I recently took part in the ‘Good Grief Festival’ – www.goodgrieffest.com. A series of virtual seminars which cover a wide variety of topics related to grief. I was struck by one in particular and this was around their discussions on what ‘Harry Potter’ can teach us about love, death and grief.
Love, Death and Grief
I first read Harry Potter in my twenties, but as someone quite rightly said we can read this series at any stage in our lives. As we grow and mature we begin to read the books with different eyes and different life perspectives.
Six months after starting Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling’s own mother passed away. Having lost my Dad in recent years, you can see how such a life-changing experience went on to shape not only her first Harry Potter book, but in fact the whole series.
Her first book very clearly lays the foundations for many themes, but love, death and grief are some of the most powerful ones to come from these books.
From the very first chapter in the first book, we learn that Harry Potter is an orphan. This will set the tone for the series and how Harry navigates his way through life and all the experiences that are thrown at him.
It is only when Harry turns 11 years old does he learn what truly happened to his parents, this is also the age that he finds out he is a wizard. This is without doubt a pivotal and life-changing moment for him. Finding out that his parents died in such a brutal manner means that Harry now has to process this loss in a completely different way and all over again.
Despite the impact this has on Harry, he has very much known the presence of love from a young age. His parents sacrificed themselves in order to save him from Voldemort. Ironically it is Voldemort’s desire for eternal life and ultimate power that leads to his defeat at the hands of Harry.
Love and Loss
The Good Grief Festival also talks about the ‘Mirror of Erisad’ and how it represents different things to different characters within the books. For Harry, it highlights an absolute desperate desire and longing for his parents but also for a life that was so cruelly taken away from him.
That is one of the most poignant things that I have personally learnt about love, death and grief in the last couple of years. We are not only grieving the person that has left us, but we are also grieving what might have been if they were still with us. The love, the life and experiences that have all been taken away from us when someone we love dies.
Life and Death
Harry has to learn how to accommodate loss after loss and ultimately that teaches him how to die at the end of the series. He now embraces and views his death as a way to join the people that he loves so very much.
The series of books urge us to accept our own mortality and how we view death and the reality of it. Ultimately Harry accepts death as a certainty in life, like we all have to. He understands that his life is full and virtuous because of the love of his parents and friends, and for me personally that is an extremely powerful message from J.K. Rowling.