In July 2005 three of my friends and I camped out on the floor of our local Barnes & Noble for the midnight release of the novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When the clock struck 12:00AM, we got our copies of the book, my mom drove me home, I sat down on the couch, opened the book and did not move from that place until I'd finished it. Thankfully my friends and I were not one of the many disappointed fans who (like us) had waited hours in line in anticipation for The Half-Blood Prince, only to have a mean-spirited spoilsport run by them screaming "Dumbledore dies!" before they'd even gotten their hands on a copy!
I remember that many Harry Potter fans were distraught that Dumbledore did, in fact, die in The Half-Blood Prince, because the headmaster was a loved and respected character, and especially dear to the protagonist, Harry Potter. However, J.K. Rowling issued a statement more or less deeming Dumbledore's death as necessary, because in the absence of his go-to mentors (Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore), Harry would have to learn to stand on his own.
I am currently in the process of losing my own Dumbledore, my grandpa Don. I've had a really special, dear connection to my grandpa since about high school when, seemingly out of the blue, he called me one summer to see if I'd be interested in doing Bible study with him once a week. Together we worked through the book of Matthew using questions he'd copy for me out of his study Bible. At first it was kind of awkward since up until that time me and my grandpa weren't especially "close." Yet I grew to love the one-on-one time with him and treasured hearing his thoughts and reflections on the ways God had been faithful to him in his life.
Grandpa seemed to really "get" me and became my go-to person in the event of crisis. I think because he shared so openly with me about his past pain and anguish, I felt safe telling him about mine. One year I asked my Grandpa to coffee to get his advice about a big decision regarding a romantic relationship. His younger brother, Ty, was visiting from San Mateo, CA, and remarked, "Gee, I wish my grandkids asked me out for coffee!" as we walked out the door.
I'd like to think that I "got" Grandpa pretty well, too. "You're able to put my thoughts into words," he said to me several times, when he would be stumbling to articulate his struggles with faith and doubt. Grandpa liked to grapple with hard questions (Who is Jesus? Are other religions valid? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?). It was fun to talk to him about theological and political issues because he was never one to put-down your ideas or opinions, just dialogue about them so that everyone participating in the conversation might arrive a little closer to the truth by the end of it, including himself.
Grandpa had a brilliant mind. He was very sensitive to others and reached out when he could tell that people were in the midst of great turmoil. I remember that during one of the darkest seasons of my life he called me on the phone. "How are you doing?" he stated simply, and I began to sob because I knew that he really did want to know. He said, "You know, your grandma and I love you very much, and I think God does, too."
Lately Grandpa's mounting health issues have sapped him of his brilliant mind and sensitive heart. He has trouble staying awake, can't carry on a continuous conversation and sometimes says deluded or irrational things. I pray to God wondering how much of Grandpa is still in there, in that frail body.
I can't just sit with him and shoot the breeze about global politics, his past work at Boeing and the great unanswered cosmic questions of our time anymore. It's simply not an option. My grandpa is still alive but a huge part of who he was to me (sage, counselor and guide) has been lost.
How do I move forward when someone so important in my life has vacated that position? How do I pray for someone whose mind is clearly not all there anymore? And where is all of this headed?
Mostly, when I think about my grandpa as he is today I just get pretty sad. My whole family is grieving. I don't presume to claim that I've unlocked all the mysteries of life and death and mourning. I'm right in the thick of it, so I don't have easy answers to vacuum up the pain of losing who my grandpa once was to me.
I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to lose a best friend like this. I'm mostly feeling and praying my way along, trusting God to lead me and comfort me through this season of grief.
Dumbledore can't live forever.