The Burrow: Through the Good and Bad Times

by Mary Leninsky

As I watched the countdown calendar for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on my computer, I thought of our family’s personal countdown calendar that would have marked the day that our eight year old son, Justin, would have started his radiation therapy for relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). I had planned on re-reading the entire series during his May 2005 “hospital stay” chemotherapy treatments and was looking forward to being able to read Book 6 during his radiation treatment. But, unfortunately, as with all the other mental planning for his treatment plan, it was not meant to be. Justin passed away on March 27, 2005, from a severe stomach infection that ravaged his immuno-compromised body.

In the spring of 2000, I was introduced to the Harry Potter series by my son’s friend and our next door neighbor, Kyle. He came to play with my son one day and brought Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with him. Though Kyle was five years older than Justin, they still liked to do a lot of the same things. I questioned Kyle about the book and he said I could borrow Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I have to admit that this was the first book that I had gotten to read in a long time, there just never seemed to be enough hours in the day to read and take care of a preschooler. I breezed through the book and was instantly hooked. I went the next day and bought books 1-3 and read them all. This marked a turning point in my life which reintroduced me to the joy of reading that I remembered as a child. There is always enough time in the day to read, even if it is only a few pages.

Justin became interested in Harry Potter because Mom was reading the books. He would ask me about them, and I would tell him what the story was about. I offered to read them aloud to him but he was always busy playing with his cars or playing video games. He liked me to read non-fiction books that he would get from the library. I promised him when the first movie came out on video that we would buy it and he would see how good it was.

It wasn’t until Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out on video that Justin really got interested. The big attraction for Justin was the flying Ford Anglia. But, still, Justin was only ever really interested in the “stuff” that went along with Harry Potter. He loved the Lego and the video games and the movies. I knew that he would eventually learn to love the books as much as I did.

There always seemed to be some other event going on in our lives that coincided with Harry Potter milestones. I was sitting on a hospital bed, reading the newly released Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, while a monitor was checking on the progress of Justin’s twin sisters. I had finally overcome my fear of reading the Harry Potter books in public, fearing ridicule from those thinking I was too old to be reading such things. The nurse who was checking on me was also a Harry Potter fan!

With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix release, I was living in Georgia, away from my family because my Army Reserve unit was mobilized. I was so excited to be able to finish the book in one sitting and also grateful to be able to forget my homesickness for a while.

Then came the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie in theaters. This was the last movie that Justin was able to see in a movie theater. Justin and I went to see it and I joked with him and my husband that Justin was taking me to the movies as my wedding anniversary present (my husband has yet to catch the Harry Potter bug). A month after the movie release, Justin’s leukemia had returned after a year off treatment. This started a long, hard struggle with intense chemotherapy and many long hospital stays.

But Harry Potter always got us through the tough times. I would always have the books in my car in case of emergencies – like long days at the doctor’s office or unexpected hospital stays. Justin would always pack his Harry Potter video games for the hospital so both he and I could play them. When Prisoner of Azkaban was released on video, I had a nurse stay with Justin while I went and bought our copy so we could watch it in his hospital room.

Then came the big news of Book 6. I would constantly surf the Harry Potter websites while we were in the hospital awaiting the big day. Justin was even getting excited. I promised him that if he didn’t want to try to read the series for himself, that I would buy the books on CD and he could ask his uncle to buy him an IPOD. Being the tech-savvy kid that he was, he thought this was a great idea.

Justin never made it to see Book 6, and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to read it. As the big day got closer, I sought refuge from my grief in the first five books. I was able to temporarily forget my pain in the pages of these wonderful books. Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince arrived in the mail that Saturday, as promised. Weekends had been especially bad for me since it was during a weekend that Justin was taken away from me. Curiosity finally won out and I started the book that night. I’ve read it twice since then and anxiously await the fourth movie and the last book. I’ve already told my brother he can get me the Goblet of Fire video game for my birthday and I will play it in memory of Justin.

I will always be grateful for the Harry Potter series. The books are old friends who have helped me get through some hard times, and yet, they are also associated with good memories of what was going on in my life. I have no doubt that Justin’s sisters will continue Justin’s and my love of Harry. At three, they know almost as much of the story as their big brother and are always playing “Harry Potter.” I can’t wait until the day when we can all sit down and read the stories together, the girls and I and their angel big brother, Justin.

Thank you JK Rowling!