Warning: Contains spoilers for “WandaVision”
When I choose to watch a Marvel movie, it’s because I want to watch something fun. My reason for watching “WandaVision” was no different. A sitcom-through-the-decades with superheroes as the main characters? Sounded fun to me. And it was. Until I realized something else was happening.
Through “WandaVision” Marvel asks the question: “What happens when one of our most powerful heroes must confront all her trauma and grief?”
With each episode, I began to see the layers of that grief exposed. I saw Wanda manifest denial by creating an entire reality of her own in the Hex. She became angry when people outside of the Hex — and even Vision inside — began to poke holes in her ideal world. She then bargained with Vision as he realized the truth of what Wanda was doing. Later, when Vision couldn’t accept Wanda’s reality, we saw her become depressed.
Stages of grief
If you’re not familiar, denial, anger, bargaining and depression are four of the Five Stages of Grief. The last stage is acceptance, but I’ll get to that shortly. First, I want to point out that not everyone grieves in the same way. While the five stages are a helpful way to recognize potential stages of the grieving process, people don’t always follow this pattern. It does make a good plot device, though (any “Majora’s Mask” fans out there?).
The fact that Marvel was addressing the timely topic of grief with an audience that has been collectively grieving for the past year was very exciting to me. More importantly, they seemed to dare ask the even bigger question: “Can unresolved trauma and grief in one’s life end up harming those around them?” I believe their answer was a resounding “Yes.” Here’s why:
- To deal with her immense grief, Wanda uses her powers to create a new reality. In doing so, she traps a small town in the Hex, controls the minds of almost everyone, and “resurrects” Vision, all so she can live the life she lost.
- Eventually, some people realize that the town is devoid of children. That’s because Wanda keeps children locked in their homes (except on Halloween). In the last episode, a mother begs Wanda to at least give her daughter a mind-controlled role in this elaborate reality.
- We see a man complain that he is exhausted, but when Wanda allows the townspeople to sleep, they share her terrifying nightmares. They beg her to either let them go or let them die.
In short, Wanda’s expression of grief grew so out of control that it led to her harming innocent people — including children.
If you think that this is serious stuff for Marvel to address, you’re right. But despite posing the right questions, Marvel falls short by failing to offer practical examples of how to deal with what is known as complicated grief.
Complicated grief is evidenced by remaining in the first four stages of grief without eventually accepting your loss. The abuse of others is not a typical symptom of complicated grief, but Wanda is not a typical person. Yet even in the real world, when someone refuses to accept reality, trust others, and let go of bitterness, it has a noticeable impact on those around them.
Wanda manipulated and abused people both mentally and physically, but she never takes responsibility for her actions nor is encouraged to do so. She never seeks help from others, either. When we see her supposedly moving into the acceptance stages of grief and finally setting the town free of the Hex, she addresses her simple apology to a friend rather than any of the townspeople she has wronged.
The journey of grief
Everyone will encounter grief in their life, but despite being such a universal experience, it catches many people by surprise. People experiencing grief as well as those around them often don’t know what to do. If I had the chance to talk to Wanda, here’s what I might say:
- Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t try to stop it, but know that the intense pain and disorientation will not last forever.
- Acknowledge that your loss is real. Grief hurts. It is difficult to heal from the pain we don’t allow ourselves to feel.
- Seeking professional help is a mark of courage. You do not have to go through your grief alone.
- Find healthy coping mechanisms and take care of yourself. You may hurt yourself and others by finding unhealthy ways to cope.
- Grief will change you, but you can still be a happy and whole person with time and healing.
If you know someone who is grieving, remember that you cannot change someone else’s grief. But you can provide a listening ear, help with practical things when necessary, and encourage the other person to seek help if you notice harmful habits being formed. This is not the time to tell a story about your past grief experiences, but to offer the opportunity for them to share stories about the person or situation they are grieving. Ask them what they need and offer them warmth and care.
Grief is a journey, not a destination. And while grief is a process, healing is a choice. Unfortunately, we never saw Wanda choose to heal. But you certainly can.
Editor’s note: If you’re struggling with the impact of grief in your own life, we’d like to help. To talk to a Christian counselor or get a referral to a counselor in your area, go to Boundless.org/Counseling.
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