Ministering Angels

"They neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those what are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Grieving for Ghosts

By Melinda

When mom was pregnant with my older brother, she thought he was going to be a girl. They decided to name 'her' Diana. He surprised them by being a boy. When mom was pregnant with me, she thought I would be a boy. They decided to name me Matthew. I surprised them by being a girl.

My older brother grew up and married a woman named Diana. I thought that was a neat coincidence. So I borrowed the idea and named my future husband "Matthew". It seemed more personal than calling him "Mr. Right" all the time. I didn't spend much time wondering what Matthew looked like, but I had a pretty good idea what his personality would be like.

I had imaginary friends as a kid. Matthew wasn't an imaginary friend. He was more of a promise. I tucked him away in the back of my mind, and occasionally took him out as a treat. "When Matthew and I get together, he can humor me by taking ballroom dance lessons, and I'll go cheer for him when he enters the demolition derby." "I wish I could talk to Matthew about how much to invest in our 401(k)." "Won't it be nice when Matthew is around to change the furnace filter so I don't have to do it?"

One day, I realized that Matthew wasn't coming. Or, if he did come, it would be an entirely different Matthew from the one I had gotten to know. He would be older, probably divorced, most likely a father to children by another woman. He won't belong exclusively to me because he would already have belonged to someone else. The relationship I had promised myself had disappeared a little each year, and was now gone entirely.

The realization set off a misty grieving process. 'Misty' because there was really nothing to grieve. I hadn't lost anything; at least nothing that anyone else could see. Just daydreams, and memories of daydreams that turned out to be self-delusion, not a promise.

But it did feel like grief. The emotions of a loss were all there - denial, anger, feeling betrayed. But there was no focal point for those feelings. Should I direct them at God? myself? the Church? Matthew? society? all the men who didn't marry me? Grieving is frustrating when you aren't sure what to grieve.

Misty grieving is a solitary process. Trying to talk about my phantom loss brings admonitions against wallowing in self-pity. Yes, there is some self-pity, but there is also honest grief at losing something I had cherished for my entire adult life. Granted, no one else had known of Matthew's existence, but he had been important to me.

Even admitting that I felt a loss when I confronted the possibility of being single was a taboo subject. "You can't lose faith," kind people admonished, "I knew somebody who was [insert age], and she married a wonderful man!" But the Matthew I knew from my twenties isn't coming, no matter how much faith I have.

So, with or without permission, I'm grieving the death of a hope and expectation. I understand that the final stages of grief are acceptance and peace. I am eager to get there. I hope it is sooner rather than later, because this is an uncomfortable process.

But I think I will always miss Matthew.



at 7/07/2005 4:22 PM Blogger Sarita said...

First off, my parents hoped I'd be a boy (four daughters and four grandaughters later, still waiting) and good thing I wasnt. Because you'd be calling me Rex instead of Sarah.

And my sister married Matthew last year. But I don't think he's your Matthew, great guy but totally wrong for you Melinda, your better off without him.

I know all about these ghosts. I am a chronic daydreamer. I think I prefer to live in my fantasy lands sometimes which is why I loved the movie Finding Neverland. Johnny Depp helped. Throughout my life, I have created scenarios without number outlining the course of my life. In so doing, I am doomed to be disapointed to some extent. As ridiculous as it sounds, I deal with such disapointment much as I would real life. Chalk it up to experience. Such as the case with a guy I dated that thouroughly let me down, I was crushed angry and then embarassed that I was so attached to , dare I say, a loser. Now I see the whole ordeal as a learning experience from which I am better equipped to handle the next leg in life.

Just the thoughts of a hopeless romantic optomistic daydreamer...
without a cause.

at 7/07/2005 4:58 PM Blogger Andrea said...

Grieving is completely valid here. My friend's mom works in early intervention for children with severe disabilities--and by early, I mean sometimes in the womb, after the parents find out about the disability and decide not to abort. She said that even this early, her team works at preparing the parents for the rigors of their future, and walks them through the grieving process--grief for the child they believed they would have. Even though, like Matthew, that hypothetical child never materialized in reality where others could recognize and sympathize in its loss, the grief is no less real. Just to provide an analog for your narrative. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

at 7/08/2005 9:36 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you should grieve for the young Matthew but hope for an older and wiser one, just as you (or should, anyway) mourn your old, more youthful and impetuous self as it gives way to a wiser Melinda.

Even if Matthew never shows up, it is very helpful to visualize the Matthew you have in mind. Visualize him in detail. Cherish that vision. If you build him...

at 7/08/2005 8:23 PM Anonymous Barb said...

Hey, I am as hopeless a romantic as the rest of you. I beginning to realize the danger of too much fantasy though. You do not want the real human person should he ever come to have to compete with the image in your mind. It is hard but I want to work on training my mind to weed out all fantasy. Fortunately, I have never been so far gone to actually believe the fantasy with my whole heart. It is a great coping mechanism though sometimes for my lonely life. :( Yet, in realizing the drawbacks, I think I need to work on me and maybe actually date a real person sometime before 2006.

at 7/08/2005 8:32 PM Anonymous Barb said...

Oh, my mom was wrong every time about the gender of her children. She thought that I was going to be Edward Phillip. I have never had a strong feeling that I would marry and Edward though. The man who I thought I would marry got married when I was on my mission. It was not like I actually felt that close to him personally. I just thought that he was the one. That has scared me into thinking that if I marry someone else that it will end being a failure somehow. It is not like I would not have been so over him if I did not think he was suppose to be the one. I am glad that at my last knowledge he lived far away. I probably should not tell this, but once when his wife was pregnant with her first child, she was talking that she wanted to divorce him in front of him, me, and their Bishop. I must have had an evil look on my face. The Bishop told her to be committed to marriage and he looked at me and was kind stern in saying to me, "Right!" His intense glare made me feel so guilty. I said,"right." I wish I could go back and say something like, I am sure there are lot of people with pregnancy hormones who say things like that and do not mean it. Like I said, it is a good thing that I never see them. I finally was able to get him out of my thoughts for the most part. Again, it is not that I really wanted to marry him more than anybody else. It is just that I thought I was supposed to. Well, I thought I was going to Puerto Rico for my mission and ended up going to Pennsylvania so I must not be the most intune person on the planet. :-\

at 7/08/2005 8:37 PM Blogger Dirk said...

This is OT but where in Pa did you serve Barb? I served in the Pittsburgh Mission.

at 7/08/2005 11:43 PM Blogger Rachel said...

First off, forgive me for posting this whole article, but Barb's comment just reminded me so much of something I was taught in a marriage prep class. I am not sure if this is the original quote I was thinking of, but it gives some of the basic concepts. This is from the 1977 ensign. Sorry I should have just posted the link but I'm not that smart sometimes.

Is it true that each of us contracted with someone during our premortal lives to find and marry that person here?

Steve F. Gilliland, director, institute of religion, Cambridge, Massachusetts As I understand it, we do not know the answer to this question. It is a question that has often been raised by Latter-day Saints, particularly as we contemplate the nature of our premortal experience. The issue captures our fancy, and as a consequence, we have found this idea popularized through romantic novels, plays, and movies written by Latter-day Saints. Thus, because members of the Church have raised the issue, the leaders of the Church have occasionally made some observations on the subject. Let me identify some of the observations that I am aware of, observations that give some orientation that I have found to be helpful.

First, we know from the writings of the prophets that many of us made covenants with the Lord prior to mortality. (See History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:364; Alma 13:3–9.) How general or how specific these were, I do not know. I have heard of occasional Latter-day Saints whose patriarchal blessings have stated that they made premortal covenants with their spouses.

However, concerning a universal application or general principle, the First Presidency in 1971 stated that “we have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives.” (Letter to Joe J. Christensen, Associate Commissioner for Seminaries and Institutes, June 14, 1971.)

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, in 1931, wrote on this issue: “It is possible that in some instances it is true, but it would require too great a stretch of the imagination to believe it to be so in all, or even in the majority of cases.” (The Way to Perfection, Genealogical Society, p. 44.)

Concerning one of these specific cases some members of the Church like to quote an article by Elder John Taylor in 1857, in which he suggests that, at least in one case, he felt that a premortal agreement had been made. (See “The Mormon,” August 29, 1857.)

But the answer we have been given by the Brethren is that “we have no revealed word” on this matter. And in this and many similar matters Church leaders have counseled us to avoid teaching doctrines that are not clearly defined in the scriptures or by current prophets. (Elder Harold B. Lee, address to seminary and institute personnel, July 8, 1966, pp. 6–7.) This is good advice, even for members who feel that they have had personal revelation on this subject.

Realizing that we do not have a universal, revealed answer on this question, I think it could be helpful to examine some of the problems people may get themselves into when they build on the idea of premortal marriage commitments.

This idea seems to assume that prior to mortality we knew everyone we would meet on earth well enough to make that kind of decision. Some of us made promises as childhood sweethearts that in maturity were wisely never kept. The same may be true for premortal sweethearts, if there are such. One young lady, when informed by a returned missionary that she made a premortal covenant to marry him, replied, “Even if I made that mistake there, I am not going to make it here.” Since we should be making spiritual progress here, and since covenants only have eternal validity if sealed by the Spirit (D&C 132:7), perhaps some of us can make better marriage choices in mortality. Another young lady I know received two proposals in the same week. Each suitor told her that he had a revelation that she had promised in heaven to marry him. She informed each that he had no priesthood stewardship over her and that he must wait until she received her own spiritual confirmation. Thus far it looks as though she will marry neither person.

A general belief in this idea may cause some problems for those seeking a future companion. It tends to emphasize premortal preparation for marriage. The challenge we face in mortal preparation is to develop qualities of spirit and personality that enhance meaningful relationships. I have seen many young adults who totally immerse themselves in academic and other pursuits and seldom date or seek other kinds of social experiences that may be challenging and developing. They justify this by saying, “When the right one comes along, I will know and I will marry him/her.” They neglect the wise counsel that young adults should be involved in dating and other activities together. This is not just for the purpose of finding a mate, but also to develop qualities such as the capacity to listen and respond, the ability to handle conflicts, the skill of helping others, a greater understanding of the opposite sex, etc. These essential qualities are not developed by one who seeks only selfish pursuits while waiting for the “one and only” to arrive on the scene. While developing these capacities and living in tune with the Spirit, one will come in contact with many potential eternal companions.

A belief in this concept may even tempt one to rationalize inappropriate sexual experiences prior to marriage. “This is my one and only. This is a special situation. We will be married anyway.” Immorality usually leads to a disintegration of the relationship. (See “The Psychological Case for Chastity,” Ensign, July 1975, pp. 54–58.) Can you imagine the disillusionment and fear that can come if your “one and only” decides to end the relationship? It can be even more overwhelming if the couple have become too intimate.

Individuals who believe that marriages are made in heaven may focus on finding “the one” and not prepare for the work required after the wedding. Premortal associations may enhance the attraction between two people, but they do not resolve current conflicts. A man may feel secure with his “one and only” and complacently ignore her needs. Security in a relationship is important, but complacency can be detrimental. Relationships will wither if not nourished, no matter how long they have existed.

Certainly the wisest course for any of us to take is to build a relationship on its own merits, rather than on any premortal contracts we suppose have taken place.

at 7/09/2005 1:21 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Interesting article buy it misses the point of Melinda's post. She wasn't talking about someone she met in the pre-existance whom she's just waiting to show up. It's about the ideals she planned to look for and giving that personage a name. and then the dissappoint ment and real grief upon his failure to appear. It's not about pre-existant covenants or plans. It's about a planned ideal that grew to be more realisting that was planned for.

Now this has finally prompted my thoughts about Melinda's post to gel into a cognizant pattern so here they come.

I found Melinda's story facinating (as I'm finding so much about her to be}. I effectively see it as she used the name her parents had planned on giving her, as a focus for her "list" of what she looked for in a future mate(the list that it seems most girls make it much greater detail than we guys tend to do).
Yea and by giving this list a name and set personality, she made it harder for us guys 'cause now we all have to compete with Matthew, and he's got it easier cause she can't ever catch him doing some typical guy thing that she finds annoying. I'd call unfair competition except that he evidently has yet to show up. Leaving the door open.

And though my very active imagination never pulled this type of trick on me(hey I'm a guy after all), I can see how easy and actually fun it might be to have created such a dream person(hmm, 5'7 short blond hair, lives in Lehi and so on). And as such I can see where the grief comes from and I don't see it as self delusion. More than anything it's almost a realization that this person somehow chose not to appear leaving you high and dry (and still single). Meanwhile life has gone on, time has passed, he's hooked up with some other daydream floozy (and she probably doesn't realize how special he is either), leaving you to press on with a life you expected to be sharing with someone else by now.

Just try to remember to never tell anyone you're dating or that special someone when he finally does show up, that they don't compare to Matthew. After all in addition to being compared to Matthew, they have to give you a cow(but remember you have to give one back), and figure out how to sweep you off your feet. Have I missed any other requirements from your previous posts?

And perhaps once you meet the someone you will find, assuming you haven't already met him ;), you can still bring that name into your future family, and perhaps prepare him, for some future lucky girl, to be the Matthew you knew would come.

at 7/09/2005 3:15 PM Blogger Rachel said...

yeah, I know, it doesn't really fit miranda's post, it was more a response to Barb's--make of it what you will, I am just throwing it out there.

at 7/09/2005 4:56 PM Blogger Melinda said...

Rachel - that was a great article. Was 1977 about the time "Saturday's Warrior" got popular? Remember the romance in there that was about the two folks promising to marry before they were born? When they finally made it into a movie (okay, yeah, I watched it several times. Cut me some slack - I was 16!), I decided that a pre-mortal covenant was the ONLY way those two would get together since they had nothing in common -- sensitive searching artist and Molly Mormon flirt. Anyway, that article you posted, Rachel, is good common sense, and I'm glad the Brethren said it.

Incidentally, I had a roommate in college whose PB said she knew her husband in the pre-existence. She ended up marrying the boyfriend of another roommate, which ticked off roommate #2.

One important point of my post is that Matthew is dead. Yep, he didn't have any annoying habits, and I never got ticked off at him. You know what? I'd probably get bored with someone who never did anything I didn't like. He was way too perfect - I'd probably be intimidated to date him. Real guys are much better. And yes, I know I owe you a cow. :)

at 7/09/2005 4:59 PM Blogger Sarita said...

And yet, these premortal arrangments some may be waiting for can be as much as a fantasy as Matthew is in Melinda's mind. This perfect premortal creature that has all the bonuses and no faults. How is anyone to measure up? And then when this preconcieved notion of either kind doesnt show up, mourning the loss can be very paralell as well. Good points made by all.

at 7/09/2005 8:47 PM Anonymous Barb said...

Rachel, thank you for the most excellent article. Dirk, I served in the PA Harrisburg mission. :)

at 7/10/2005 1:49 AM Blogger Dirk said...

I see now Rachel. It is an excellent article, it just appeared to me that you had missed the point of Melinda's post.

at 7/11/2005 3:50 PM Anonymous Tiffany said...

Is this blog still active?

It's really cool, but it would be great if there could be more posts. Also the "recent posts" column on the right does not reflect the actual up-to-date posts; there are at least eight since the last one mentioned there.

I'd really like to see some more posts on subjects such as:

1. How to lessen tension between single saints and married members.

2. Why singles are often thought of as teenagers/incomplete/children in the Church.

3. how to maintain sanity as a celibate.

4. Service in the community--helpful hints.

5. Does dating really necessarily lead to marriage? If the defnition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, why date for 20 years? What are some other things you've tried?

6. The One That Got Away stories.

7. Dating divorced men (or women).

8. Lessons learned from observing married couples.


at 7/12/2005 12:55 PM Blogger Melinda said...

Tiffany, thanks for the feedback! I think the slowness is because it's summer, and it's much nicer to be outside than in front of a computer. That's my excuse anyway.

I liked the topics you suggested. I'll see what I can do. If you want to submit a guest post (and I'd love to hear from you officially), send it to us at ministerangels at gmail dot com. Thanks for commenting!

at 7/12/2005 7:24 PM Anonymous JKS said...

I'm a married person, btw.
I think it is so cute that you named your future husband. What a cool idea!
I thought about my future husband a lot. Wondered what he was doing, what he was going through, wondered if he would appreciate me and all the efforts I went to one day be a wonderful wife for him.
I think what you are going through is totally normal. And it is a greiving process.
I echo Andrea's comments about children. Children can easily not live up to the imagined people you thought they would be.
Or children never show up at all.
I think that greif takes time. If you need to kiss Matthew goodbye because he is part of your past, that is ok.

at 7/20/2005 1:23 AM Blogger Arwyn said...

Those imaginary boys of ours become so very real, don't they? Very much a part of our lives, even though they're mostly in our heads. And when we realize they're not really ours anymore -- or that we've changed and they haven't, or they have and we haven't, or we both have...I imagine that grief is entirely appropriate. But so is the cycle of grief, which ought to include eventually coming through it stronger and with a great appreciation for what a difference that 'person' has made in our lives and how we've learned from our association.

I had (have?) such a "future husband" model when I was in high school -- Robert, who I met in a dream, and who I fell in love with for being so gentle and kind and caring, and who I knew I wanted my future boy to be like in that way.

In college, I had an "imaginary boyfriend." He stemmed from my frustrated singleness during a conversation my friends were having about their various significant others, and I just couldn't keep quiet anymore: "Well, Nik is coming up to visit this weekend, and I haven't seen him in months because he lives in Europe..." This led to two years' worth of friends asking, "Hey, how's Nik doing?" and bursting into giggles at the confused looks of the poor boys who, perfectly gullible, believed he existed but knew I never had a boyfriend actually come visit me at school.

Robert fell to the wayside when Nik came along, though I've always thought my husband might be named Robert (despite the fact that I've never dated one), and Nik and I have recently parted amicably as his job requires more time of him and as I've started seeing a real person who, ironically, is very much not like my dear Nikolai.

The changes in our relationships have always been prompted by changes in my own life -- as I grow and mature and become more myself -- and though it's sad to watch them fade away, you can't ever really forget the good times you've had with them.

My point is, don't forget Matthew and don't forget the qualities you've imagined in him because they really tell you what's important to you in a guy. At the same time, don't let that blind you to the appreciation of what the guys you date have to offer -- C, who I'm dating now, embodies those bits of Nik and Robert that were most important to me (the caring and kindness, and the sense of adventure and confidence), but has so many other qualities that I'd have missed completely if I'd limited myself to looking for Nik.

I'm not, of course, saying that you'd make such a limitation by grieving for Matthew; quite the opposite. Just tossing out some things to think about.


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