My kids and I devoted our entire summer this year to Harry Potter. We watched every movie several times and listened to most of the books on CD during car trips (the British version read by Stephen Fry – that’s important).
It was time well spent. I must be secretly nine years old, because I love Harry Potter as much as my kids. I have an adult body, I go to an adult job, but nine must have been my favorite age, because I have never left it. (I also love to do cartwheels and drink milk straight out of the container. My kids have to remind me to keep the car clean. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the parent is at our house.)
During our summer immersion into Harry Potter, I rediscovered thestrals. Thestrals, you probably know, are magical creatures in Harry Potter's wizarding world. They are about the size of horses, but fleshless, with vast, black, leathery wings. They pull carriages full of students from the train station to Hogwarts at the beginning of each school year, invisible to all but those who have seen death.
I can see thestrals.
I gained sight after Mat’s passing that I didn’t have before. The understanding of intense loss—the kind that changes survivors’ lives forever—became not just visible, but etched in my soul.
I didn’t want to pay the terrible price it cost me to be able to see thestrals, but unlike Harry I haven’t found the sight of them to be horrible, or evil or sinister. It’s rather beautiful.
This vision connects me to other people who can see thestrals. We understand each other, and we talk about things no one else wants to talk about, we mourn together, and we comfort each other, because comfort can be intolerable from anyone who cannot see thestrals.
And like Harry's friend Luna, we reassure those who are seeing thestrals for the first time that they are just as sane as we are.
It’s not hard for us to find each other. Topics come up in casual conversation that reveal ourselves to each other. I was at a car dealership last week, and the salesman and I spotted each other very quickly. He told me all about his mother’s passing 20 years before, and he hugged me when I left.
Thestrals eventually provide Harry and his friends with desperately needed passage, and he wonders how he could ever have thought them ugly.
Thestrals also provide me with much-needed passage at times. I like to say that widowhood is a crappy club, but at least the company is good. My connection to these women saves me when I think I’m losing my mind because no one else understands me. It saves me when I just can’t figure out how to live life without Mat, or when I am most desperate for my fatherless children. We are entirely at ease together, speaking a language with each other that’s rare among women our age.
We also remind each other that when dementors attack and try to suck out our souls, chocolate is the best antidote.