On Losing Supernatural – Heartbreak, Grief and So Much Gratitude

 

There’s a psychological phenomenon that happens when we have an experience that shakes our world so much that our brains encode it as a “flashbulb memory”. It’s an old term, and some of you have probably never seen a camera with a flashbulb, but back in the day it used to go off and illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever. That sort of memory is so important, and often so upsetting, that it too is frozen in time forever in our brains. The sights, the sounds, the emotions of that moment. It doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose the emotional intensity that was there when it was encoded. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday – we remember the clothes we were wearing when we heard the news, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.

Usually we think of flashbulb memories as things like the moment you found out about a world-changing event like 9/11 or you got the news that a loved one passed. That’s the level of importance. And yet, I think I may have had one on Friday afternoon  – the moment I found out that Supernatural would finally end a  year from now. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not making the ending of a television show equivalent to those horrific circumstances, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. Especially emotionally important. Our brains don’t judge. And for many people, that little television show that lasted for 15 seasons is personally and emotionally important.

I’ve seen quite a few posts essentially saying “what the hell is wrong with these people that they’re grieving a TV show, get a life!”  There are lots of posts from fans whose family and non-fannish friends are dismissive of their sadness and critical of them for grieving a television show. Sometimes these people mean well, but let’s face it, they really don’t understand. Luckily, there’s a lot of support in the fandom community, in all its various forms. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Supernatural is so important in the first place. Yes, fans are incredibly sad to be losing Sam and Dean and Castiel, the fictional characters who mean so much to us. But it’s more than that. Supernatural created a family over these past fourteen years. It’s where many fans found their best friends, their support systems, the people who finally “got” them. It’s where they felt like they belonged, maybe for the first time. That is powerful. Life changing sort of powerful.

When I was putting together Family Don’t End With Blood, it was originally going to be a book written by just the fans. We would all share our stories of how Supernatural and its characters and actors and fan community had changed – and literally saved  – our lives. So there are thirteen chapters in that book written by fans that describe how important the show has been, from helping a fan get “sober for Sam” to battling cancer, from leaving a cult to having the courage to change who you are and go after who you want to be. Testaments to the way their lives changed when they became involved in changing others’, through Random Acts or GISHWHES, volunteering for a charity or even starting one.  Over the years, I’ve heard thousands more. It’s not the only show or film or book that has changed lives, but thanks to its unprecedented fourteen years on the air and hundreds of conventions, Supernatural has had a greater impact than most.

That Family Don’t End With Blood turned out to be a book written by the Supernatural actors as well as the fans is an indication of just how unique and powerful the phenomenon is. Because it’s not just us who were changed by the show. It’s not just us, in fact, who have had our lives saved by the show and the fandom. It’s the actors who bring the show to life too. And unlike many who work in a judgmental industry that demands perfection, these actors felt close enough to their fans to want to share that – in an actual book that they wrote themselves. That’s extraordinary. Jared, Jensen, Misha and so many other Supernatural actors opened up and wrote about how their lives have changed – finding the courage to pursue things they’d always wanted, finding the validation to become who they really are, surviving a life-threatening stroke, and even finding the support to get up and “always keep fighting” when one of them was at the point of wanting to stop. I don’t know another television show whose actors have been that real with their fans, or another show that has changed its cast’s lives in such a powerful way.

But as I often say when talking about the book, these are not your ordinary actors. It says something so important about Jared, Jensen and Misha that when the decision was made to end the show after next season, they told their long-time crew the news first, the people who are like family to them and whose livelihoods depend on this show. Then they took to social media themselves, recording a video for the fandom explaining that the fifteenth season would be the last. Although all three were clearly struggling with their own emotions, they wanted their fans to hear it from them. It’s the same reason they wrote Family Don’t End With Blood in their own words, because this is too important to telegraph through someone else. I respect the hell out of them for making that video.

The impact of this show doesn’t stop there, however, with the fans and the cast. Over the past few days, actors who have been on the show once or twice or have not been on it at all have weighed in on social media with messages of respect and support, thanking Supernatural for being the exemplary thing that it is and inspiring everyone in the industry. The BC film industry itself weighed in, with gratitude for what the show has done for that industry and Vancouver, including huge financial benefits and providing a talented and hard-working crew with a job they could count on for fifteen years – and one they could love. Journalists from many of the publications that cover fan-favorite shows also shared their own stories of how Supernatural has impacted them; for many, the show was responsible for them entering the field, and for some, it was a personal support over the years just like it has been for many fans.

It’s been four days of shock and grief for the Supernatural fandom as we all start to cope with the impending loss in our own ways. Fandom, ever brilliant and creative, immediately began expressing our intense emotions with art and photos and graphics and heartfelt posts.

Who made a deal, that the show Kripke originally planned to end after Season 5 will go exactly ten seasons longer?

Fans looked back at recent episodes, and wondered if the words were prescient.

“Humans burn bright, but for a very brief time. And eventually they’re gone, even the very best ones, and we have to carry on.” – Castiel, 14×14, Ouroboros

There were clips of Rob Benedict as Chuck, singing that soulful version of “Fare The Well” that now takes on new meaning.

There were gifs and screencaps of that pivotal scene where Sam finds out that Dean made a deal to save his life, and that he’ll go to hell for it – that scene that made so many of us realize just how different and special this show was. The first time I saw it posted on Friday, it hit me like a gut punch.

Fans reached out to other fans, offering a safe place to talk, a shoulder to cry on, whatever support might help. Within the fan community, there was instant understanding that this was an important loss that people were facing, and that it wasn’t something to be dismissed or ridiculed.

Then, as fans began the inevitable process of grief adaptation, they began to look back with gratitude on what Supernatural has given each of us and to celebrate the remarkable accomplishment that this little show has been. The hashtag #SPNGaveMe immediately sprang up on Twitter, and fans started sharing all those life-changing things that Supernatural brought to their lives. Some fans said that they had pulled out their copy of Family Don’t End With Blood to re-read the words of the actors and the fans that memorialize for all time just how special this show and its fandom have been. All over social media, fans reached out to other fans with support and comfort and empathy. I saw many posts from fans of other shows who had never even seen an episode of Supernatural, but as fellow fans, they understood the depth of this loss and reached out with sympathy. As always, fandom took care of each other.

I did my own looking back, my own assessment of what #SPNGaveMe and why this Show is so special to me. I’ve written six books about the show that trace my own journey with Supernatural and how the show and the characters have inspired me and changed me, but I don’t think I’ll ever have enough words to truly describe how profoundly this little television show has changed my life. I found my voice – and myself – through this Show and this fandom. I found courage I’d never had – to speak up, to be real, to change jobs, to call myself a writer and get published. I found friends who have challenged me and supported me, and who I’ve traveled the world with and had the most amazing, life-changing adventures. I’ve had to open my eyes to my own blindnesses and biases and start to make progress in putting them aside. I’ve learned that I can be criticized and not fall apart, and sometimes even learn from that criticism! I’ve gone from being the painfully shy girl who once failed geography class because I literally never spoke the entire time to giving panels at San Diego Comic Con and all over the country – and actually enjoying it!  I’ve gone from someone who was too anxious to travel on my own to someone who has navigated airports and train stations and bus stations all over the world – because seeing my fellow Supernatural fans and this cast was just that worth it. The mantra of the Winchester brothers and the Show to “always keep fighting” has been my mantra too, and it has made all the difference.

I am, quite literally, a different person than I was in 2005 when this little Show began.

And that makes the announcement of its ending very important indeed.

The first promo I ever saw for this new show…

So where was I when this flashbulb moment happened?

I was sitting at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End With Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit which gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing.  I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped to tell me what the book and the show had meant to her, which I will never get tired of hearing.

As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.” That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that has been waiting for this and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. I knew because my stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent ‘Always Keep Fighting’ tee shirts and she had red red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time like a flashbulb, and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s four days later.

I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video – and as soon as I saw their faces, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, that’s why they wrote FDEWB after all. I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain in their faces before I ever hit play to listen to the message. And I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.

Within minutes, my phone blew up with people wanting to know if I was okay or wanting to express their own shock and sadness. My fandom friends texted and tweeted and posted and called. My family members, who do understand now that this is important to me, reached out too, checking on how I was doing even if they don’t truly understand why the loss is so deep. I reached out to some of the cast too, who were as emotional as I was feeling. I did a panel with Ruth Connell the next day, so I was able to share with her in person, for which I felt lucky. Even in the midst of grief, there was a sense of “we’re all in this together” that was comforting, even if we might have wished we weren’t in this particular something right now.

It’s four days later as I write this. We are all trying to find the coping strategies that work for us now. Make sure you do so without shame – not everyone will understand how people can grieve for a television show or for fictional characters who don’t exist or for friends you’ve never met in person, but that grief is real because the loss is real.  There’s research in one of my books about how we get the same emotional satisfaction from spending an evening with our favorite fictional characters as we do having dinner with family or close friends. Fictional characters play a role in inspiring us and fictional stories are a way of making sense of (and possibly rewriting) our own life stories. Friendship can transcend the physical and online communities can be amazing sources of support. All of that is real, and all of that is healthy. If you’re struggling with a way to cope with fear of losing those things, do what every single person who wrote a chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood advises – tell someone, talk about it, and get some help. There are resources at the end of this article, and don’t be afraid to use them.

It’s also helpful to remind ourselves of the important thing that Supernatural’s very own “dad” posted after the news broke. Eric Kripke, who created this show and these characters, was the empathic father figure on Friday who reached out to tell us all that what he’s most proud of is the family created by his show – and that family is not going anywhere.

@TheRealKripke:

please remember: shows end. But family is forever. That never changes & that’s what you’ve created here. All my love & thanks to the cast & crew & most of all you, the family. @cw_spn@jarpad @JensenAckles @mishacollins @andrewdabb @serathegamble @ben_edlund

He’s right.

Things will change, but not everything. We may not gather together to dissect the latest episode or argue amongst ourselves about which way canon “should” go, but we will have fifteen seasons of rich and nuanced and fascinating adventures to keep watching and keep talking about. As with all fandoms, a lot of what my SPNFamily friends and I talk about on a daily basis doesn’t even have anything to do with Supernatural – we talk family stresses, job challenges, kid questions, politics, that awesome thing we found at Target – whatever!  They are the people I can reach out to for support, no matter what the problem.

Fandom friends become forever friends, and the friendship is all the richer for that amazing show that brought us together. Ten years from now a bunch of us will say hey, let’s all watch the Pilot, or The French Mistake, or All Hell Breaks Loose, or the Finale. And no matter where we are in life and who we’ve gone on to become, we’ll all pause and be reminded of all the ways that Supernatural changed our lives. Maybe we’ll get a little teary and reach for the tissues, and maybe we’ll share some hugs as we dab at our eyes, either virtual or in person. Because we’ll always have this in common, and we’ll always “get it”. Nobody can ever take that away.

For now, I’m gonna cherish every single moment I get to spend with the Winchesters and Cas and company for the next year, stock up on tissues, and remember to be very very grateful for this Show and all it’s brought me.

–Lynn

To Write Love On Her Arms: twloha.com

IMAlive: IMalive.org

Random Acts Crisis Network: randomacts.org/crisis-support-network/

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Attitudes in Reverse: AttitudesInReverse.org

And remember, Family don’t end with blood.

34 thoughts on “On Losing Supernatural – Heartbreak, Grief and So Much Gratitude

  • It’s been a very, sad heavy weekend. Did we see it coming? Reduction in episodes was that a sign of things to come? I am still in pieces and my head is still a mess, even though one day this would have to come.

    Lynn thank you for all your posts over the years I have picked up so much from you and your community B xx

  • Lynn,
    Thanks for these words. I’m still a newbie in the SPN family, less than a year old (hey – Jack’s older than me – lol) and quietly trying to process all of this. I have thoughts and feelings and words all jumbled in my head and heart. And one day, when it’s time, that will all spill out, Till then, it’s articles like this and words from others that help make the hurt a tad bit easier. We will get thru this and we’ll be stronger – we are family!

  • Thank you for your post…
    It’s a beautiful family and it will remain a family…

    They have been 14 great years and we have one more…

  • Thanks for writing about the feelings many of us are having, not least gratitude that there will be a final season, that we get room to let go.

    • Lynn, as usual, you have done an excellent job summarizing my feelings about the loss of my “fictional family”. I am very thankful to have been able to attend a few cons & meet “the boys” & others of the cast AND you. We fans WILL continue to be family. Thanks for sharing your feelings & expressing mine.

  • I am grateful for the show. But I entered the Anger stage of grieving and haven’t gotten out of it yet. I’m not angry at the actors at all — I completely understand if they’ve had enough of shuttling between work and family and spending weekends all over the place. I’m angry at the executive producers and show runner for not coming up with storylines that might keep Jared and Jensen excited about doing the show. For forgetting what came before (did the possibility of a wendigo not even cross the boys’ minds last week?), for becoming forumulaic, and for cheapening the deaths of important characters by bringing them, or their doppelgangers, back. For not making better use of the AU. Yes, we all loved Bobbby and Charlie et al., but how much better it would have been to develop new characters we might have been able to invest our emotions in. For losing Robbie Thompson and Jenny Klein and whoever else. For never-ending angel-demon drama. Basically, for giving the audience what they think the audience wants instead of giving us something terrific we didn’t know we wanted. I’m glad the actors will be able to spend more time with their families and play a bigger part in their children’s lives, but I really can’t help but think about Jensen’s oft-expressed declaration that as long as the show had a story to tell and that he and Jared were enjoying doing it, they’d continue.

  • Thanks for this. I’ve been going through the motions the past couple of days and feel a deep strange sensation in the pit of my stomach. That being said (or written, as it were) I’m so excited for Jared and Jensen. They deserve a break and the option to challenge themselves artistically, if they so desire. And I remember them saying at SPNJAX 2018, that they’ll continue to do the conventions. 😊 And who knows, with all the recent re-boots, maybe in a few years our favorite hunters will return. Next year will be a sad one, but I’m glad these two special actors will end this their way. 💕

  • Thank you for your post
    It’s a beautiful family and it will remain a family…

    They have 14 splendid years and we have one more…

  • I’ve watched from the beginning w/ my daughter & now that she has her own family, she still comes by to watch it together. It’s brought more meaning & emotion after my son died of suicide in Dec. of 2011. “Carry on my wayward son, they’ll be peace when you are done” is now one of my favorite songs.

  • You always know the right thing to say Lynn, thank you. SPN is special in so many ways, it’s our Unicorn and nothing will ever take its place in our hearts.
    Thank you to the guys for stepping up and delivering the news themselves, they are truly remarkable, when the time comes to say adios to the show, they will get a much deserved break to be with their families, having worked on a punishing schedule most of us couldn’t keep up with, outdoors, in all weathers. As for the future? I don’t doubt we will see them again, due to their endless collective talent and, as I have said to my friends, perhaps Jensen will find the time to make that record we deserve? I wish good luck to all those behind the scenes who will be profoundly affected by this announcement and give my thanks to Vancouver for being a wonderful host / USA stand in.

  • I knew this announcement had to be coming soon, if not this year then maybe next (for one thing, the boys all have young families that they have said they want to spend more time with). I know that 15 seasons is twice or more than what most other shows get. And I am grateful for what we have had.
    That’s why I was surprised at the level of shock and grief I felt when I saw the video on Misha’s facebook. I sobbed as if I were losing a loved one. This show is so special to me, such a touchstone in my life, the idea that soon there will be no new episodes is a major blow. I am starting to come to the acceptance stage in my grief, although, Lynn, your beautiful post captured the emotions we are going through so perfectly that I found myself in tears all over again.
    One thing struck me in seeing the tweets from the cast and Kripke talking about the end of the show: no one thanked or mentioned “the fans” the way other shows would. They only mentioned the SPN Family, which is what we all really are a part of. And that family is a beautiful thing that absolutely will not come to an end in the fall of 2020.

  • Thanks for that. You’ve just reinforced what my therapist told me tonight when my grief sucker punched me out of of nowhere during my session tonight. Thought I was ok…apparently I just hadn’t let myself feel the grief.

  • Thank You for this article. It lets me understand my feelings better. I always knew it would be hard on me when that day would come. But I must say I was surprised by the force of emotions that were unleashed on me.It did hit me very hard. I felt very grateful not to have to go through this alone these last few days, that there were fandom friends and even strangers I could talk to on sm. I really learned the value of the SPN family. But your article coming from a professional lets me feel a bit more “normal”. Thank You !

  • And here come the waterworks AGAIN! Thanks for making me feel validated and reminding me that my feelings about how important this show has been in my life are real. And thank you for reminding me that the very real friendships I’ve made will continue, even after the show ends. My fandom journey began when I read your Fangasm book, but it’s not ending any time soon!

  • I read this entire thing through tears. I am heartbroken … hollow and gutted in fact … but I understand it can’t last forever. That doesn’t make me any less sad tho. I’d look for a crossroads demon to make a deal if I didn’t know that Jared, Jensen and the rest of the cast and crew deserve to have that much treasured family time. Their children are growing and they need to be a part of their lives now. I am in my 50’s and still need to learn to share, I guess. Anyways, here’s to the final year. May we get a happy ending.

  • I’ve been waiting to see what you would say, Lynn, because what you say always helps me understand what I’m feeling 😊 It’s impossible to explain how a television show and fictional characters can catch your heart and refuse to let go, but I’ve just learned to accept that it can, they can. I love Show, I love Dean and Sam and Cas and Crowley and Jack and so many, many more. And I am eternally grateful for our time together.

  • Bless you Lynn. You’re the unofficial therapist for the #SPNFamily. And so I’ve been waiting to read your words. You are, of course, first and foremost a fan but you also understand our fandom in a unique way. And I knew you would have the relatable words of comfort that I needed to hear. I’m still wandering around (emotionally) with how to process and cherish the good that we have now.

    My first instinct is I want to hug the boys. They’ve been directly responsible for the jobs and livelihoods of so many people. And I know they understand the weight of their decisions in ways many the fandom may not appreciate. Plus they love the characters so intimately. All these thought being out my inner Kim Rhodes to fiercly protective those boys as they make the transition over the next 12-14 months. I hope you are going to SPNLV and are able to share with them our unflagging support for their choices and gratitude for the gifts they have given us.

  • Thank you, Lynn! This pieces resonates with me in so many ways. Thank you for putting this into words for us. Can’t wait to hug you and many other fans at SPNVegas!

  • I started watching SPN since 2007. My daughter was just in elementary. I fell so in love with the characters of Sam and Dean. Their brotherhood is so profound that made the show spectacular. The stories every epidodes were so unique. They always came up with new styles and can even adapt changes in industry and new trends. Writers were so brilliant in experimenting new stories in every episodes. Actors like Jensen and Jared and the rest of the guys are not only ridicoulously handsome but very bright and talented. I just wish someday that they may be given big breaks in the movie industry because they do deserve it. They do have extra ordinary talents that needs to be exposed in the whole world. I love them sooo much. When I watched their farewell clipping. I felt pain in my heart. Its like I lost something very big and important. Supernatural is already part of my life and thinking that it will end soon really has a big impact to me emotionally. I couldn’t think of any great show that would replace SPN. I know that every show needs to end but Supernatural is the only show that I cherish and will stay in my heart forever. I love you all guys.

  • As always Lynn you have described exactly the way most if not all of us are feeling. As usual, like most days/evenings I was chatting on messenger with my wayward sisters (there are ten of us) when I got a notification that Misha had tweeted, at the same time one of the girls said check J2’s Tweets. For some reason I couldn’t get the video to play but I could tell from their faces that something was terribly wrong. Going back to the chat, I asked what was going on, and so I heard the news from my girls…Supernatural brought us together, but like you said in your article, it’s not what we talk about on a day to day basis and because of that, we will ensure. We’ll still go to any SPN cons of course, but we have and will continue to meet up just for the hell of it because we are family.

  • Agreed, reading thru tears, every time i think I am in Acceptance, a Post like this one appears, and I go back to Grieving, the tears won’t stop flowing, and I advance to Bawling, again.. Kim, you have such a way with words, seeing everyone’s thoughts and perceptions so perfectly. Thank you for being there for us, the cast, crew and families of all. I keep seeing the post of The Boys, eyes red from crying, just can’t keep that one pic out of my mind. Reading and seeing, and hearing how hard this is hitting everyone. This isn’t a TV show ending, this is a Death in the Family, and we responding like that. My Heart,and Prayers go out to everyone who is suffering like I am. My Thanks to Jared from pulling me back from the edge, when my Depression was at it’s worst. My thanks to my Therapist who doesn’t put me down, and understands how much my TV shows, and the Actors mean to me. Most people look down at us as being silly and childish, if they only knew exactly how Adult we are. How if it wasn’t for this show, so many of us would be alone and no one to talk, or something to talk about. I am isolated and alone, except for the Internet, then I found the SPN fandom, I am not alone anymore. Thank you all for being there for me, and for others like me. To the wives and families of J2M, take care of the boys for us. They will forever be in our thoughts

  • Thank you for expressing what we fans are feeling. We all know that day will come but when reality knocks at the door we are kind of “no ground”. Although I was not so excited about the storylines lately, the ad knocked me over, After all, I watch them since the very first minute. Let´s enjoy the final year . That every single fan feel themselves hugged! Hugs from a Brazilian fan.

  • I have been a #SPN fan since 2005. My friends and I would take study breaks during undergrad to meet up to watch it together. It qaant until recently that I got into the “thick” of the SPNFandom. I love it here and while I haven’t been able to afford to make it to a Convention it was on my bucket list. I have been saving up. Long story short…

    Thank you for this post, thank you for the video you did with Alana. As a future social worker (working on my MSW currently) you were eloquent and on the money. I hope to meet you and Alana!

  • Lynn, thank you so much for articulating everything I’ve been feeling since last week. knowing there are others out there experiencing this makes it easier to deal with x

  • I had just purchased the book “Family Don’t End with Blood” minutes before I saw the video of the sad news of Supernatural ending. Tears came rolling down and didn’t stop for days. It has only been 1 yr. 3 mo since I started watching this show, in short, it saved my life then and kept me going. I am grateful for finding this show and all the ppl who love it as much as I do. I have watched every episode 6 or more times, it was my daily life. Now I say daily, “Always Keep Fighting”.

  • Thank you so very much for this, giving SPN Family another place to come to terms with the inevitable. I do remember the exact moment I saw the video. I didn’t realize I was crying when I went upstairs to tell my youngest daughter. I do know I had on my Always Keep Fighting shirt, which is faded and so soft as I wear it often. You can barely see the letters but I’ll never give it up. It’s so wonderful to have this family, to know this family will always be here!

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