Eight: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Grief, and Goodbyes

Confession: I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II a few months ago, and have been putting off blogging about the film.

There’s plenty of material to feast on in Deathly Hallows, Harry’s final chapter, where it All Goes Down: the near destruction of Harry, his pals, and the institution of Hogwarts at the hands (or wand) of the evil Voldemort, who looms large and powerful. This is the film in which Severus Snape– arguably the most interesting and compelling character of the entire Potter saga– shows his true colors (and they are beautiful. Like a rainbow). Mrs. Weasely curses (so effectively), lots of characters that we love bite the dust.

  • Harry Potter and the Death Hollows: Part II’s ranking on the Oldometer: 7/10
  • Gary Oldman character quality: Gary reprises his role– if just for a few moments– of Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather. Sirius is a very resonant character to many (myself included), and one of JK Rowling’s best creations.
  • Does Gary die in this one? Well, he already died a few movies ago, so… no?

Many moments in Deathly Hallows II made me tear up watching it this time around. Mrs. Weasley fighting to protect her daughter Ginny, Neville Longbottom taking his opportunity to shine in battle even as he is mocked (FOR THE LAST TIME), Ron and Hermione (once again) expressing their solidarity with Harry are all weep-worthy moments. Of course, poor, beautiful Snape’s heroic, unrequited love for Harry’s mother completely destroys me (if you don’t sniffle a little at “Always,” then there is something profoundly amiss in your life).

Still, the most tear-worthy scene, and my favorite, comes near the end of the film but before Harry’s big showdown with Voldemort. Harry has recently learned that he and Volds are inexorably linked, and therefore in order to take down the Big Bad, Harry must also die. Harry leaves the semi-safety of Hogwarts to seek out his destiny, assuming he is going to the slaughter, but before he reveals himself to the Death-Eating Crew he puts to use an object he has picked up on his journey: the Resurrection Stone.

The Resurrection Stone’s power allows one to “see” their deceased loved ones; it reunites its user with the dead for a brief period of time. Harry puts it to work, and when he looks up he sees the faces of Sirius, Lupin (his mentor and friend– who literally JUST died, by the way), and his mother and father. This scene is serenely powerful.

As I watched it, I wondered who the Resurrection Stone would choose to reveal to me. All of my grandparents have passed, but rarely do I feel their presence in my every day life; I wasn’t close enough to any of them in a way that makes me long to be with them again. My own parents, thankfully, are still alive. I have not suffered the hardship of losing a sibling or anyone my age to the hands of death.

Most of those whom I have known and passed have been the elderly. I worked in a nursing home for three years (and did private caretaking for a few more years), and almost all of those that I cared for have died (not… because of me. Because they were old. Just to be clear). Some of them went suddenly, some over the course of years. I have done my best to try to remember all of their names, to write down the things about them that made them special, to hold them in my heart a little because the idea of someone who was once close to you (in a sense) forgetting anything about you, even if you were on your deathbed when they met you, gives me a stinging feeling. I took it on myself at times to document their lives, in hope that one day I could use that material in some form of my work so that at least some part of them would survive. That can become a massive undertaking when the people you spend your time with seem to die every month or so, but I still felt that responsibility.

There are many of them that I hope to see again. But the one person whom I would most like to talk to these days is actually Agnes, a friend of mine, who died of cancer in her 60’s. Agnes was a co-worker who had taken care of others her whole life, and who came to work at the nursing home in my second year there. She had just left a high position in a neighboring facility and was simply looking to make some money on the side while doing what she had always done. She was hard-working and no-nonsense, but also terribly funny and joyful and chatty, and the two of us bonded very quickly.

She actually ended up quitting her job there, as the boss at the time (we were always getting new bosses) was a bit unreasonable, and Agnes realized that at her age she “didn’t have to take any shit.” I still hung out with her; I watched the 2012 Oscars at her house, she attended a wedding I was in where the two of us drank cocktails and “danced” to her favorite song, “Red Solo Cup.” She showed me around the old house that was hers alone, she told me about her failed marriage and the relationship she had afterwards that was the great love of her life, with a man who was twice her age and called himself “Unk.” When I told her I was working on writing a Western script, she showed me pictures of her man and winked: “That was a real cowboy. You should write about him.” She told me all about how she lost him one day to a terrible accident, and how crushed she still was over it. She told me how, months after Unk’s death, she received haunting phone calls around the hour Unk would usually ring her, how when she was talking to his absence one night her garage door, which Unk had always complained about being left open (because he worried for Agnes’s safety) had magically closed on its own. Agnes felt the absence of someone in her life very distinctly, and her detailed description of her pain made me feel like I understood her.

A few months after Agnes and I watched Gary Oldman lose at the Academy Awards (all right, Jean Dejardin was absolutely lovely in The Artist, but how perfect would it have been for Natalie Portman to hand Oldman his first Oscar?), Agnes came by my nightshift at the nursing home to tell me and some of her other friends that she had pretty advanced case of cancer in her body. As soon as she left, one of my co-workers turned to me and said “Isn’t that scary? That makes me want to get checked. Because the thing she said about having symptoms? Maybe I have that. I have weird poop sometimes.”

Do I look like I want to hear about your weird poop?

Agnes received a heavy round of treatment, and the next time I saw her was during an evening visit at her home. Her middle-aged daughter rested in the kitchen while I sat on Agnes’s bed and tried to be cheerful while she told me about how tired her body was. She still laughed, though, when she talked about how the clothes she once could barely fit into now fell off of her. She had giant, hilarious penguin slippers that I helped put on her feet.

The last time I saw Agnes, that one poopy co-worker and I came for a visit, knowing Agnes was near the end. She was now tremendously tiny, surrounded by family, and just so very tired. We brought her goodies and flowers and funny movies to watch, and I held her hand while Poopy fell silent, awkward around Agnes’s people. We didn’t stay for very long because Agnes was so exhausted, but I wanted to tell her how much I loved her and how much I appreciated her friendship, so when I hugged her goodbye I told her I’d be back soon. She said she loved me, and a few days later, before I could visit again, she died.

After I attended her funeral I wondered about how I felt about telling her I’d see her again and then failing to do so. I didn’t feel tortured. I think she would have liked to hear what I had to say to her, but I also know that she was so drained by that point that she only had eyes and ears for her daughter and her grandchild, and perhaps anything that I could have told her might have slipped on by anyway. It would have been more for me than for her, much like Harry’s Resurrection Stone moment, I imagine.

When people leave this world, their death means nothing to them, in the end: they’re dead. They are in another place. The grief that we feel at their loss is our own– yes, perhaps we are sad for whatever they may have suffered, but as they no longer live they no longer feel that pain. We are grieved for ourselves, because we can no longer hear their voices or their stories or their laugh, because we can’t hug them anymore; there is one less person in the world now that we can share ourselves with.

Harry opts to see his long-gone (and one short-gone) loved ones for one main reason: he is preparing himself for death. This is a deeply disturbing and touching element of Deathly Hallows II, because none of us and all of us know what that is. Those of us who are not facing (or know that we’re facing) an imminent demise  can’t fathom what it would be to process that the end of the line is fast approaching, but at the same time we are all aware that it really could happen at any moment. We keep this idea from our minds generally because we couldn’t function well if we thought of it constantly, but your average person knows that we’re all dying, in some form or another. Perhaps what Harry is doing here is brave and strange, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. We must all have some idea of what it is to attempt to grasp that our time is running out.

Harry is reassured by his parents that they have always been by his side, and that they will always be there. He’s comforted by this. He then asks Sirius what dying is like. Sirius tells him that it is ultimately peaceful, which is naturally the moment in the film where I begin to lose my composure.

If I had the opportunity to see my friend Agnes again (before my own death, ala Resurrection Stone), I would tell her that I loved her, and that she meant a lot to me. I would also probably ask her what The Other Side was like. But, again, those are conversations I would only want for my own brief comfort. Agnes, presumably in heaven, if she ever thinks of me, knows that I love her, and has no obligation to make my eventual death more comfortable.

Harry is noble for submitting to his own probable demise (for the greater good), which I suppose makes the use of his lost family’s brief appearance a lovely thing. The Dead are there for Harry to see for his comfort, though, really, they have been there all along. Harry carries them with him, just as I carry Agnes with me.

If I were in possession of the Resurrection Stone, I don’t think I would use it, even if I were going to my own noble death (which I most certainly would NOT be doing. Hogwarts can rot, I would be broomsticking it outta there, personally). I am assured, somehow, that my friend knows all that she needs to know, and I am at peace when I think about her, even though I miss her. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see people that you have lost again, nor does that desire make you weak. However, I can say that, in my present state, I am content with the knowledge that even though my friend is no longer on this earth, a part of her remains tied to where I am because I remember her. Until the end.

Here come the waterworks.

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