I miss Harry Potter.
Can you miss someone who isn’t real? Oh, I think so. We miss a good book when it finishes, a favorite TV series when it’s over, and a good movie when the credits roll. Many adults felt concern when the seventh and last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out last summer. They worried about their children’s reactions when some of the characters died. The author, J.K. Rowling, had promised that some significant characters would not survive to the end of the story, and the possibility of Harry’s death hung close and heavy. Lines were long around the country and around the world to buy the book as soon as it went on sale. Did it matter if a fictional character died? All one had to do was see the faces and listen to the conversations of those in line to see that it mattered a great deal.
The Harry Potter books were appealing for many reasons. Harry was an unloved, neglected and abused boy who had been told all his life that he was both a disappointment and an embarrassment, just by being who he was. At age eleven, he discovered otherwise, Not only was he a special boy, in some ways he was the most special person in a magical world of wonders where he did belong and where he was desperately wanted and valued. What an appealing message—that we can be more important and valuable than we have ever known or experienced. Add to this great imagination, clever humor, overflowing adventure, layers of mystery, the “joys” of puberty, and good triumphing over evil and you’ve got a heck of a story.
But the Harry Potter story was something even more. It was and is the grief story for this current generation of young people. Harry was an orphan who never knew his parents, and his story was filled with wisdom about loss, grief and living. Insights into grief begin in the first book as Harry discovers a magical mirror that shows the viewer’s greatest desire. When Harry looks in the mirror, he doesn’t see himself as rich or powerful or winning accolades from adoring crowds. He sees himself with the parents he never knew. Eventually, the wise, father-figure wizard, Professor Dumbledore, finds Harry sitting again in front of the mirror gazing at what he can never have. With gentleness, Dumbledore tells Harry that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live…”
Throughout the books Harry is threatened by foes who call themselves “Death Eaters” as if by their power and skill they could conquer and move beyond death itself. Harry’s task, however, is never to conquer or vanquish death, but to find ways to live fully with the reality of death in his life. His parents are dead and some friends die, too, but Harry lives on and must discover meaning both in his life and in the deaths he experiences. There is even the concept of growth in the midst of loss: In Harry’s world, there are magical creatures called thestrals that only those who have seen death can see. Midway through the books, Harry finally sees these creatures that have been present all along, and he is then able to use this new vision and insight in a heroic effort to help someone else—all because he can see something in his life that he couldn’t see before.
As the stories continue, Harry experiences more danger and more threats on his life. Repeatedly, in the midst of the most threatening times, he has some experience of his parents, which brings him strength and comfort. In one particular scene where Harry seems trapped and all seems lost, his mother’s spirit comes to him from his enemy’s wand and encourages him to hold on, for his father is coming, and both parents protect and guide Harry to his survival. In another brush with death, Harry thinks he sees his father but then realizes he has only seen himself instead. Embarrassingly, he reports his mistake to Dumbledore who replies…“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night. You found him inside yourself.” In some ways this is the strongest grief lesson of the book. Those we love can still be present with us even when they are physically gone from our lives. Their presence with us after their deaths is not the same as before, but it is significant, and in the end, it is enough—enough for us to live again.
There are two more Harry Potter movies to come, and I look forward to them, but it’s not the same. I’ve read through the last book and know how the story ends. I miss Harry Potter, boy wizard and grief tutor for the masses. Can we miss a character that is not real? Perhaps the old wizard Dumbledore deserves the last word. In the final book, when he is asked by Harry if his presence with Harry is real or happening inside Harry’s head, Dumbledore responds, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
About the Author
Greg Adams, LCSW, ACSW, CT is a clinical social worker and director of the Center for Good Mourning and PalCare at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The Center for Good Mourning is a grief support and outreach program, and PalCare is a pediatric palliative care program. Greg is the author of Lessons from Lions: Using Children’s Media to Teach about Grief and Mourning, which is a user’s guide and CD-rom using a popular children’s movie to help children learn and talk about death and grief. More information about the Center for Good Mourning and Lessons from Lions can be found at www.goodmourningcenter.org. Greg is certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement by the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). He was named Social Worker of the Year by the Arkansas Chapter of NASW in 2005. Greg is married and has two children, a teen daughter and a pre-teen son. Please feel free to contact Greg by email at email@example.com.