Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thoughts on Risk, Grief, and Loss

Watch out, this is a very emotional, difficult post. I may end up deleting or revising it because I don't like to sound pathetic. But for now I think writing it will help me work through some things.

Yesterday, two young men engaged to marry two of my good friends were killed in a car accident overseas - after surviving a cancer scare for one, a gunshot wound and many weeks in a coma for the other - both recovered and on their way to the airport to fly back the U.S. and get married. But they didn't make it.

Just heartbreaking. Found out first thing this morning and spent several hours with the girls, later today, though reluctant to believe my presence would be any comfort. It's not like losing parents or a spouse at the end of a long life, but in some ways like losing a child: a loss of tremendous potential. How do you deal with the death of the person you'd hoped to spend your life with?

My own relational vulnerability has been much on my mind, lately. Seems like there are two ways to be relationally vulnerable: having relationships, and not having them. The vulnerability of being alone, and the vulnerability of being dependent on others. Great pain can come through either path. Sometimes I worry about what will happen to me if I get really sick, afraid I might find out that I really am alone in the world. Much evidence suggests that I actually have a strong, invisible net - uncomfortable as it is not to know whom God would use to catch me.

I've also wondered what would it be like to be the most important person in someone else's life. I don't think I've ever experienced that, at least not in any long-lasting way. Not with my family (though we love each other!), and not like these girls who said, yes, I will marry you, to these young men, nor in the sense of the relationship they have with each other: mutually acknowledged best friends.

You can't make that happen, can you? I was there when they met and watched their friendship grow, glad for them, but a bit sorry that the chemistry or whatever wasn't there for me to be a closer friend to each of them. My best friends are always closer to somebody else. Several of my favorites are married men, so of course I have to be more careful in those cases. There was another woman in our office with whom I thought I could be best friends. But she moved overseas to get married several years ago and I haven't been able to maintain and grow that friendship into what I had hoped it would be.

Oh, I have lots of willing, loving friends, but what I'm talking about is sort of like finding someone who is nice enough to date, but not someone you could forsake all others for; or wise enough to learn from, but not someone you really feel you can really put yourself under and ask to mentor you. All three of those slots in my life - best friend, husband, mentor - remain blank.

I hope I don't hurt anybody by writing those words. There are families and individuals with whom I have a strong and precious bond, and I am grateful for them (for you!). But most are scattered and live far away. So when I think about things like who would take me to my chemo treatments or hold me when I cry or stand up with me at my wedding, I think it would probably be other, more-random people in that invisible net, not the people I love best.

It's OK to grieve about that, I think, and to pray, but there's no guarantee that I'll have those kind of relationships. They may grow. They may even grow out of the acquaintanceships that presently, don't seem promising. But they may not. Outside of the movies many people never have best friends. And it really is possible to have a good life without ever meeting "the love of your life." I have a lot to be grateful for, and there's no sense pining away over what I don't have. The mentor thing is not so emotional; I think I'm just going to jump into and take what I can get at least for this next season (sabbatical - more details when I have them - soon).

Well: those ultimate, close relationships, they do make you extremely vulnerable, don't they? Friends have told me about looking down at their infant child and realizing what a scary place the world now is - how horrible it could be for their child if something happened to them, or for them if something happened for their child.

Life sure is risky; loving other people, more so.


Fiona L Cooper said...

Thanks for sharing this Marti. You always make me think.

I have had people I've called "probably my closest friend" at different times in my life, though I've stopped short of ever naming someone my best friend... And I know what you mean about the lack of someone to really share everything with in the way I imagine real best friends do... But I find I am able to share different parts of me with my different close friends and, in the end, I get my relationship needs met one way or another.

I do wonder, though, from the point of view of not having a best friend, whether having a relationship like that might easily be prone to being unhealthily exclusive...

But maybe that's really my envy talking!!!!!

There have been many times in my life when I have felt that my relationship needs aren't being met. Usually when I've moved to somewhere new, during that time when it takes effort to build up friendships and discover who you have more in common with. However, God has always blessed me with good friends in every single place I've lived and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for the amazing gift that has been.

Now I'm about to move back to my home country, I'll be leaving behind precious friendships and reconnecting with older ones. But my friends back home have moved on in their lives since I've been away and I wonder whether they'll have as much room for me as they once did... it may well be I have to go back to building up some friendships from scratch. But the thought of that is rather disheartening, so I'll not think about it!

My heart goes out to your two friends who have experienced such a catastrophic loss. I think it's not just the loss of the person, but the loss of the hope which must make it so much harder.

And my heart goes out to you. May God fill your relationship needs in unexpected and deeply satisfying ways in the coming days and weeks.

Dianne said...

Hey, Marti,
I've never met you, and I'm not even sure how I originally came across your blog, but I read it regularly now. Thanks for your openness and honesty in this post! I feel like, in a way, everything you've said here could have come out of my mouth as well, though it is other losses that have led me to consider my own relational alone-ness. I especially relate to the 4th paragraph, and I really appreciate that reminder that God would and will use SOMEone to catch me, even if I couldn't pinpoint who that is today.

Anyway, thanks for this, happy blogging!

@ngie said...

Wow, that is just rough. There is no way around it. I am so sorry your friends are having to walk through such a hard time. Tragedies of this sort really do grab you by the shirt collar and make you look at what life is all about. Pouring your heart out here is surely one way to help process. I appreciate your vulnerability and transparent honesty.

Marti said...

I have a friend who won't let her kids use the term 'best friend,' because it hurts those excluded. And you're right, Fiona, it can be unhealthy. Another friend throws the term around so freely it doesn't exclude. Nancy always has a new best friend, at least "best" in some place or realm in her life.

Perhaps some people don't feel the lack... but I think longing for intimacy, even if you don't want to admit it or push away the opportunities, is pretty common. I have also been noticing what a staple in romantic movies and women's fiction the "best friend" is. Even for the male characters. (Somebody has to earn that Oscar for best supporting actor!)

Yet in real life, most of us find friendship in bits and pieces and a support network may seem a relay race. Surprisingly, this works pretty well.

I may have written before about the woman I interviewed who felt her needs were being met but came to terms with the possibility that maybe if she wasn't getting something she thought she needed, it might not really be a need.

Another woman I interviews, living in Afghanistan, finally came back to the States because with the uncertainty of life there, it seemed like each week her kids had to say goodbye to another favorite playmate, probably never to see them again. TCKs (kids of missionaries, military, and international business people) grow up with that kind of instability.

My life is more stable than that, but still, a lot of goodbyes, and I'm still reeling from the huge number of them that came all at once 3-4 years ago when our agency folded.

I'll be praying for you, Fiona, as you transition back home. That can be tough. What is it they say about never stepping in the same river twice? You probably will find that you have to start over, can't just pick up where you were with everyone, but if you can preserve that openness you bring with you overseas and see the world back home with that same sympathy, it will help a lot!

Dianne, thanks for writing! It's good to hear from you. Yup, few really personal struggles are unique. I write partly to put words to experiences I think others share. We can't assume everyone is just like us but I believe we all share a lot of common ground!