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The Mirror: Evaluating My Grandfather's Death with Dumbledore

Madison Loughlin

June 14th, 2020


“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” Albus Dumbledore’s words raced through my brain, pulsated through my blood, and traveled to my heart. It was the summer of seventh grade, two months after my grandfather had unexpectedly passed away, and I was nestled in the corner of my air conditioned living room with a long ignored but recently dusted-off copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I was still reeling when I first read this magical quote. I loved my grandfather for his outgoing and unique nature. To him, an adventure was the answer to any question, and for me, a bowl of his homemade pasta was the bandage for any wound. My grandfather preached that laughter, authenticity, and, most significantly, staying true to yourself were the keys to a fulfilled life. Our relationship was golden. I thought nothing would ever change that.

When my grandfather died, my world shattered. I had never experienced death. Losing him felt sharp and painful. Coping with his absence felt like battling vulnerability, failure, sorrow, and anger with only a teaspoon of soul to draw strength from. Memories flooded through my mind, but one was particularly intrusive.

My grandfather and I talked all the time. Conversation—the exchanging of words and feelings—was itself an essential part of our relationship. It helped us relate to one another and helped me at least recognize my approach to the world around me. So when, in a conversation about the approaching 2016 election, I contradicted my grandfather, I did not expect our exchange to disintegrate and escalate to the point of disrespect. My grandfather and I had drastically different political viewpoints, but we had always before been able to communicate with one another. This time, however, I was incensed. I longed for him to treat me not as a naive child but instead as a young adult with a fully formed, considered perspective, especially because my opinions were based on the values he transmitted. How could we share those values, how could I respect them so much, and yet arrive at such different conclusions? I fully believe in what I communicated to him, but I was regretful of the rift and the intensity of my reaction. In some strange way, this exchange felt like a loss of innocence.

And then he was gone.

Afterwards, I compulsively envisioned a world where I had not screamed at my grandfather, where I had not argued with him, or afflicted him whatsoever. I dreamt alternate timelines in an attempt to ameliorate my indescribable pain and guilt. The combination of regret and grief was overwhelming and weakening. I felt heavy and clouded and spent my time escaping into a different version of the past instead of confronting the present or acknowledging the reality of my future without him.

And then I found Harry Potter, deep and dusty in my closet. I practically swallowed the book whole, finishing it in a few hours. I devoured each word, turning pages rapidly, grateful for the break from my own reality. Abruptly, I stopped. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I almost lost my breath. When I put the book down, I found those words woven inextricably into the fabric of my mind.

This turn of phrase provided me with an analogy to navigate death in a graspable dimension. They enabled me to resonate with the past and look at it in a new light while also accepting the reality of my present. I realized that I had been obsessed with painting a picture of my relationship with my grandfather that lacked quarrel and dismay. I realized that my sense of center and clarity of vision, maybe even my rationality, had been clouded. I had lost touch with the principle my grandfather had encouraged me to abide by: namely, to live. Reading that sentence in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone almost felt like my grandfather speaking to me, reminding me that the reality of the past was precious—in all its pain and discomfort. Dwelling on it, creating dream-pasts, idealizing our relationship—these were far more dangerous than I assumed.

In not dwelling, I realized that those discrepancies between my grandfather and I shaped my perspective and identity. If our relationship was indeed that false picture I had painted in my head, I could not have ventured into the complexities of love, and I could not have used what I learned from my grandfather.

If I had clung to that cloudy, distorted, dreamed reflection of our relationship, one where all conflicts and complexities were resolved and smooth, I would have eventually choked off my own voice. By swallowing Dumbledore’s words and the sharp shards of reality—the inevitability of a future without him that included a difficult past—I finally, finally, reemerged into the present. By looking into a mirror which showed a true image of our relationship, I was finally given the room to breathe again.

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