Monday, May 17, 2021

Leomon and the Five Stages of Grief

Earlier this year I finished rewatching Digimon Tamers for the umpteenth time. Next to the original series, it’s my favorite Digimon series. It touches on themes and topics darker than the original Digi-Destined had to face. That’s not to say that the struggles Matt and Wormmon went through were less important--for that matter, we need to talk about Ken and Wormmon at some point. However, in Tamers we take on issues like grief and depression head on.

Unlike other Digimon series, where Digimon are reborn as Digi-Eggs, in the Tamers universe, there is no indication that Digimon are ever reincarnated when they’re destroyed. This made the stakes higher in Digimon Tamers, as Jeri and her partner Leomon fought Beelzemon. As he is in every Digimon series, Leomon was destroyed, sending Jeri spiraling into depression and grief. Watching this as an adult, it’s amazing to me how accurately they portray the stages of grief as Jeri processes what happened to Leomon.

The first stage of grief is denial, manifested in Jeri as shock. Her partner dead and the battle still raging, Jeri just stood there. It came to the point where she was nearly killed as a result of collateral damage. It honestly really wasn’t until Takato/Gallantmon was about to kill Beelzemon that Jeri finally spoke up. Denial comes up as “that can’t have happened” or “it must have just been a dream.” When I was told about my nephew’s death, I kept telling myself “I must have misunderstood.” Anything to delay the effects of the emotions.

As the second stage of grief (anger) hit, we saw in Digimon where Jeri snapped at Takato. He was trying to help, but as she was still grieving she was ready to yell at anyone. In a way it’s another kind of denial, masking the pain of what’s happened. A person going through this stage of grief might lash out like Jeri did or they might focus their anger on the person they’ve lost. “He had no right to fire me!” “She’ll regret breaking up with me!” From a religious perspective it’s really easy to focus this anger on God, as we trust Him to be all-knowing (which we unfortunately aren’t).

It’s normal to experience that anger in grief, but eventually it’s important to move through the other stages too, instead of holding on to toxic resentments. So we move onto the third stage: bargaining. After Leomon’s death, Jeri told herself things about how she could have prevented his death by being a better tamer or by staying home from the Digital World. After failing my licensure exam, this stage of grief hit me as “If I’d studied harder.”

After bargaining, we hit the fourth stage: depression. Just like clinical depression, this stage can hit everyone differently. In Digimon, we saw Jeri embrace her depression as the D-Reaper took her. As their captive, she didn’t even feel like moving at all. More numbness. She felt hopeless, as she blamed herself for Leomon’s death and for the rampage the D-Reaper caused, as it fed off her. Towards the end, it even manifested as feeling suicidal, thinking the world would be better off without her. Why go on at all? This is the stage where I think people are more likely to get stuck and need help. Even if it’s just a friend, like Calumon was for Jeri.

As Calumon talked with Jeri and helped her, Jeri eventually came around to stage five, acceptance. Doesn’t mean the aftermath of everything is fun or happy, but I suppose it’s a chance to build yourself up again. Relapsing into sadness and anger can happen (emotions aren’t exactly known for being rational, after all), but there can be a measure of peace in the pain. In this way, Jeri was able to accept her new reality, treasuring the memory of her friend Leomon. Acceptance took away the power the D-Reaper had over her and the Tamers won their final battle.

So whatever you’re going through, whatever loss you’re dealing with, I want to leave you with some of Jeri’s words as she stood up to the D-Reaper. 

“It was wrong of me to believe that feeling nothing was better than feeling sad. The sadness was real. It was human! I misunderstood Leomon. He never meant me to think my life had no meaning. He said that we all have our own destiny, and that's not the same thing. Every one of us has a destiny that's different and that's special! ... You can't delete even one of us without deleting something the whole world needs. Every one of us has something important to do!"

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