“What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
April 1, 2021
Warning! This article contains spoilers for the series WandaVision.
“WandaVision” is a Marvel Cinematic Universe series that wrapped up its first season on Disney + on March 5. Wanda Maximoff is a powerful superhero, who emerges from a tragic past in which her parents were killed and her superhero brother shot dead before she joined the Avengers. However, when Vision, another superhero that she fell in love with, is killed, she has to find a way to say goodbye. In her grief, she unexpectedly creates a fictional world in which she didn’t lose Vision.
Wanda’s grief process literally cocooned her from the trauma of having experienced so much loss. In the stages of grief by Kübler-Ross that many of us are familiar with, denial is the first stage. However, we know that grief is not linear. After a false narrative led other characters (and the viewers) to believe that Wanda had stolen Vision’s body in an attempt to revive him, we discover that she actually visited his body to say goodbye, to let go. However, he had given her a gift: an empty lot in Westview, New Jersey—a place where they could build their home and have a family together. The trauma of all that she lost, including a future with Vision, a home, and children, finally erupted through a power she didn’t know she had nor understood how to use, creating a new world—a denial of the current reality she faced, a world without Vision. Based on the shows she watched as a child with her family, before the bombing in Sokovia (a fictional country reminiscent of Eastern Europe), she and Vision are brought to life in black and white in WandaVision. This world created by Wanda resembles “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” then later sitcoms such as “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” Shows in which parents are alive and children are born, where the most difficult conversations and situations are resolved with light-hearted humor.
The series hinges on a scene in episode eight, in which, during a flashback to Wanda’s time at the Avengers compound, after losing her brother, Vision enters her room. It is before she and Vision are lovers. He senses her grief as she sits, watching sitcoms to escape the present reality of her brother’s death, and speaks these words: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
This quote from the show has been shared so often on social media because grief is something that strikes us all. Even Jesus experienced grief. In John 11, Lazarus became ill, and though Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed away too long, and Lazarus died. When Jesus visited Martha and Mary, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days (v. 17). Martha confronted Jesus, telling him that if he had been there, her brother would not have died. Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. When he asked her what she believed, she declared she believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the resurrection and the life (vv. 20-27).
However, when Jesus was finally confronted by the other sister, Mary, he was disturbed in his spirit, and began to weep. And others who were watching said, “See how he loved him!” (vv. 35-36). And with a power not understood by those around him, he told others to move away the stone and called Lazarus to come out of the grave (vv. 38-44).
Jesus experienced grief. Jesus knew what it was to lose someone, and to be so desperate to change the world because of it. However, we also know that this brief time of reunion for Mary and Martha with their brother Lazarus did not last. Not only did Jesus move on to Jerusalem and his own death, John’s Gospel indicates that others plotted to kill Lazarus as well (12:10-11).
“What is grief, if not love persevering?” This quote from the show “WandaVision” has been shared so often on social media because grief is something that strikes us all. Even Jesus experienced grief.
When we watch others grieve, it can often make us uncomfortable. Jewish tradition encourages outward expressions of grief and mourning, as Mary and Martha and their neighbors showed in John 11. Christians, unfortunately at times, have short-circuited the grief process, especially in my experience in Euro-American congregations. Sometimes we speak of the loved one in heaven, and that we should not weep because they are home with God. We have turned funerals into “celebrations of life,” that, while certainly we should celebrate and honor someone’s life, do not always allow for honest expressions of grief. There is an expectation that one should be happy that a loved one is no longer suffering or in pain, instead of acknowledging the very real pain of the loss. I once officiated a funeral service where someone had put up “No Tears Zone” signs in the reception hall afterwards. The idea that grief is somehow offensive to the memory of the loved one gone is a disservice. That we have to get over it and move on. Mental health professionals encourage us to not shorten the grief process. We need to allow ourselves ways of acknowledging that the loss is real in our lives. That, while on this earth, we will not see the other person again. We need to find a way to say goodbye and to acknowledge our feelings about it.
This short-circuiting grief, I believe, is a product of our Euro-American culture that has seeped into the church. Too often in the grieving process, bystanders do not know what to do because grief makes us so uncomfortable, and we want to fix it. We want the grief to end. We offer words that we hope are comforting but are often platitudes. “They are in a better place.” “They are no longer suffering.” “They are with the angels now.” These words often cause more harm than good. Nothing can bring the loved one back to here and now. The loss is still real and raw. Instead, acknowledging the grief, acknowledging the pain, and letting the other person know you are there for them is often the best thing we can do.
In “WandaVision,” the character Monica Rambeau didn’t give up on Wanda when others did. When Wanda defended the creation of WandaVision in her version of Westview that made others afraid, Monica trusted Wanda and believed that Wanda had created her world for a purpose. Near the end, Wanda acknowledged Monica with a brief nod, an understanding that Monica (who had also experienced the grief of losing her mother) had been there for her, without her trying to intervene in traditional ways, such as saying, “I know what you’re going through,” or “snap out of it.” Instead, Monica simply offered to help, and was there when Wanda needed her.
Wanda’s grief process, allowing her to experience the family that she had lost, helped her to let go of those hopes and dreams. She understood that in delaying her grief, she was holding herself, and others hostage. She had to let go of her created world. Grief, when denied or delayed, can hold us back from moving forward. Vision told her just before he faded away, “We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason—” and Wanda finishes his sentence for him: “We’ll say hello again.”[i] Grief helped Wanda work through her loss in this incredibly visual way, and though it was hard, she left with hope for the future.
Jesus himself had to work through his own grief at losing Lazarus, his own grief of letting down Martha and Mary in that moment. He openly wept. Later, after his own death, Mary Magdalene in John 20:1-18 came to the tomb and found it empty. Though the other disciples came and looked inside the tomb, they all left her alone, including the beloved disciple who “saw and believed” (v. 8). They left her alone in her grief, until she recognized that it was actually Jesus with her and not the gardener (vv. 11-18).
I do not believe Mary’s experience of the resurrected Jesus can be understood without her grief. Mary loved Jesus so much that her grief kept her near the tomb when everyone else had left. Jesus himself knows what it is to lose a loved one, and to grieve. It is our grief that helps us hold on, and in our holding on, we can experience the new, resurrected life found in Jesus. It is in our holding on that we can eventually let go.
The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA.