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My Soul for a Suit of Armour: A Supernatural Response to Grief} ?> Grief is debilitating. It clouds my judgement. It breaks me, tearing off pieces of my heart and revisiting after I hoped it had left for good. Staying at my grandparents’ house recently, I was overcome by emotions because of my grandpa’s death. He died a year ago, and I miss him. If I could do something to get him back, I would. If I could hear his voice again and it would ease the pain, even for a second, I would jump into the TARDIS to do so; I’m not sure even the threat of tearing time apart would stop me.
People respond to the death of loved ones differently. Some seek retribution out of anger. Like Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, they dedicate their lives to hurting the one who hurt them. Others try to force the grief away. Like Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, who attempts to reverse her father’s death, they’d do anything to get a happy ending. Characters who deny their grief often end up paying horrible prices. Just ask Edward and Alphonse Elric from the Fullmetal Alchemist (and the more faithful to the manga, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) anime series.
At a young age, Ed and Al lose their mother. In desperation, the two boys attempt to resurrect her with a forbidden alchemic spell. As a result, Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body. Ed manages to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armour, and they are left to deal with the consequences of meddling with death—their losses only compounded by the contorted corpse of the woman they love.
The brothers wanted a fast way to solve their problems. They knew they felt sad—sad to the breaking point—and they wanted the horrifying emotion to go away. Who doesn’t? Grieving is a process, and at such a young age, they may not have understood that. Many adults don’t, either. There is arrogance in the brothers’ actions—they thought they could cheat grief and death when no one else had ever done so—but they were ignorant as well.
On the other hand, Dean Winchester from Supernatural knows exactly what he’s doing when he makes a similar decision. He’s dealt with crossroad demons before and knows the price of striking a deal with one, but does so anyway because he wants to save his brother, Sam. His motives are similar to those of the Elric brothers; he’s acting out of intense grief, love for the deceased, and the fear of being alone in the world.
Several times, Dean has lost Sam. Each time has been as devastating as the next to him as he can’t bear the thought of being without his little brother. He makes so many deals with demons and other supernatural beings, that he actually becomes blackballed from ever making such deals again. With each deal he strikes, the cost is high. He constantly puts his own life and humanity on the line, which may mend the problem of losing Sam, but causes more grief than good to Dean, Sam, and those around them.
To respond irrationally to grief, to run away from horrifying feelings, is to be human. No one wants to feel unhappy. No one wants to miss someone so much that their chests hurt and they have trouble breathing. However, how we respond to loss impacts our mental health and influences how we react to others experiencing similar situations in the future. Ed and Al learn from their mistake—from attempting to bypass the grieving process—and when they encounter a young woman who has lost her lover, they understand why she wants to bring him back from the dead. When she sees that Al doesn’t have a body, Al says, “This is my punishment for setting foot on holy ground where mortals are forbidden. We made a mistake, Rose. And we’re paying for it.” When she finally accepts that her boyfriend is dead and wonders what she has to live for, Ed advises her to move forward.
Denying grief means you’re stuck in it forever. Dean has witnessed so many deaths in his life: his mother, his father, Bobby, Ellen, Charlie, and so many others. However much he tries to bury his sorrows in drink, romance, and revenge, he’s still a broken man inside, dealing with deep depression from his experiences. When Charlie died, his reaction was to kill the Styne Family, even Cyrus, who was innocent in the situation. Grief has hardened his heart and made truly loving anyone a difficult process for him because he’s afraid to lose them too.
Dean: “Look, I’ve been down this road before, and I fought my way back, I will fight my way back again.”
Dean: “Same way I always do: bullets, bacon and booze. A lot of booze.”
Though Dean wishes so, there is no quick fix to grief. It’s a long, miserable, and emotional process, and it ends with acceptance, not happiness. I probably will never fully recover from losing my grandpa. There will always be a hole in me where only he could fill and where dreams, expectations, and hopes I had for him have died. But that doesn’t mean I can never feel happiness again or that I shouldn’t love others for the fear that I’ll lose them too. I don’t think I can move forward yet from my grandpa’s death, but I have hope that one day I will be less like Dean and more like Ed and Al—accepting the loss but never forgetting it.