Is it wrong to look to Star Wars for solace in the face of a dear friend’s real life pain? I can’t help it. I always do.

By the time this entry is published at 8am Central Time on October 13th, this friend of mine may have already lost her 20-year-old son to Ewing’s Sarcoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer. Daniel has been battling this horrible disease for a fourth of his life, since he was 15. A large part of what this young man has known about life has been pain and suffering, and his mother, one of the strongest women I have ever encountered, even though she has been Daniel’s most stalwart defender and champion, has been rendered helpless as she’s watched him wither away. Remissions. Research studies. Experimental treatments. The waxing and waning of hope. And still, Daniel “goes home” any minute now.

I’m sad. I’m mad. I want to punch something or scream at the top of my lungs. I’m no longer a believer in the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason,” and I’m more than a little mad at God. But the fact is that everyone has a swan song on this Earth. Daniel’s has included an insidious disease, and no amount of ranting and raving on anyone’s part can change that. It’s certainly not how his family has handled it. They have more grace in the face of death in their pinky fingers than I can ever hope to have.

Death exists everywhere in the media. Sad to say, it is too-often used for dramatic effect, a plot device to extract emotion when it is fictional or a carefully worded statement made to manipulate newscasts for ratings. I often wonder why the hype is necessary. Isn’t the fact of death itself dramatic enough, a final, irreversible life event that knows no bounds, no ethnicity or social class? It is what it is, a part of life that cannot be changed. All we can really have is its impact in its aftermath.

I don’t think we Star Wars fans focus enough at times on the deaths in the saga and how they impact those around them. I remember when Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones was released, more than one comment was made along the lines of, “Oh, boo hoo, Anakin. Your mother died. Suck it up, but nooooooo…instead he’s going to become Darth Vader,” the implication being that everyone dies and that’s no reason for Anakin or anyone else to turn to the Dark Side. OK. Point taken. I get that, though not in so crass a way as this comment I recall suggests. Everyone reacts to death differently, however, and there is no, one, right or wrong way to grieve. Anakin, with neither the support he needed to get through the grieving process nor the full understanding of the Jedi, channeled his considerable energies into preventing what he knew to be Padme’s inevitable death. He reacted with fear, and that fear ultimately led to his own demise.

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death is a more of a celebration of the Force than a somber, sad event, and Obi-Wan suffered no fear. Sure, Luke reacts with one of the classic “Nooooo’s” of Star Wars, but it is soon obvious that “Ben” truly is more powerful in the Force than he ever could have been as the flesh and blood old man he had become on Tatooine. Obi-Wan “lived” more after death than he had before it.

The reaction to Padme’s death in Episode III is traditional, grand even. A system-wide wake and funeral march befitting a beloved queen and senator struck down at too young an age, still pregnant (they thought) with a new life who passed with her. All of Naboo and beyond mourn Padme’s death, but we know that it is Anakin Skywalker who is most deeply connected and impacted. Darth Vader rises as Padme falls, so much pain behind the black mask that the Dark Lord takes his vengeance out on all of the galaxy before his love for his son brings Anakin back to the Light.

And what of that death, Anakin’s? Darth Vader’s? We know that the entire galaxy celebrates the death of the Dark Lord, and we see the Ewok party on Naboo, complete with Force ghosts, to prove it. For those of us whose fandom clings tightly to the films alone, however, the long-lasting effects of Darth Vader’s death won’t be revealed until December 18th, when Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, bursts onto the scene. How does the GFFA fare after Darth Vader’s death? I’m anxious to find out.

When people in my own life have died, I have to admit that a part of me has looked for them in a very Star Wars-y way, hoping to “see” them as some sort of afterlife Force ghost who would be there for me when I need them most, a blue, glowing Obi-Wan to my whiny Luke-like need. I embrace the little things, the ways they have stayed with me. The way that the color orange, the favorite color of one my childhood best friend’s, finds its way into my life at times when I am thinking about her and wishing she were still alive. A Shrek 2 reference at times I most miss our family friend who died in Iraq, with whom my daughters and I saw that film. The way the saying, “This (two) shall pass,” pops into my head when I need my mother most (the “two” is intentional…my sister gets it). I treasure these things, but I still want more sometimes.

When Daniel, my friend’s son, passes, I wish for his blue-hued Force essence to remain there for his parents and brother. I know it won’t be that simple. Star Wars is, after all, fiction. They will find Daniel in the small things more often than not, but I wish for this young man’s strength and courage to bolster his family as they grieve him. I wish the power of his force to surround and penetrate his family’s pain and to lift them up when they don’t have the power to do it themselves.

Godspeed, Daniel. May the Force be with you. Always.

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  1. Pam Bruchwalski
    October 13, 2015 at 10:18 Reply

    Daniel passed away very early this morning. All my love to his family.

  2. Erica
    October 13, 2015 at 19:31 Reply

    I’m so sorry to hear that Daniel passed away. Lots of love to you and his family. There is so much in this entry. I go to Star Wars all the time to help me face all the various tragedies life throws my way. The big ones and the small ones. There is great wisdom there. I hope you can take some comfort in it now.

    Big ((((hugs))))

  3. Pam Bruchwalski
    October 14, 2015 at 07:43 Reply

    Thanks so much, Erica. Daniel’s family needs all the love they can get right now. I wish I had actually met Daniel. His mom and I have been friends since high school. We hadn’t really talked much for several years (we live several states apart) when Facebook put us back in touch not long before Daniel’s diagnosis. I’m very grateful to have “known” him at all. We know that sometimes you don’t have to meet someone in person to know them. 🙂

  4. Melinda
    October 15, 2015 at 08:25 Reply

    Oh Pam. My eyes are tearing. I am so sorry to hear that Daniel has passed from this life. My condolences to you, your son, and, of course, Daniel’s family. I cannot imagine anything as excruciating as watching one’s child have to fight such a deadly disease, and eventually succumbing to it.

    What a beautiful blog you posted this month. I admit my expectations are pretty high when I stop by to read one of your essays. This one sits near the top for one of my favorites of yours. Your eloquence shines through. 🙂

    Yes, death is a part of life. There is no escaping it — no matter who one is. In regards to how death — and losing those they loved — is handled in various scenarios in Star Wars, it is … interesting … to note that, whenever a death occurred (except for that of Darth Vader), the characters didn’t have much time to grieve. Obi-Wan was very much broken up about Qui-Gon’s death at the hands of Darth Maul. While the two Jedi and Darth Maul were engaged in battle, Obi-Wan knew there were other battles going on around Naboo, and didn’t have time to mourn his mentor and friend’s death. Anakin didn’t have much time to deal with his mother’s death because he and Padme flew off on a rescue mission. Leia may have had some “alone time” after watching the obliteration of her home world, but soon after, she was thrown into the fray as she, with those strangers who wound up rescuing her, escaped from the Death Star. She had to tamp down her grief, and notes that on Yavin when condolences are expressed. Luke turns inward both after his aunt and uncle are cut down, and then when he watches Ben fall to Darth Vader. In both of those situations, Luke got caught up in events that demanded his attention, and he did not have time to mourn his losses, either.

    The point I am trying to make is that, in some respects, life doesn’t always allow us the opportunity to grieve and mourn. There always is something demanding one’s attention, and Star Wars reflects that. Well, there is the narrative of how Han dealt with Chewbacca’s death in one of the (now) Legends novels (actually, Han’s grieving spanned more than one novel). Part of me wanted Han to “buck up” and get back to work, joining forces with his comrades. However, I liked the fact we got to see a different side of the swashbuckling hero. It made him rather more human.

    May I add that, while I agree with you that I think the denizens of the galaxy were elated with the passing of both Darth Vader and the Emperor — and that certainly was evident not only on Endor as the Rebels celebrated, but across the galaxy — I think the peoples (and I use that word loosely) were more elated that the evil head of a tyrannical government had been eliminated, that there finally was the hope for freedom.

    Pam, I absolutely love what you had to say about “seeing” those who have passed from this Earthly world “around us”. I feel my dad with me every single day. I don’t know how “real” that sounds, and it may just be a way I have comforted myself since he lost his own battle. You put it so beautifully, Pam. Thank you. 🙂

    An outstanding entry, Pam. Thank you for sharing this with us. My condolences to all.

    MTFBWY 🙂

  5. ladylavinia1932
    October 15, 2015 at 12:16 Reply

    I find it interesting that no one has commented on how Anakin faced death or how Luke may have reacted.

  6. Mike MacDonald (@MikeTarkin)
    November 3, 2015 at 17:44 Reply

    It’s one thing about Star Wars that I can never explain to people. It provides entertainment on one level and comfort on another. Thanks for sharing.

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Pam is a writer, editor, mother, fangirl, and self-proclaimed geek from Pittsburgh, PA.

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