I Can See Thestrals: Surviving Grief with Help from the Wizarding World
Like many reading this, I grew up reading Harry Potter. This fandom was the most significant part of my childhood. I stayed up devouring the books after each midnight release. I dressed up for the movies and somehow convinced my parents to let me be out that late on a school night. I read and reread and reread, taking these precious stories to heart. What I didn’t realize, however, was just how much Harry Potter would help me cope with the greatest challenges I have ever faced: the death of my sister and the death of my father just years after I reached adulthood.
In 2007, J.K. Rowling released the final installment of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered. How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the forest? (DH 691)
In the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry learns that he must let Voldemort kill him. He was left the Resurrection Stone by Professor Dumbledore, and as he walked to his death, he turned the Stone thrice in his hands. His mother, his father, Sirius, and Remus all appeared to him. He asks why they are there, and he is told that they have never left.
As Harry gathers the courage to meet his end, he tells them, “Stay close to me.” His mother simply responds, “Always.” Harry – who has lived a life full of pain, heartbreak, and loss – is surrounded by the ones that he loved, including the ones that he never had a chance to really know. And he is told that they have always been there with him and that they always will be. I saw Harry face heartache after heartache, yet he persisted. I read over and over again about how the ones who love us never really leave us.
When my sister passed away, I was blindsided. I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore. But because of my childhood filled with the boy wizard and magical castles, somewhere deep down (like, really deep down at the time), I must’ve known that I’d be okay. And for that, I am eternally grateful to J.K. Rowling. After all, she had unknowingly provided me with comfort, knowledge, and hope through Harry’s trials and therefore through my own.
Although the first book and movie are a bit of a blur, I do vividly remember Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as a child. I was in second grade when the movie came out, and my father stayed up late with me the night before my family went to see it. He read the book aloud since I refused to watch the movie without having finished it first. My dad passed away not long after I lost my sister. I don’t have the best long-term memory, but some of the most significant recollections of him involve reading together and especially reading Harry Potter. To this day, the second book holds the most special place in my heart. The last time I saw my father, he came to my college commencement ceremony. My parents went to Walmart while they were here, and Dad came back with a shiny 4K copy of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them DVD as a graduation present because he knew just how much J.K. Rowling’s stories meant to me.
We are a Potter family through and through, and every time I read or watch J.K. Rowling’s creations, I feel connected to both my father and sister. So many of my favorite memories of them involve the Boy Who Lived, and as Harry learned during the Battle of Hogwarts, I’m reminded that they’re always close to me.
Hear more about my experiences with bereavement and Harry Potter in MuggleNet’s podcast Beyond the Veil. Beyond the Veil is a podcast dedicated to asking the question, “Why does Harry Potter mean so much to so many people?” The Potter series has left its mark on society and on the hearts and minds of those who read it. Fans have dealt with mental health crises, overcome major obstacles, and made powerful, positive changes in their lives with the help and support of the Harry Potter series. We want to know: Why did this happen? And whom did this happen to? Join MuggleNet columnist Madison Ford in the headmaster’s office for some conversations with Potter fans around the world.