My Mom put out our family Christmas decorations last weekend. She called me afterward and we both cried about my Dad’s stocking. Dad passed away in July. While coping with his loss, I leaned on remaining family and good friends, but also on wizards.
Writing the Media Marathoning book helped me realize that I take solace in the Harry Potter series when going through times of transition. I first borrowed the books from my friend Amanda while we were getting ready to seek our fortunes on the fickle academic job market. And I walked to my new community library to borrow the books once I started my first academic job.
A group of my media marathoning students interviewed people who marathoned to cope with the loss of a loved one. Their blog post on the study offers insightful conclusions: A media marathon enabled mourners “to escape from reality and experience a short-term relief of typical obligations. The narrative complexities of modern media allowed for this escape into these developed, intricate fictive worlds.”
Media marathons can be a productive way to (temporarily) escape a shitty reality. We may need to hibernate and let time slowly stitch us back together before we can function at “adult capacity.” Everyone has different needs, however. I did not need to hibernate after my Dad passed; I needed little retreats. So I read the Harry Potter books slowly in the summer and fall. This reading pace extended my source of comfort while I was crafting a new normal with my family.
As people engage in a re-marathon or a re-reading, some characters, scenes, or themes step out of the shadows and others fall back. The familiar text can work like the Mirror of Erised to give us what we most desire at the time. It took me until the very end of the Harry Potter series to realize that Luna Lovegood was my shepherdess on this particular journey. Luna reminded me to carve out spaces to be sad but also keep moving forward with a sense of optimism and love. Her theme song should be a mashup of Counting Crows’ ‘A Long December’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds.’
Upon first introduction, Luna seems awkward and unobservant, but this young woman has emotional incisiveness that refuses to bow to the fear of “saying the wrong thing” to those who are mourning. Luna knows death and deftly bridges sadness and love when telling Harry about the loss of her Mom: “Yes, it was rather horrible….I still feel very sad about it sometimes. But I’ve still got Dad.”
Acknowledging death and sadness does not mean one is shutting out love. As the only one to speak at Dobby’s grave, Luna puts voice to collective emotion: “Thank you so much, Dobby, for rescuing me from that cellar. It’s so unfair that you had to die, when you were so good and brave. I’ll always remember what you did for us. I hope you’re happy now.”
Death is not fair. We can recognize that injustice, still be appreciative of the time we had, and move on with the memories of a meaningful life.
Remembering the meaningful life of a deceased loved one reminds us to treasure our own life and the lives of people around us. Luna’s “But I’ve still got Dad,” mentality carries through in the final battle against Voldemort. She steps out of the darkness when Harry is almost overcome by Dementors, urging, “That’s right, Harry…come on, think of something happy….We’re all still here,” she whispered, “we’re still fighting.”
There is no replacement for real friends and family, but fictive characters can provide needed reminders in challenging times. As many prepare to go through holiday traditions that are clouded by loss, let’s allow ourselves to feel very sad sometimes, but be buoyed by something happy: who we still have.