When Heroes Die

Embracing Death

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

I visited my sister shortly after Marilyn Monroe died. A neighbor of hers in her twenties was a fan of Marilyn’s. The neighbor had long blond hair, was quite pretty, and had a husband and a small son. Within a week or so after Marilyn died, this young woman killed herself. I don’t know whether she was imitating Marilyn or couldn’t bear life without her hero. This death freaked me out. MM was a Romantic Enneagram type. The young mother probably was, too. My fantasy of what went on with this woman is that her dream of becoming Marilyn died when Marilyn died. I wonder…

When did you first learn what death was? When you heard about someone you knew who died – someone in your family or an acquaintance? Someone famous? When you witnessed the death of an animal or a person? From TV? Or did you intuit what the word meant without any experience of knowing something or someone who ceased to exist?

We had goldfish and turtles that died. Of course, flies died in our house, too. My mother showed those flies no mercy. Then Raid came out and we sometimes got caught in the crossfire. I gathered up a baby bird fallen out of its nest when I was around 5. No other bird could be seen anywhere around. I fed the tiny bird, made it a nest in a box, and tried my best to nurture it so it would grow strong and I could release it to nature again. But in a few days it died. I was crushed. Around the same time, my grandfather died 700 miles away. I had known him, but I don’t remember him. My father left as soon as he could but he couldn’t get there soon enough to attend the funeral.

I must have been only three years old when I saw the movie Bambi. It was the most awful experience I had had and I cried. Bambi ran really fast with his mother to escape monstrous hunters and she told him to hide, then she disappeared. This movie was tailor made to torture little children. I felt as sad about Bambi losing his mother as if I had lost my own mother. Maybe that’s why I felt like not growing up for a couple of years after that. I remember being more clingy than I wanted to be in those years, acting young while I really wanted to grow up. Maybe I was still afraid of losing my mother and didn’t quite know it. Maybe my confidence in nurturing myself weakened with the defeat of nurturing the bird. I wonder…

I introduced my new book, The Enneagram of Death, at the International Enneagram Association conference last weekend. I think people are interested in having conversations about death, bringing it out of the shadows as much as possible, trying to spread healthy attitudes about a subject our culture tries to deny.

At the end of Bambi he becomes a hero by fighting off dogs and saving his girlfriend. Then he gets shot by Man while jumping over a ravine. Eventually he escapes a terrible fire and goes to an island to take refuge with the other animals. He stands watch on a hill while his girlfriend gives birth to twins and the “Great Prince” man slinks away.

Our heroes inspire us to accomplish things. to practice succeeding, and to feel strong by identifying with them. Any type can be a hero, but the Asserter has probably internalized the archetype of hero more than most types and might try harder than most to be one. The Perfectionist, the Achiever, the Questioner, and the Adventurer would be heroes if given the opportunity. The Helper would love to be a hero. So would the Romantic and even the Observer could be a hero, not to mention the Peace Seeker. We’d all like to be a hero but have different fantasies of our favorite context for our heroism.