Monday, December 10, 2012

Bringing the Magic Home

Hey everyone.  So this is it.  I've FINALLY finished my Harry Potter blog posts.  The past two months have been a bit of a roller coaster for me.  I believe I've transitioned to a new stage of grief.  Initially, I believe I was more devastated over the fact that someone I loved and never imagined being without had died.  It was more about the loss itself.  Now, the idea of DEATH is less stinging.  I just miss HER.  Even if she had been on a long vacation (which is what my subconscious often feels like), it's been an abnormally long time since I've seen or talked to her.  Her absence feels really empty.  Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm starting from square one.

I think it took me so long to write these posts because when we got back from our trip, I felt surprisingly at peace.  I guess I was worried that writing this blog would put me back in touch with feelings that I was kind of relieved to have a break from.  But they've started catching up with me.  I don't want to wait this long between posts anymore.  This is an important outlet for me.  It syphons off a lot of my emotions.  More importantly, I think it's especially helpful to actually accomplishing something concrete to help heal myself when I usually feel like the most I can do is let time pass.

So here it is.  I'm back on track.   Because it's good for me.  And I'm going to need all the help I can get now that the holiday season has officially commenced.

Let's bring it on home.


Celebrating Harry Potter Month

To celebrate Jenna's birthday (September 29) this year, we decided to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and spread some of her ashes there.  Please click here to read about my sister's love for Harry Potter and why traveling here was so significant.

So in the month leading up to our trip, I decided to celebrate the series.  My mom and I reread the whole series and I started incorporating it into various aspects of my life.  I also did some artwork and commissioned some from some very talented friends of mine.

Here is an example of an art series my friend Katie Reid is working on.  She should be finishing up the rest soon!  Isn't she talented?


Emily Scharpf also celebrated Jenna and Harry Potter in an incredible way. 
 She got a new tattoo.

GORGEOUS, right?  I teared up when she texted the picture to me.  I've actually been working on something for Emily myself:

It's supposed to be of Emily in case you can't tell.  It is of course by NO MEANS done.  But I haven't drawn in a while so I got excited about it.  Hopefully ruining the surprise doesn't take away anything from the finished product.  I just wanted to do something for Emily the way I wanted to do something for Dirk on his birthday (and what I will likely be doing for many people who loved Jenna).  Emily was always a constant in Jenna's life.  When Jenna felt like the whole world was against her, she always knew that Emily had her back no matter what.  They were protective and honest with each other all the time.  Jenna told me herself how grateful she was to have her in her life.  I'm grateful too.

One of the biggest celebrations was with the girl I babysit.  Her name is Alyssa, she's eight years old, and she's AMAZING.  She continues to astound me with just how empathetic she is for a girl her age.  I started nannying for her last July so she knows all about my loss, and she regularly tries to connect with me about it by asking questions about who Jenna was as a person and taking an active interest in things I mention Jenna loved.  For example, we made a trip to Barnes and Noble and she pointed out a book of piglets saying, "I bet Jenna would love that."  A pause.  "I bet Jenna is in heaven dancing with a parade of pigs!"  This girl's thoughts on heaven are brilliant.  I'll write more about her in a later post.  For now I want to talk about the thing she's connected with Jenna about the most: Harry Potter.

We started reading the series together shortly after I started working for her family.  She's a great reader and reads on her own all the time, but I really like to read out loud, so that's what we do.  I am her very own interactive audiobook.  This proved to be an especially smart choice since the later books increase in complexity.  We stop and chat about words she doesn't understand, discuss the plot points to make sure everything is clear, and just her general opinions on whatever we've just read.  She was hooked in no time.

When I told her what we planned to do for Jenna's Birthday and the month leading up to it, she was beyond excited.  She had a day off of school during September so we decided to make that our "Harry Potter Day".  We made wands, owl paper airplanes, had a "Herbology" lesson (where she sketched flowers in her yard and made up magical properties for them, played our own version of Quidditch, and made up a game we dubbed "Seeker Tryouts".  I think I liked this activity the best because it was something that Jenna would have loved.  One of us would take our "snitch" (a badminton birdie - the kind with feathers) and hid it in the yard, the other would then go search for it.  All of this while riding a broom of course.  This totally reminded me of the kind of games Jenna loved to play when she was young.  She LOVED "I Spy" and searching for Easter eggs.  Scratch that, she never stopped loving games like that.

It was a great day.  Alyssa still uses the wand to practice spells along with Harry and his classmates whenever they learn something new in the book.  She also uses the owl paper airplanes to send me messages while I'm reading.  She also uses the Snitch I brought her back from Harry Potter World to act out the Quidditch scenes.  Just a few of countless reasons why spending time with this girl has been so therapeutic for me.  We are currently on the last chapter of Order of the Phoenix.

To save some space in this entry, here's a link to an album of all the fun stuff we did that day.

My other two favorite ways of celebrating were actually shortly before September and shortly after.

At the beginning of October, we threw a Harry Potter party for Jenna's birthday.  Dirk came down to join us for the weekend.  My friends and I dressed in full wizard attire, drew our names from the sorting hat (as mentioned in the previous post, Dirk was a Hufflepuff AGAIN), and indulged in the many Potter themed treats my amazingly supportive roommate Joe provided - including his incredible whiskey-laced butterbeer.

At the end of August, I went to Comic Con.  It's a thing that I do regardless, but when I saw that Tom Felton (the actor who played Draco Malfoy) would be there, I knew I had an extra mission.  I wanted to get his autograph and burn it to "send" it to her.  Now autographs from Tom Felton were $40 a pop.  This is standard for a convention fee.  So I waited in line, and told my story to the person in charge of selling the pictures for signing.  I explained about Jenna, how she loved Harry Potter and Tom Felton, how we were planning on spreading her ashes at Harry Potter World, etc.  I told him that I was totally willing to pay the $40 fee, but since I was planning on burning it to send to her, it would be nice if we could work out a deal.

The man listened to me without a word.  I finished by saying, "I'm sure you get sob stories all the time, but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask."  He nodded.  Finally he said, "You're right.  We do hear this kind of thing a lot... But I can tell... I can tell you're sincere.  Yeah.  That's totally fine.  If you don't mind taking one of the less popular pictures."  "Of course not!"  I couldn't believe it.

Tom Felton was very sweet, but a bit caught off guard by my story.  I think he got a bit flustered when I asked him to write Dumbledore's quote.  He clearly had a routine to signing these things and it was a hard habit to break.  It ended up being quite a bit of awkward writing.  I thought it was great.

He added lots of x's under the heart for EXTRA love (his words).
I went home the following weekend for a bench dedication to Jenna in Quan Park (where the Edgewood Tennis team always practiced).  More on the ceremony and Jenna's love of tennis soon.  Anyway, I thought that night would be a great choice for burning the picture.  First, Patrick Lagman, Matt Wilson, Dirk, and I went to go see Step Up 4.  Jenna LOVED the Step Up movies and forced Dirk and I to watch them  fairly regularly.  She and I especially had a fondness for Step Up 2... But once again, this is a topic for another blog post (her terrible taste in movies deserve a special kind of attention).  Anyway, after honoring her memory with the bench and subjecting ourselves to mediocre dialogue with undeniably awesome dancing, we were ready to cap off the evening with the closing ceremony.  The boys and I journeyed back to my house to meet Laura Phelan and the Sarah's Stoehr and Keller.  We built a bonfire under the cloudy sky (hiding the incredible Perseid meteor shower that was currently in full swing and on display the night before), said a few words, and sent Jenna her prize.  By far my favorite part was when we all thought to grab handfuls of ashy paper that had fallen onto the grass, crumble it in our hands, and blow it on to the fire.  Watching it ride the heat and smoke as it swirled up into the sky was really special.

Video is on its way.  I just didn't want to wait another day to put up this entry.

Celebrating Jenna's Actual Birthday

Arriving in Florida was really difficult.  We stayed at a hotel we'd stayed in before as a family.  I actually had a very distinct flashback of walking down a specific hallway with my sister while sharing iPod headphones.  On our first night there, we went straight to Universal for their Halloween celebrations.  It felt so weird.  We have been to Universal numerous times as a family and it felt completely bizarre to be there without her.  I could tell the rest of my family was feeling it too.  Vacations and holidays are where Jenna and my relationship lived.  It's when we bonded and spent the most time together.  It felt so wrong being in the same hotel room but without Jenna fighting with me over which bed to sleep in or what television show to watch.

On the ferry ride back to the hotel from Universal.
Mom caught an OMG moment apparently.
Jenna would hate the way her neck/chin looks at this angle (this is a
genetic curse we share), but this is one of my favorite pictures
I'd like to take a moment to thank my boyfriend Dashi for coming along on the trip (his real name is Mike, but I refuse to call him that since that would make 3/4 of my "facebook official" relationships with men named Mike... and I just can't handle that).  I know he felt a little out of place since he only hung out with Jenna twice (though they both occasions when they got to know each other) and his Russian origins give him a natural aversion to "the feelings," but he's made such an effort to be my rock these past few months.  I couldn't have gotten through this week without him.

The day of my sister's birthday, we went back to Universal.  We carried with us, a small tube that used to hold bath salts and now contained the portion of Jenna's ashes we intended to leave there.  Since it was a small container, it was easy enough to smuggle in.  After all, Jenna has been used to bending theme park rules since she was little and used platform tennis shoes to get onto rides she was technically too short for (and almost fly out as a result... but that's beside the point).

The crowd was light and it was a beautiful day.  We spent the first half in Universal, saving Harry Potter World for last.  I was a bit disappointed to see that the "Fear Factor" show was no longer playing (though it's not totally unexpected) because... Well I'll just let Jenna tell you (taken off facebook).

Ok so...
We're at this show at Universal Studios.. They are talking about this big spider that they are going to take out of a box to show the crowd...
They fling the lid open and a giant black spider flies through the air and hits me in the face.
I'm DEATHLY afraid of spiders.
I fling myselt into my sisters lap, completely freaking out.
It turns out it was a rubber spider.

By the time I sat up, I was crying haha.
Oh and to make it even better, they had a camera on me the entire time and it was being shown on a giant screen infront of everyone so the whole stadium could see.
Great times.

She CLIMBED ME LIKE A TREE.  And it's true.  There were tears actually running down her face when she came back up.  It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

After Universal, we made our way to Island of Adventure.  Crossing through the Dr. Seuss area was difficult because all I could think about were two of my favorite pictures we took a couple years back:

We hastily pushed through.  It was Dashi's first time in Orlando so we had that to keep our spirits up.  We went on all the great coasters and simulators until there was only one stop left:

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I love this picture because whenever I see sunbursts like that in pictures now, it
makes me feel like that's Jenna photobombing.
The best way to describe this place is that every expectation I had was met.  Except for the hope that there were LIVE owls flying around.  And that I would suddenly become a wizard upon entry.  That was a little disappointing.  Well, what are we waiting for?  Let's go in!

Many of the photos of the different shops and interesting window displays can be found on our facebook page wall and in the album we posted.

Our first really special moment happened during our visit to Ollivander's wand shop.

Before visiting the shop, you have the option to go in a special entrance with a group of about twenty to watch Ollivander himself select a person from the crowd and measure them for a wand in a special demonstration.  We asked one of the employees at the door what our chances were for being chosen, and they (very nicely) told us not to get our hopes up since he usually chooses the kids.  There were multiple kids in our group.

Nevertheless, I muttered under my breath to Jenna, "You wanna help me out with this?  See if you can whisper in his ear."

I don't know if Jenna got around to whispering (she DOES hate engaging strangers after all), the fact that I was wearing my Slytherin t-shirt that day, or that I was VISIBLY bouncing up and down with excitement, but when Ollivander appeared...

He chose me.


It was pretty awesome.  He measured me, then had me try out a couple of different wands, but no luck (much like Harry).  I accidentally knocked some wands off a high shelf, and made it thunderstorm.  Oops.  Then he asked me for my birthday and found me the one "I was meant for." 

Unfortunately, I TOTALLY HATED the wand that was picked out for me.  It looked WAY too evil.
See?  Bleh.

After the presentation, we went into the shop next door and had the opportunity to purchase our own wands.  I was pretty disappointed that the one that had been picked out for me wasn't what I wanted.  I could have easily picked out any ol' wand I liked the look of (they had plenty of character replicas as well as wands related to your birthday), but I wanted something special.  Meant to be... You know?  The fact that I was chosen during that demonstration meant something awesome.  I couldn't just let it fall flat.

Suddenly... I experienced an Ollivander "I wondah..." moment.

I asked the clerk what wand they would choose for September 29th (Jenna's birthday).  When I saw it, I knew it was exactly the kind of wand I'd hoped for all along.  I say it was fate.
MUCH better!

As the day drew to a close, and the crowd started thinning, we started spreading Jenna's ashes.

The first place was in Hogwarts Castle.  The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is in the heart of the castle, but waiting in line takes you through all sorts of corridors and rooms that you imagined as you got into trouble with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  The Greenhouses, staircases with talking portraits, the Gryffindor common room, various classrooms, and Dumbledore's office.  We made sure we spread her all throughout.

Dumbledore's office

Another special moment I experienced was during the ride itself.  My mom and I poured a portion of the ashes into each others hands and clutched them tightly as we got on.  Once the ride was going, we sprinkled bits of ashes throughout the ride in appropriate spots.  At one point, you are sent flying into the Forbidden Forest and come face to face with the giant spider, Aragog, and his children.  Without even thinking, I sprinkled some ashes.  I knew Jenna would obviously HATE being among the giant spiders, but I couldn't help myself.  I teased her relentlessly in life, I wasn't going to stop now.  I started laughing and I couldn't stop (while my mother, who clearly knew what I was doing, shot me looks of slight disapproval).  Then in the middle of my sprinkling, a rather large piece of ash flew back and hit me SQUARE in the eye.  I started laughing even harder.  Message received, Jenna!  GOD!

So here's where Jenna now resides:
  • Hogwarts Castle
  • In front of the Mirror of Erised (short story in progress)
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride
  • Filch's Office
  • Honeyduke's
  • Weasley's Wizard Wheezes
  • Hagrid's Hut
  • The door step of every shop in Hogsmeade
  • The soil around the trees outside the castle
The first time we dropped her outside, she was actually swept up almost immediately.  I could pretty much hear her muttering, "Oh great.  Awesome idea, Amanda."  It caused us to rethink our strategy.  We made sure to distribute her in hard to reach places.  Our attempts to be stealthy while doing this made for some awkward moments while wandering around the shops - I decided that if I was caught, I would tell them I was trying to wave away wrackspurts.

It was a really emotional time, but surprisingly not sad.  I felt so connected to Jenna all day.  Granted, I did eventually let loose an emotional tidal wave at my poor boyfriend within the next two days, but it was cleansing.  It makes me feel encouraged that the things that bonded Jenna and me can make me feel closer to her rather than make the distance more apparent.  I just hope than I can bring that to the holidays... In the meantime, I think Jenna would be proud (in a FINALLY sort of way) that I've finally shared the entirety of this chapter.  Now to work on the next one.

I'm so glad The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lived up to all of our expectations.  I know that if Jenna had been able to come with us in the way we'd originally planned, she never would have wanted to leave.  Now she never has to.


  1. Amanda,

    I love you. And I'm so proud of you. Jenna would be too. This is beautiful.

    I'm honored to be your friend.


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