‘Not everyone can be an orphan.’ André Gide  

Sam and Dean are many things. Hunters. Heroes. Antiheroes. Criminals. Saviors. Lovers. Brothers. And they are orphans. They are no longer anyone’s sons. As young adults they have to live without both their parents. 
The phenomenon of the adult orphan is not really on the radar of most people. Perhaps, because we tend to think of an orphaned, little child and the emotions that evokes in any empathetic human being. There are countless films and novels that deal with that topic, and many of us know the stories of David Copperfield, Heathcliff, Luke Skywalker, Little Ophan Annie, Harry Potter, Pippy Longstocking or Tom Sawyer, to name but a few.
But what about those people that become orphans at an adult age, such as Sam and Dean Winchester? 
I’ve had this article in me for a while, and it began to take form over last Christmas that had brought up my own feelings of being orphaned as an adult and the deep loneliness I experienced over that particular period. I think I didn’t feel this lonely in a long time.  And, naturally, when I feel that kind of pain, I look to inspiration, guidance, comfort and/or answers in books and stories when people aren’t able or willing to offer any of those. 

I started thinking about our favourite brothers, and many of their experiences echoed in my mind, and I realized that there might be another reason why I feel so close to these fictional characters. When my father died I was 28 years old. That was thirteen years ago. My mother died two years ago. And a dark truth hit me like a battering ram – the knowledge that parents one day die doesn’t shield you from grief and loss. It doesn’t protect you from losing your footing and the kind of unconditional love parents can provide. You never stop looking for them. Sometimes I glimpse my parents in the face of a stranger, in the mannerism of a person walking by or in someone’s voice that sounds like one of theirs. 
Somehow, your parents remain a constant factor in your life, even when they are gone. And in the lives of our hunting heroes they are still of huge importance.
‘We orphans, we lament to the world: World, why have you taken our soft mothers from us and the fathers who say: My child, you are like me! We orphans are like no one in this world anymore!’

       -  Nelly Sachs, Chorus of the Orphans.

Both brothers have a dissimilar approach to their parents’ loss, simply because both have experienced them differently. Sometimes I like to think of Dean as the luckier one, as he knew both his parents. He remembers Mary, and many memories probably are as vivid as that moving scene in Dark Side of the Moon when Mary cuts off the crusts from his breakfast bread. But then again, having known her, having been the recipient of her warmth and kindness, the awareness of that terrible loss must eat away at him in a very painful way.
Is it better to not know what we have lost? Sam never met his mother. Without the pictures he wouldn’t even know what Mary looked like. He had an idea of her and he loved that idea and what he thought his mother might have been like. For the first time he saw her in that brief moment in Home, and then she was gone again. Forever, as Missouri informed the devastated young hunter. She had sacrificed herself, her spirit, to protect her children. It took almost five seasons of this show to allow Sam really meet his mom for the first time, in The Song Remains the Same. To get to know something of her soul, of her courage and warmth which hopefully will have helped him to establish a memory of hers to sometimes cling to when loneliness creeps up his spine.
It might be the natural order of things that parents die before their children. In ‘the life’ of a hunter the probability of an early death is taken for granted, but when it happens, the sheer inevitability is no cushion to the pain.

Even though Sam and Dean were aware from childhood on that the world they were raised into was a dangerous one, probably assuming that they would be able to handle those dangers well, their world was still somewhat basically safe – so far, John had always returned from his ‘hunting trips’ more or less in one piece, and they have been trained well in all kinds of combat techniques thanks to their Marine dad. They held on to that notion. 
After that car crash John had recovered well, and both brothers felt safe to think that he was going to be around for much longer. But then John made that deal with Azazel and the whole apocalyptic train was set in motion. John needed to be the righteous man to break the first seal, Dean became a welcome replacement, since John didn’t do what was expected of him in hell, etc. You know the story.
Losing their father in a moment they thought everything was going to be somewhat okay, threw them in a storm of guilt, grief and loss that quickly took on a life of its own. The impact of his loss went way beyond burning his remains and sorting out what he might have expected of them. 

There was a deep sense of rudderlessness, as there was no one there anymore. Their family was gone. There was no warning, no time for good-byes of any kind. And since both had had a different relationship with John, they were crying and grieving for different reasons. We saw that in the lack of communication between them in the aftermath and their mismatched ways of coping.
‘To complete relationships, people have to say five things: Forgive me.  I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. And good-bye.’

        - Ira Byock

The sudden nature of both their parents’ deaths caused many questions to unfold, and not all of those were answered. They had to face, at first, their inability to solve this new problem. The fact of being the last of their family (Adam wasn’t a part of it, yet).

What we found in their behaviour were signs of high mental distress, trauma symptoms, interpersonal problems, delayed loss accommodation. Their relationship was rocked profoundly and guilt hung like the proverbial sword above their heads. Furthermore, they didn’t really enter any kind of mourning process that would help them to smooth the psychological integration of the loss.  I think to this day they haven’t really mourned their parents. 
As a child, Dean didn’t know how to do it, and I hope that John provided the comfort needed – but we haven’t heard about anything in that department from the show. As an adult, Dean avoided the subject. He pushed Sam, who wanted to talk about it, away. Dean was scared out of his wits to even touch the matter.
Not alone the death of John was tragic, but also that it occurred off-time in life. It was a premature death. The Winchester brothers needed to find a way to support each other and to use that support, but it took them quite some time to come to terms with it, well, more or less, and to acknowledge their feelings.

What remained was a lingering presence of their father, even more than the idea of their mother had been, and I wonder if they have managed by now to establish a new bond with them. Because that is essentially important to cope with and survive the death of a loved one, in particular one’s parents. 
We know today that the violent loss of a loved one is often associated with various indicators of dysfunction. Mary’s loss catapulted the family into a circle of dysfunctional behaviour that became an integral part of their lives. They didn’t create any rituals to cope with that loss (which is necessary to cope with loss, for instance in some cultures people wear black for a year, as I have done after my parents died, people have a mass read for their lost ones, etc).
Their coping strategy was embarking on a revenge trip. First, John fuelled it, and then it was taken over by his sons. Though it served its purpose, the results didn’t bring them peace.
Suddenly, they were alone. Bobby is a surrogate father, ‘the closest thing I have to a father’, as Dean pointed out, but he is the closest thing, he’s not the father. Family doesn’t end with blood, true, but there is a difference. Even such a close relationship can’t replace what is lost.
When parents are gone, the primary archivists of our history are gone. They witnessed our first steps, were around when we fell in love for the first time, and they were the connection between their generation (and that of their parents) and ours. If we were lucky they walked beside us, teaching and guiding us and loving us unconditionally, an anchor nothing or no one else could provide.
There once was a place we called home within the relationship with our parents. That has changed. The moment our parents have died, we finally have to grow up completely. Our childhood ends, as we are no longer anyone’s child. Those who have been around during our childhood and youth, marking our journey to adulthood, transform us into adults when they go. Because that’s what we have to be from that moment on. There is no older generation anymore. No defense between us and the grave. 
It’s more difficult when we didn’t believe to be unconditionally loved.
I think both Winchesters have experienced that nagging question – is it enough what I do to keep dad love me? Both brothers read conditions into John’s words. John often communicated with his boys using terms of reproach and blame. He blamed Dean for not watching over his baby brother, he reproached Sam for leaving the family to seek higher education. There is no doubt that John loved his boys. He might have been a tad clumsy in his ways of showing that love. I am sure, Sam and Dean knew that John loved them, but I think they didn’t feel it all the time. 

And with dad gone, the last opportunity to set things right was lost, also. 
‘There are only three things important in life: To be kind. To be kind. And to be kind.’

           - Guy de Montpassant

Sam and Dean survived the loss of their parents. They survived being orphans. But that doesn’t mean that they have managed well to live with that fact. I believe it is very difficult to find any benefits there. But, as I have experienced within my line of work when dealing with patients who have suffered that loss, too, there are. The death of our parents can set us free.

With Mary and John gone, the brothers can use the chance to become their deepest selves, the men they truly are, without having to seek approval of their parents. It can help them to be wiser and more mature and, perhaps, to decide to quit ‘the life’. For Dean it could mean to return to Lisa, and for Sam to find a woman whom he could love and whom he allowed loving him back.

What they didn’t have time to do, so far, was a careful examination of their parents’ legacies. They jumped to continuing the family business, ‘saving people, hunting things’, but what their parents meant for either of them, what impact they had, what of their personal characteristics they wanted to keep and treasure (and find in themselves) is still in the dark. 

It takes time and a conscious review. Many tragic moments have happened in their lives and they have been faced with difficulties that might have driven other people ‘screaming to the nuthouse’.  They didn’t really take the time necessary. They weren’t able to use their parents’ deaths and their own states of being orphans as catalysts to change significant issues in their lives. There is still an obligation within their souls to do what their parents would expect of them – save others, even at the cost of their own lives, for instance. The power especially John had over his sons is still there in their minds. Including the anticipated reproach for their actions their father would not have approved of. 

They, as adult orphans, could have a chance to alter the relationship with their parents. To forgive them, to reinvent them, to choose which advice to accept and which to reject. Some emotional inheritances are worth keeping, others will not serve them well.

In part, I believe, they have begun to do so. We could detect signs of it when Sam spoke to YoungJohn in The Song Remains the Same. Or when Dean heard his father say that he was proud of him in My Time of Dying. As siblings, they have become closer, even dysfunctionally so. They have become more vulnerable to the other’s words, behaviour and decisions, as all they had left was each other.

They came to the brink of being driven irreparably apart by that loss. 

Parents often are the prism through which siblings see each other. They notice ‘typical’ traits that are their parents’ and thus parents often serve as a kind of intermediary between brothers (or sisters, of course). When parents are lost, they are compelled to see each other directly and their bond might change. 
Sam and Dean need to redefine their relationship as siblings. And, I believe, to achieve that they need to find a definition to their relationship with their half-brother Adam, as he shares their experience of being an orphan. They are all disconnected now from their own history, as the keepers of that history are no longer available. So, at first it seems as if there is nothing good about losing our parents – apart from knowing that we won’t have to go through that experience ever again. It’s a one-time thing. 

But it is a chance to find a kind of freedom we didn’t know before. And a peace within us that has to come from our deepest being and that is not relying on our parents’ approval. Sam and Dean are not there, yet, but they have every chance to find it, without losing the deep and inseparable bond they have to their mom and dad. It takes courage to be an orphan and to face the world, the sudden emptiness and the pain stemming from it. They have done their best to survive, and still remained essentially good and kind men. Their parents, undoubtedly, would be proud.
From: The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real  by Marjorie Williams
“What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day when they were lying side by
side. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens
to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, 
but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 
“When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once”, the Skin Horse replied. “You become. It takes a long time.
That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges,
or who have to be carefully kept. 
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, 
and your eyes drop out and 
you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
 But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, 
except to people who don’t understand. Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.
It lasts for always.”


# Junkerin 2011-03-16 09:27
Thank you for sharing you verry private thoughts on such a sad theme.
# Jasminka 2011-03-16 14:07
Thanks for reading and thinking about them, Junkerin. :-) , Jas
# Yvonne 2011-03-16 16:00
Thank you for writing and sharing something so personal.

Beautifully done and it certainly gave me another facet to look at in our boys. It also gave me a seriously good reason to call my folks. So thanks for that as well.
# Jas 2011-03-17 04:24
Yvonne, thank you for your kind words. What can I say? I believe, this show can be inspirational on many levels, simply because it touches on experiences many of us viewers have made ourselves.

I'm sure, your folks were happy to hear your voice.
Love, Jas
# Jas 2011-03-17 04:28
Thank you, janible, for sharing that personal experience with us.

It would have been wonderful, had your father had the chance to know your brother as an adult. But to think about the 'what if' is rarely helpful. On the contrary, it very often evokes more pain.

I guess it is harder sometimes to deal with a sudden loss - no time to prepare, to say what should be said.
But, I believe, when we say those 'unsaid' words in our hearts and mean them, they reach our loved ones we lost. To me that is a comforting thought. I hope it can be one for you and your brother.

Thank you. :-) , Jas
# Julie 2011-03-17 13:49
Thank you Jas this is a beautiful and very brave article. You are right people do not consider an `adult` to be an orphan, but why not? You are still an orphan at any age, I spoke with my Aunt last week who showed me the gift she had bought for her Mother for the coming `Mother`s Day`, my Aunt is 70 and her Mother died 35 years ago , but she has often told me she still talks to her every day. Some may think this strange but everyone deals (or does not deal) with grief in their own way. I think there is no right or wrong way, you get through it however you can.
When I was reading this, a song was going round in my head with lyrics that I am sure everyone has felt at some point, John Mayer`s `Stop this train`;-

Don`t know how else to say it
Don`t wanna see my parents go
One generation`s length away
From fighting life out on my own

Stop this train
I wanna get off and go home again
I can`t take the speed it`s moving in
I know I can but honestly
Won`t someone stop this train?

The fear of losing those we love is always underlying and in the case of the Winchesters their lifestyle made this fear ever more present.
But when John died so unexpectedly we saw both brothers struggling to cope. My heart bleeds for Sam as he will always have as his final memory yet another fight between himself and his father and I still wish John could have somehow have made sure this was not the case. Dean did get the long waited for praise from John, telling him how proud he was and the admission that he made him grow up too fast and put too much responsibilty on him, albeit with the terrible sting in the tail which followed.
I love the concept of being able to change ones emotional inheritance, and maybe with distance being able to see that some advice maybe redundant or even detrimental to those left behind. I think this is relevent to both Winchesters as they both are very different men now from the boys we watched standing beside their fathers` pyre in ELAC.
I would also like to thank ilikeblue for being brave enough to share her story here also,
I think that pushing grief down is sometimes maybe the only way we can deal with it at first until we feel able to cope, as I said before I don`t think there is a wrong or right way, you get through it however and whenever you can there should be no time scale or rules about this. I also think you should not be scared at seeing anything of Dean in yourself, I am sure we can all see ourselves in the characters we love and identify with, whether here or in others shows, film or books and if watching / reading their struggles and/or triumphs helps us to cope with facing our real life situations that can`t be a bad thing , can it? Love Ju
# Jas 2011-03-19 11:00
Stop this train... what a fitting song, Julie, indeed. You are right, all of us have to find a way to cope with loss, and I believe that we do find one. It`s not always helpful, often dysfunctional, until we discover what truly helps us heal. Changing our emotional inheritance is a part of it, but I think it`s also the hardest part-to dismiss the negative voices, the critical ones, the questions that come up, the am-I-the-child- my-parents-want ed-me-to-be. I guess everyone, including me, has to keep working on that, if we want any chance to feel lesser burdened and, well, a tad happier.
Thank you! Much love Jas
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-03-17 15:16
Hi Jas,

Beautiful article again. And it certainly makes me think about my relationship with my parents, and the other loved ones in my life.

I have several friends who were quite young (pre-school and under 10 years old) when their mothers died. They said as little kids, they definitely grieved, and were sad that their mom was never coming home. But, interestingly, they also felt tremendous guilt. For a long time, they believed it was something bad they'd done, which had caused their moms to die. If they had only picked up their toys, or been nicer to their baby brother, Mom would be alive.

What they've also expressed to me, is that when you're 4 years old, you just don't have the emotional and intellectual tools to grasp the meaning and finality of death. As they grew up, and developed those tools, they grieved the death of their Mom all over again. Each new phase of life -- puberty & teenage years, early adulthood, getting married -- made them feel like she'd just died.

I think that's part of the cycle both brothers are stuck in, with respect to their Mom's death especially. Some of those maturity milestones they've reached have opened up the wound of her death again, and they need to mourn her once more.

I'm not sure if I expressed that very well, but I hope you can catch my drift!

I also remember chatting about life with a friend in university. We were each having a bad day and that lead to some discussion about what we would change about our lives, if we could. We got to talking about how his Dad had died when my friend had been in his early teens. I asked him if that was something he'd like to change. He debated the question for awhile, and then with amazing maturity, said No. He said it was all the experiences he'd had in his life - good and bad - that had made him the man he was. If his dad had lived, my friend would have lived a different life and who's to say it would have been any better, or any happier?

Finally, loved the reference to The Velveteen Rabbit. I first heard that story in elementary school and sobbed through the whole thing. I still can't read it to my kids without bursting into tears. I even cited it at my wedding, in a way that brought together my childhood teddy bear and my new husband.

# Jas 2011-03-19 11:02
Pagmatic Dreamer, hi and thank you. True, children mourn differently, their idea of death is a different oneand they approach loss differently. Then, as adults, the kids that lost their parents at an early age, realize what it is they miss or have lost and other questions form in their heads. And then, sometimes, the mourning comes back again.
I read the excerpt from the Velveteen Rabbit at my dad`s funeral. it was not the happiest day. I love that little book. It`s so full of warmth.
Thank you, Jas
# Cammie 2011-03-18 16:35
After reading this I actually called up my mum and told her I loved her.

This is exactly why I love Supernatural so much. Yes it's funny, cool and kick ass but it's so much more. It's real and if you let it it'll make you think and feel.

Thank you for sharing this and making me think.
# Jas 2011-03-19 11:03
Cammie, thank you so much for your lovely comment. It`s true, isn`t it, this show is so much more than just two hot guys hunting monsters. it`s full of human issues, problems that many of us know and deal with.
I`m glad I inspired you to call your mom. Jas
# Karen 2011-03-19 13:09
Hi Jasminka
I’m a little late to the party, it’s been a crazy week.
With having both my parents still alive, I can only imagine the grief and loss that you and others have experienced and to that, you all have my deepest condolences.

I will always feel sorry for both brothers. It’s so horrible to lose any parent but both and in the manner that each had died is so tragic.
To lose their Mother so young and then losing their Dad, after finally being reunited and working together as a family.
And seeing how differently those deaths affected each brother.
I always felt that when Dean lost his Mother, the fear of losing anyone else was why he tried so hard to keep together what family he had left. He never wanted to feel that loss again. And I’m sure watching John slowing changing from a happy and loving father to a man so consumed with grief and revenge, was much like a death in itself. I would imagine this made Dean even more determine to keep things together. That becoming the good son, doing everything he was told, that he might just see glimpses of the old John again.
And then to have to live with the guilt of having his father sacrificing himself in order to save him (Dean) was so heart breaking. Not only that but putting the burden of Sam’s possible fate on him, without really explaining everything was so unfair.

Then there’s Sam who never got to know his mother, could never truly understand the loss that Dean and John had felt. And because of Mary’s death he only ever saw the drill sergeant father, never the real man that John had been. He never really got to experience what Dean had (although it was brief for Dean as well), life with stability and security, life with happy and loving parents and having an actual home. No wonder he looked at family in a different way.
And then with John’s death, his last time being with him, they had been fighting, so now he is has to live with that guilt, not knowing for sure if is dad knew just how much he did love him.
In some ways it’s kind of sad but yet good that the only constant thing each brother had in their lives were each other.
Thank you for this wonderful and deep article Jas.
# Jasminka 2011-03-21 01:26
Karen, dear, thank you so much for your moving words of condolence. There is a good thing about losing someone - the pain becomes less intense with time...

At least these brothers had each other, how very true. They could always rely on the other being there, one way or the other.Even at odds, they knew deep in their souls.

Love, Jas
# Jas 2011-03-22 06:56
Sweet Dany, ad definitionem you can't be late. I think I know your thoughts...
Thank you! Love Jas
Lisa Diamont
# Lisa Diamont 2011-03-24 23:35
Hi, Jas. I got really teary at your article.

I am adopted (I have known ever since I was little) but have only just started working through the abandonment and grief issues that I have managed to stuff for 46 years.

After reading your article (just now), I had an epiphany! (I mean this JUST happened!) I just realized that I will end up being orphaned twice. Since being orphaned is losing your parents, I was orphaned a few months after I was born by my bio parents. Then I will be orphaned again when my adoptive parents die (mom and dad are both 72).

I think I understand now why I am so touched by this show and the relationship between the brothers. I have never called myself a "Sam girl" or a "Dean girl", because I identify with both characters. I am an older sibling (like Dean) and I have always fought against anyone who wanted to force me to be someone I didn't think I was (like Sam).

I understand now why I have always felt kind of adrift. I understand now why I was so insanely happy when my children were born and there were finally people I knew on this planet that were "related" to me and looked like me.

Sorry to drop something this heavy in this venue, but, well...wow...just...wow.

Thank you.
# Jas 2011-03-25 09:17
Dear girlodiamonds (beautiful penname by the way), I am deeply moved by your story.

Being orphaned once is painful enough. But twice – no one should be forced to go through that. But you will, indeed.
You say that you only just started to work through those issues of abandonment and grief.
Though it will be hard sometimes (and you don’t need me to say that), you need to keep going, and I can imagine you will feel the need to complete that extraordinary job.

To my professional and personal experience – the issues we have with our parents, whatever they might be, stay with us, but we can learn to deal with them, to dismiss their impact and become our own people.

I am certain (and hoping to be right) that the moment you will be orphaned the second time, the terror of it will be lessened because you have begun to work it through.
You will gain in strength. You will learn how to deal with past pain and the one waiting for you in the future.

Don’t be afraid. So much warmth and love emanates from your words. You have become a warm human being, it seems. And if you didn’t possess strength, you would have become bitter, but not warm or caring. So, whatever awaits you – you will emerge from the pain with a lighter heart, eventually.

Thank you. I am happy if I have been helpful in any way with my article. Jas