Beyond the Veil: A Threadbare Divide Between Living and Dead

I remember, it was my ninth birthday, and I was happily unwrapping presents on the back deck, my family surrounding me. I can still see them all perched in patio chairs, my grandpa leaning against the deck railing, grinning at whatever joke he had just cracked that the rest of us had heard a thousand times. The thing is, my grandpa had been in the hospital for a while and had passed away that very day. I wouldn’t find this out until a few days later since my parents had decided to wait until after my birthday party and dance recital to break the news to me. I do believe that there is something after this life, but I don’t know how concrete my belief is in a reality that runs parallel to our own. This experience I had as a child makes me think that the barrier between life and death might be thinner than we think. This closeness between these two states of being is explored in J.K. Rowling’s novels.

On today’s date in 1996, Sirius Black fell through the veil in the Department of Mysteries.

It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch… (Order of the Phoenix 806)

A curtain, an ordinary object in our world, serves as the barrier between life and death, showing how very close the two existences are to one another.

Sirius had only just fallen through the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second… (Order of the Phoenix 806)

Of course, Sirius doesn’t fall through the other side. Instead, the closest thing Harry had to a father after his own was killed by Lord Voldemort left this world for whatever it is that’s beyond the veil. J.K. Rowling has said in the past that once you go beyond the veil, you cannot come back, at least not in any sort of “form that will make either person happy anyway” (Rowling 2008).

With that thought, we can return to experiencing visions of loved ones during the grieving process. What I find truly creepy about my experience when my grandfather passed is the fact that my mind had no idea it had happened, but in order to see a vision or hallucination of him at my birthday party, my heart must have known to some extent. Similar experiences began to occur when I was seventeen years old. My grandmother had finally lost her battle with ovarian cancer and passed away a few weeks before my senior prom. In fact, I got the dreaded phone call while I was in a dressing room trying on gowns an hour away from home. There’s a rest area on Route 81 that still makes my stomach tighten every time I pass it because that’s where my mom and I had to pull over to get ourselves together before continuing the rest of the way home. Although I knew it was coming and had plenty of time to get used the idea of her not being around, losing my grandmother was easily the most devastating moment of my life. I was “Grandma’s girl.” Suddenly the woman who was my porch swing companion and classic country songs duet partner was no longer occupying the same realm of existence as I was, but some small part of her remained. I thought I saw her a few times, whether it was sitting in the passenger side of a car in my school parking lot or just hearing her voice on the message machine. More than once I thought I saw her in my grandparents’ house when I would turn the corner into the kitchen. It turns out, according to psychologists, this is a relatively normal phenomenon in the grieving process, although the occurrences lessen over time. This decline in the frequency of these experiences makes me think of the veil Rowling includes in both Order of the Phoenix and “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” the latter of which includes the attempted resurrection of one of the brothers’ former lovers. The girl is distant and closed off from the world of the living, “separate from them, as if through a veil,” Rowling later said in an interview (Rowling 2008).

The longer you are without your loved one, the more complete the divide between the two worlds becomes. It is while our wounds are fresh that we cling desperately to figures that should stay behind the veil, just like the second Peverell brother did. It is also directly after a death has occurred that it seems most people are more desperate to believe in an afterlife, causing the rift between two worlds to become more visible to those who need to believe in something after our time on earth. While I struggle day-to-day to comprehend what might come after life, I want to believe that there is something else. I want to believe in the possibility that my grandfather celebrated my ninth birthday and every birthday after that with me, and that my grandma is somewhere watching me through a transparent veil, proud of my successes and offering encouragement in my failures. I want to believe in beyond the veil.

  • Ryan

    Really nicely written essay, Amy. One of the best, and certainly the most poetic, that I’ve seen on here in a long time.

  • HDMSTRSNAPE

    Well said. Just finished rereading OOTP last night. Sirius’ fall through the veil is such a beautiful metaphor…