If you were a child and you watched a lot of Disney movies, you would discover a bit of a trend in the genre. Many of the main characters in Disney movies have a dead parent. They come in different variations of course. Some die at the beginning of the film to give some context to the story, like in Cinderella; her mam dies near the beginning of the movie and then, of course, her dad dies too. It’s also that case with Frozen and Finding Nemo. In most of these movies, it’s a passing comment that a parent is dead, like in Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and the Little Mermaid. And while there may be a brief discussion about how they feel sad about that person being gone they seem to always pull themselves up, with the intention of doing something to make their parents proud. And though they never forget about them, they move on with their lives. They never seem to feel sad about the loss of their parents. They just get on with it. And then, they get their happy ending.
When I was 15 years old, I became my own Disney character. My mam died of cancer. And I don’t know what to do. You go through the motions of it all, the adults running around you, people asking if you’re okay, eating a lot of sandwiches and drinking gallons of tea. And then suddenly the mourning period is over and you have to get on with life. But nothing in my life had prepared me for this, a life without my mam by my side. I thought back to the Disney movies I had watched as a child, how they all had their moments of grief or sadness but they moved on from it. And that’s what I was determined to do as well. I promised myself that I would never cry over my mam’s death again after the day of her funeral. I would move past this feeling. I really thought that was how grief worked.
Except, your life is completely upside down. The dynamics of your home and family life are so different, how you see things is so different, how you view life is so different. Unless you have been through a loss like that, you have no idea what it’s like. I barely understood what grief was at 15 and I was going through it. So why would any of my friends understand? My family didn’t even understand, all my grandparents were still alive at the time so my parents had never even lost a parent before. When I saw my mam lying in her hospital bed, my dad turned to me and my sister and said ‘no one knows what you’re going through right’. When someone at the prime of their life dies, children become motherless, parents lose a child and husbands become widowers too soon.
Because you only get one mam. You only get a few people in this life who love you unconditionally. They loved you even when you leave the toilet seat up. They loved you when you left your lunch at the bottom of your bag and it went mouldy and they had to clean it up for you. Only one person who cares so deeply for you, she demands you text her exactly who you’re with and where you are when you are on a night out. Only one person who will listen to you go on and on about the drama with the girls and still seem interested. You only get a few of those and when they’re gone, they’re gone. How can it be easy to get over losing that person? To move on with your life as if she never existed. How could you ever move on with your life now that she’s gone?
I think only one movie from my childhood truly prepared me at all for the emotions I would go through then and now. The Lion King made Mufasa’s death the true turning point, not just for the story and the dynamics throughout the kingdom, but on Simba’s life. Not only was he traumatised from the death of his father, partly because he believed that he caused it, but it changed the very structure of who he was right there and who he would become. He wouldn’t have been the lion he became without the death of his dad. The only books that have close to putting my emotions into words have been The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson who describes the grief and the aftermath so stunningly, it was at times too real for me to read.
Grief unhinges us. It cuts us up into tiny pieces and you are left trying to put yourself back together. And when you do, you won’t be the same person you were. You’ll feel different. You’ll be different in some way. Maybe more cynical, more understanding, more forgiving. Maybe you’re less forgiving and understanding in other ways. I know I am. Like the Disney characters you have to move on with your life but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect all the time. You will fall apart, you will cry at the fact she’s not at your graduation after you worked so hard. That they didn’t get to meet the love of your life. And it’s very normal to take a moment and be sad about it. Grief is so personal and how you deal with it, is your own path. But I don’t recommend following Disney characters on the matter.
By Ailbhe Longmore – Arts & Lifestyle Editor