Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Harry Potter and the Struggle with Grief

We are finite beings, no matter how immune we might feel against the trials of the world, and one manner that awakens us to our own mortality is the loss of others. Their absence -- be it sudden, incomprehensible, or expected -- can shake us severely, demanding an acknowledgement of the inevitability of death and requiring us to struggle out of the hollowness by any means possible, or else reside in a gloomy haze indefinitely.

In the last three months I have lost a number of dear people in my life (most recently my talented cousin) in a torrent of aching shocks; I've yet to come to terms with the ways of the universe, but I find myself turning to my books numerous times in order to cope. In the process, I have found that the Harry Potter series supply me with more strength and comfort than I'd have first considered, and not simply because I enjoy the stories so. Within the books exist a collection of guidelines in the many forms, reasons, and stages of grief. I had actually ruminated on this last year (when my grandfather passed away) but in the wake of more tragedies, the depth of the novels' relatability has struck me fully.

So what follows is a brief list of the ways in which Harry Potter and his cohorts have helped me grieve:

  1. Understanding the loss of a parent: (I haven't lost my parents, but this type of grief is still too familiar among my family and friends, and coping with it is an inevitability.) As with much of children's literature, the story begins with an orphan. The freedom this allots Harry transforms the novel--surely he would not throw himself into danger repeatedly if he had a family structure to rely on. But over time, the reader also sees what that loss means for Harry. It isolates him from his friends and leaves him with longings unfulfilled (e.g., The Mirror of Erised). More importantly, we see how he and other characters come to terms and deal with the vacancy (by being steadfast with their goals, creating and maintaining a strong support group of friends, and never doubting the love of their parents), and that reminds us that even in situations of extreme loss, we too can manage our grief. This becomes especially poignant when examining Luna and Neville. They seem isolated due to their oddness, but to some degree their odd-man-out behaviors are methods of managing pain. So it's okay, really, to find ways to isolate yourself at first, if you ultimately find the strength to grow and be okay with who you have become without the presence of your loved one.
  2. Thestrals as the unifying element of grief: Remember that scene, when Harry first sees the thestrals and realizes that--at the time--only Luna can see "the hallucination" as well, that he is "just as sane" as she is? I thought it was brilliant (not solely because I adore Luna and her candid quirkiness). But the idea that trauma, that death, can connect and unify those who have witnessed or dealt with it manifested itself beautifully in these books. Once again, Harry, Luna, and Neville are set apart, but instead of focusing on their isolating features, we find that their commonalities--though born from pain--bring a sense of relief that they aren't truly isolated. When someone close to you dies, the sympathy you receive has a warming effect for a moment, but it's the empathy and commiseration of others that allow you to feel the sadness fully, recognize its universality, and slowly recover from that. Others, like Ron and Hermione, don't quite get the severity of what it means to be a part of this "thestral club," a club one does not want to be in but is grateful to find those who are.
  3. Hallows indicating what is beyond: When my grandfather died, my mind played and replayed the scenes of Harry's walk to Voldemort and his death. Something about being a master of death--of holding the three hallows--brought me a macabre sense of peace, because that walk through the forest can symbolize Harry's acceptance and entrance into the afterlife, or at least witnessing what it will entail. Now, I have my own faith and beliefs from which I draw comfort from, but seeing a textual representation of what entering afterlife signifies reassured me deeply. To walk quietly and unseen, beyond the scope of anyone's vision, in peace; to carry insurmountable strength with you, with which to face the unknown;  and to continually feel the presence of those who loved you (and will continue to), to feel their love and prayers--these are valuable images that give life to my beliefs, bring patience to my heart, and make it easier to think about our parting.
  4. Witnessing a family shoulder through the struggle: How a family unit survives the loss has as much importance as (and can rely on) individual/personal management of grief. I think it's vitally important that we see a family deal with loss, particularly of a child, a young adult (much like my cousin), and healthily recover from it. The Weasleys have a huge family, but Fred's death, even in a time of war, was heartbreaking because we had seen the depth of his relationships and friendships with his brothers and sister, particularly with George. Though the novels don't show the stages of grief that the family undergoes, we do see the family continue on positively in the epilogue (one of the very few reasons I can appreciate that section, to be honest). The way these kids have grown, the manner in which they honor their beloved members can have a huge impact on someone trying to see if things can turn out okay. Strong family bonds can make such a monumental difference.
 So, it doesn't matter to me whether Ron and Hermione would have lasted as a couple (though I argue with Rowling's perspective on that for many reasons). For this reader, the novels offer much more than just a gateway to everlasting love--they demonstrate the many avenues which grief travels on and the vehicles we can take to ride this trip out.

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