Harry Potter and the Lessons of Grief

Updated: Sep 10

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Photo by Rae Tian on Unsplash

Numb


Harry experienced a lot of tragedy in his life. His parents were killed when he was just a baby. He didn’t grow up in a loving home. And he had just seen Cedric Digory murdered in cold blood before his eyes. He had every right to want to numb his pain. But Dumbledore knew that Harry needed to express that grief. 


I know a lot about numbing pain. My father died suddenly of a massive silent heart attack when I was 23 years old.


We were at Baptist Hospital with my mother. She was having a cornea transplant, and my father and I were in the waiting room. He began having difficulty breathing, and was in obvious distress. But he was stubborn, and kept saying that he was fine. 


When he finally asked for help, he was rushed to the ER. I was alone and terrified. A very kind nurse stayed with me while I tried to reach my aunt and uncle. They quickly drove from Greensboro to Winston-Salem. By the time they reached the hospital, my mother was out of surgery, and my father had died. I completely shut down. I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t think, and I certainly couldn’t cry. Numb was good. Numb was my friend.


Well meaning relatives told me, “You have to be strong for your mother.” But who was being strong for me? So, I set about making funeral plans and ignoring my feelings. After all, I had to be strong. So I decided right then that I would not cry…even at the funeral.


If anyone ever tells you “Oh, you just need to be strong,”  you have my permission to tell them to shut up, because they have NO IDEA what they are saying. You have every right to feel ALL of your feelings, EXACTLY when you are feeling them, and for as long as you need to feel them. 


Anger


I think my favorite Potter book is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Why? Because Harry finally gets in touch with his pain, and he finally gets angry. Up until this point, he had been so eager to please Dumbledore and live up to his name. This book is his turning point.


J.K. Rowling has beautifully captured the pain of grief. Sirius had just died. He was the closest thing to a parent that Harry had ever known. When Harry meets Dumbledore in his office afterwards, he tells Harry that his ability to feel pain is his greatest strength. At that point, Harry loses control in what is one of the most poignant passages of the book, maybe the whole series.


“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!” “You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Anger is a powerful emotion. Frankly, it feels a whole lot better than pain. But anger is part of grief. Almost every time I find myself starting to rage, I know that there is unresolved grief underneath. I have to express that anger to get to the sadness underneath. And yes, it sucks. Sometimes there are multiple layers to go through. It’s exhausting. But it’s the only way to move forward. Dumbledore knew this, and he calmly let Harry express his rage.


Healing


We all process grief in our own time and in our own way. But grief cannot be bypassed. It is something that has to be gone through. It’s not pleasant, but it is necessary. I am still learning this myself. Be kind to yourself and honor your feelings. Find time to sit with and express your anger and your sadness. But also make time to find and experience joy and love. We honor our pain by acknowledging it and still choosing to live, love, and find joy again.


There is healing. There is hope. And it does get better. Be kind to yourself on your journey. And if you need help, ask. There are a lot of good people and resources out there. Don’t give up until you find someone who can walk with you through the pain.


I hope that you find your own Dumbledore who will calmly let you rage and cry and do whatever else you need to heal. When you do, let them help. I’m lucky. I found mine.