3: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
There is no expectancy for philosophical quandary a Marvel television program, let alone spearheaded by the likes of The Walt Disney Company (the curator of the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth,” or more accurately, a shell of manufactured contempt for the disillusioned masses with the simultaneously lining of the banal elites’ pockets.) The 2021 series, WandaVision, on the Disney+ streaming service challenged this prior depiction, in a sideswiping moment for superhero fans young, old, and everything in-between.
In this pivotal point for Wanda Maximoff’s transformation into the once-fabled “Scarlett Witch,” the elusive Agatha Harkness is forcing her to relive key moments of her past, coaxing the realization she has been always been such a prophecy. Wanda is no stranger to pain and suffering, death and devastation, the tipping of the scales between justice and injustice. Her parents were killed when she was very young during a civil war in her home country (the fictional Sokovia) and her brother, Quicksilver, bravely scarified his own life in the quest to defeat the villainous Ultron. When Wanda finally found peace, love and understanding (Elvis Costello anyone?) with Vision, he too is sacrificed for the preserving of humankind. This pent-up frustration against the world which seemingly wronged her results in the creation of the “Westview” anomaly, a simulation in which Wanda’s powers have manifested an alive and well Vision, along with the town of Westview she can now puppeteer. Wanda controls the simulation, forcing the suburban town’s residents to play characters in her picture-perfect sitcom life with Vision (based on her penchant for classic American sitcoms as a child.) The Salem witch Harkness senses the dark magic that was used to produce such an anomaly, thus confirming the emergence of the “Scarlet Witch.”
To pain Wanda even further, Agatha has her physically relive such travesties, with only one flashback being this now iconic moment in Marvel Cinematic Universe history. Here, Vision and Wanda’s love story sparks, as he becomes what Wanda needs in her life: reassurance. Reassurance that the pain she feels is genuine, but does not define her. Reassurance that her anger is warranted, but should not suffocate her. Reassurance that her grief is the primal indicator that the love she had for the ones who no longer walk this Earth is ever lasting. Navigating the stages of grief is an endeavor that takes a strong will, and requires an endgame (no pun intended.) There must be a trophy at the end of it, but not the kind to fawn over, to become braggadocios over…no flaunting whatsoever. Rather, this trophy is deeper than the sum of all its parts, it is from within, it is perhaps the most introspective element of the roller coaster ride known as life.
In death, you gain an angel, and I believe this account is one that goes beyond the confines of any organized religion. No matter your positioning on what is out there, when someone close to you dies, there is this newfound sense of spiritual acquaintanceship. Let me delve deeper for you, to explain this concept a bit further, with an example very personal and very recent…
My Nana. She gained her wings this January. The night we found out… a slo-motion shootout in your favorite action-adventure movie. The night stood still. Her nursing home called, they informed us she had “expired.” She was very sick the months prior, yes. She was 87 years old, a survivor of a blood cancer that gave her essentially a six-month prognosis, to which she was in remission for twice and survived for twelve years after the initial diagnosis. Her last fall rendered her immobile, her organs were slowly failing her, and she had refused to eat or drink at all the days prior to her death. Only two weeks before, when she was at the hospital for what turned out to be the very last night, I spoke to her on the phone. This damn COVID, I could have SEEN her…but this is how it happened. I almost did not take the call; I was combing my hair, getting ready to go to my friend’s house for my lunch break. I always get nerve-stricken when in the process of getting ready to go out anywhere, so making my hairdo pristine seemed paramount in that moment; it seemed to take precedent over anything and everything. Nevertheless, something told me… take the call. Even just a few words, nothing much. My Nana was always understanding like that, she always spoke of me and my ambitions in the highest regard, she knew I was always off to go do something, even if the specifics were fuzzy. It would be standard grandmotherly check-in, since I assumed she would be released from the hospital, back to her nursing facility, and with the vaccine rollout, perhaps we all would be reunited (in some capacity) very soon thereafter. My brothers got the phone passed to them first; my mother was there with my Nana guiding this procession of Dell’Armo boys.
When it finally got to me, I naturally said hello and asked Nana how she was feeling. I would always joke with her when these frequent hiccups would occur, “Nana, what are you doing? Causing trouble again?” She would always laugh, she knew how accident-prone she had become in her old age, and yet, she always came out of the woods with the plethora of prior ailments. This time….this time, I knew things were not right. “Well, honey, I’m not doing so well.” My Nana would never admit to being in peril, being in pain…even through her cancer battle, rehab for her broken hip, hearth failure, a blood clot on her lung that she found out about while leisurely watching the news… she put on a brave face. My mom will always say, in these past fifteen years or so, Nana only cried twice: when her sister passed away, and one day after one of her grueling chemo sessions (for us, that was an extremely off day for all involved… we were all feeling drained from the wretched lymphoma.) To hear her say this, albeit simplistic in its diction, haunted me for the rest of the week, let alone the rest of the day. Nana would never…. Nana would NEVER. And today, she did. She said she was not well. She was right.
My mother, no matter how many times reference Eric Dane’s very last episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, still cannot fully rationalize how Nana was “fine” only a mere week or so before she gave her last breath. She was alert, talked to all her boys, was asking about my dad (who also has had his fair share of health problems), and showed extravagant elation over my mom finding a brand new job, especially considering this COVID economy. And yet, days later, she died (we still get a twinge in our bellies putting “Nana” and “dead” in the same sentence…boy, do I hate saying it.) I am a firm believer in some spiritual initiation at play here. The universe knew what was about to come, and told me to pause combing my “luscious locks” for thirty seconds of what would be the last time hearing my Nana’s voice live. The universe gave my mom that last hour or so at the hospital with Nana, where despite her Barney-purple bruises and busted-up leg that required a team of nurses to move for her ever so slightly, she was jovial and compassionate at the core. The week of her death, I had myself a COVID-exposure scare, so I was in essence restricted to my home, with my family, bonding if you will. Then, January 8th, around 6:00PM, Nana hung up her boxing gloves. Our warrior retired. The true rock of this family made her transition from earthly existence to the Heavenly home. The next morning, I went with my mom to the funeral home. I had to. I had to, I needed some degree of closure…, which is why I said, “yes” when the funeral director asked if we each would like to see her body, one last time, before it was sent to the crematorium.
There is no easy way to describe that experience, quite frankly. I write this, with my heart facing and a quivering of my lips. Maybe, just maybe, it is still too soon for me. Too raw? Too real? I have witnessed a litany of loss in my twenty-two years prior, but this was my Nana. The moment we all had feared for so long was finally here, in the middle of a lethal pandemic. Our last year with her was marred by the virus, FaceTime calls paled in comparison to seeing our Nana and being with her. As vaccinations increase, and that so-called “light at the end of the tunnel” nears for the world, I cannot help but choke up over the fact that my entire family is fully inoculated, the nursing facility is finally accepting visitors again…and Nana is not there anymore. Why was our last conversation on Earth only thirty seconds? I feel guilt over that. I don’t think I will ever not feel guilt for that, despite everyone constantly reaffirming that her death was certainly not a planned or anticipated occurrence. Of course, I know that, but still…damn.
I told her, in the funeral home, against globs of salty tears and snot running from my cherry-colored nose like a faucet (gosh, if she saw that, she would undoubtedly be accosting me for such a display, running to get my wads of Kleenex…) that I would everything in my power to make her proud. In my grief, these past five months, that last “interaction” still haunts me… and inspirits me. I have absolutely no intention of letting Nana down, I attribute so much of my drive and calling to her and her heroism. We were Nana’s world, and she was ours. She showed me that no matter what life threw our way, no matter the curveball, giving up was a non sequitur.
My grief is now in what I call an “ebb and flow” stage. Every night, right before my slumber, I blow a kiss to our shrine for her. It provides me comfort for the day ahead, a connection between her and me that will ease any pain coming my way. Obstacles are frequent, however (and I tend to think the rest of my family is starting to have this revelation additionally) they no longer frighten me. Inconveniences, both minor and monumental, pale in comparison to the essence of a profound loss like my Nana’s is. The master plan is to exert my energy for the common good of the collective, and pursue opportunities that will better my character, with the expanding of intellect as a positive byproduct. Caving into the doom and gloom that death is often associated brings any personal progress to a stalemate, and Nana would never let that happen.
So, yes, dear Vision, there is beauty in grief. My grief exemplifies the love and lore of my Nana, a light that will never dim. Earth is only one juncture in our journey, our journey to show love, spread peace, and evince our wildest dreams.
“So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”