In the opening of Harry Potter 5 (Order of the Phoenix) – Harry sees Thestrals for the first time. They are what pull the carriages from the train to the castle of Hogwarts. Neither Ron nor Hermione can see the strange horse-like animals. Luna appears and explains that only those who have been close to a death can see the Thestrals. Which is why Harry and Luna can see them, but Ron and Hermione can not.
After my dad died, I felt like I should have a shirt with a blazing, “I SEE THESTRALS” across it. I felt so different, so altered, so raw from having him ripped from my life. To look at me, I was the same – maybe a blanker look or a redder eye, but a stranger on the street would have no idea how much I had changed in those hours. I felt like there should be some kind of marking so people would know to treat me with gentleness, because I was fragile as a frozen bubble.
Since then, me and mine have greeted several others into our parent-loss fold. We greet them with with open arms and tears and whatever else strikes us when we give the original greeting on twitter, a blog, facebook, or sometimes, even face to face. We hope we don’t insult anyone with our #ddc hashtags (dead dad’s club) It’s just that we understand you laugh at yourself or cry your eyes out. If we cry, we just might not stop.
My friend lost his grandpa last week. His grandpa who was the father of his heart. The man who he identified so closely with, loved so dearly. That man was gone and all he could do was send brief texts and cope the best he could while being the point man to make sure all the details were taken care of – the ashes to ashes practicalities.
I put on my heels and my church dress and made the solo drive to be there. I held my breath and walked into a new building full of people I’d never met. These are the things that terrify me – but if he could do this, so could I. I stood and waited for him to make his way near enough to me to see I was there. I hugged him, I met his grandma. She commented on how cold my hands were – I didn’t explain it was my fear of being around new people that had me so cold, I just enjoyed a grandma holding my hands in hers – I borrowed his grandma for that moment since mine have both gone on.
He showed me photos, he told me a story that only he and I would appreciate for all its flavors and feelings. No one else would have understood why we stood for a moment at the front of that chapel, swallowing hard. Acknowledging our mutual Thestral, if you will.
He looked at me – “I’m doing all right.” I looked back at him. So much I wanted to say. I hadn’t gone because I thought he couldn’t do it on his own, I didn’t care because I thought he needed me to, I had no doubts that this man was going to take care of every detail and every person who had a need he could handle. It wasn’t the time to smirk or joke or throw out a welcome to the club comment.
I looked at him and blinked. I took a breath. Instead of all that, I said, “I know you are. I’ve met you.”
We stepped away and he went back into the crowd. I tried to blend with the wall and assigned myself the job of watching his grandma – regarding her carefully, making sure she wasn’t alone. I thought of my Dad and all the services he watched like this. I thought of the chapel in my grandparents’ funeral home. I felt so useless – there was nothing for me to do but stand by and think about Thestrals and wish like everything he wasn’t seeing them too.