and working through Act 4, Donan re-entered the picture.
To take down Lilith, his services were needed once again. I expected the story to pay lip service to this bereaved father, working through his pain and keeping a tight lid on it. What I did not expect, was what happened during our collective vision quest with a witch in a swamp.
At this point in the story, Donan is trying his best but he is failing. His job is to restore a crystal that can imprison Lilith, but he finds he is not up to the task. A witch named Taissa suggests he must face what is impeding him, his grief, and overcome it.
And so we find ourselves in a hut in the swamp, ingesting tea made from dubious ingredients. After which, we bear witness to Donan's conversation with a shade of his son, a construct of his own subconscious. He begs for forgiveness, listing ways he could have prevented his son's death.
The ghost of Yorin asks his father why he let him go; why he allowed his son to become a soldier and go to fight. Donan's response comes laboured, but he tells his son. "You needed to go".
Diablo 4 contains many grim little stories, at least half of the side quests seem to involve informing someone that their loved one is dead, and probably not of natural causes. We shuffle from one tragedy to the next, like passing through towns on the world's most depressing road trip.
Even though Donan is one of the major supporting characters, I was still shocked that the game took the time to give his story some weight. By the time Yorin dies, we have seen so many people needlessly slaughtered in this relentlessly horrible world, that his corpse is just another for the mounting pile.
When Donan tells the spectre of his son that he "needed to go", he learns to accept his son's agency in his life, and in his death. He doesn't drink a health potion and shore up the gaping wound in his limbic system, he doesn't magic his son back into existence. He "needed to go", because Yorin was his own person, and he chose to go.
Donan is struggling with a moral quandary that I, not being a parent, can only imagine many must go through. You bring a defenceless, tiny human into the world, and at some indeterminate point, you are expected to let that human go.
Donan faces the awful aftermath of that decision, as in the wake of his son's death, he can only see letting him go as the wrong decision. Had he just held on tighter and protected his son more, he may still be alive.
But, he "needed to go". Yorin had to live his life. One of the worst parts of grief is all of the hypotheticals, all of the what-ifs, all of the little things you could have done differently. It is impossible not to dwell on these things, but only through accepting the truth can we really accept our loss.
We all have our own, singular lives to live. We may have people we love, who we would do anything to protect. If so, we also must accept that those people have their own lives to live, and it is not our place to dictate.
As the wise philosopher Keanu Reeves once said, when we die "the ones who love us will miss us".
When we die, to those who love us, we become a memory. That memory can bring great pain and regret. However, those who remain must remember that those memories were people, and those people made their choices.
The core of accepting loss is to accept that we are not responsible for those we have lost. Even a parent, suffering the greatest grief of all, must learn to accept that the child they once held total responsibility for, grew to be their own person and make their own choices.
It is all too easy to sink into guilt when we lose someone we love. As Donan learns here, we have to learn that the guilt we feel in grief is rarely ours to bear. In death and in life, if someone we love needs to go, we need to let them go.