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The Grief of the Diplomatic Corps

July 11, 2010

I started to write this post about another form of Grief, Interrupted last week. This is as far as I got …

I just RSVP’d “yes” to a brunch on Sunday morning. But I don’t want to go.

Not because it won’t be lovely company. I’m sure it will be.

Not because the food won’t be good. I’m sure it will be.

Not because it’s a complicated time of day for our family. It is, but we’ll make it work.

I don’t want to go because it means it’s true, that my friend Liz is leaving soon for Lithuania with her husband and two adorable little girls.

Well, I went to the brunch yesterday and, of course, it was really nice. The company was lovely. The food was yummy. Our complicated family schedule meant I was a little late, but that was OK.

Still — sniff, sniff — my friend Liz is leaving. 😦

Her husband is in the Foreign Service, and, after three years in DC, they are headed for his next posting. Liz knows this is the life she signed up for, but that doesn’t mean she’s always thrilled about it. She has spoken openly about being especially sad this time around, at this stage of her young family’s life. This time, not only does she have to start over, but her older daughter does, too.

Yesterday, I brought her a copy of the unfinished, unpublished post to let her know I was going to miss her. We talked a bit about the grief and sense of loss she’s experiencing. “It’s very real,” she said.

My lens on Liz is through the venues in which Liz and I met and became friends – our children’s preschool and a class we have taken together once a week for the past two school years. Through this lens, Liz’s grief process has been evident this year in various ways:

In friendships. She told me early in the school year, for example, that she didn’t have much interest in getting to know the new parents connected to her daughter’s class. Nothing personal against anyone — they’re all lovely people, she’s sure — it’s just that she felt she barely had enough time to attend to all her existing friendships in the brief time she had left in DC and saw little reason to expend effort on new ones that had only a short time to develop.

Around future talk. She felt disconnected from the post-preschool discussions going on all around her. While others debated moving on to a new school vs. staying in preschool another year, public vs. private, Jewish vs. secular, she listened but had none of her own angst to add to the conversation. Her daughter’s going to the American school in Vilnius. End of story.

In her closest connections. Her 4.5-year-old daughter has one of those best friends. A beautiful, symbiotic soul connection between two children that is amazingly mirrored in their mothers’ friendship. One day in the early spring, I mentioned to this other mom that I hadn’t seen much of Liz lately. “I haven’t seen much of her, either,” she said. Funny, I had assumed that part of the reason I hadn’t seen much of Liz was because she was focusing on her closest relationships. I knew Liz was sad about leaving. I knew she was preparing partly by not getting involved in new things and disconnecting from others. Now, I wondered to myself, “Was she distancing herself from everyone?”

I watched the other day as her daughter tried to distance herself from the boy known to all as her best friend. “He always likes to sit next to me,” she said as she scrambled away from him toward her mom, “but sometimes I need my space.”

We giggled at this very grownup statement from this very little girl, but it wasn’t lost on us that she soon would have lots of space between her and her very best friend. “It’s bittersweet,” Liz’ husband said. “They may only see each other another one or two times before we leave.”

Liz is very close to her parents, too, and some of the grief of moving so far away from them is eased by the fact that her mother just retired. This frees her parents to spend long stretches in Lithuania. Liz and her husband were assigned a beautiful house with plenty of space for guests.

We may even take Liz up on her open invitation at some point in the next three years. My family and my husband’s family both come from Lithuania, so we are drawn to seeing the towns where they lived. And maybe by going there, someone can finally shed some light on my mysterious last name. Are we all talk? We’ll see.

In taking comfort, with caveats. I’ll be missing just one friend. Liz will be missing ALL of hers. She said yesterday, as she has said more than once this year, that she takes comfort in knowing that she will return to her friends here. Washington, DC, has been her home for the past three years, and it was her home before that. It is where she still owns the apartment she bought before she met and married her husband, it is where her in-laws live, it is where her second daughter was born. She is connected here.

The comfort is that she gets to come back. One caveat, she knows, is that she can’t pick up exactly where she left off. The years apart will be a lifetime for our children. Our lives will move forward in different ways.

And the other caveat, of course, is that she will have to do this all over again. The exit and the re-entry. There will be another posting. And then another.

I can’t help but wonder …

How will we keep in touch?

  • Will we Skype?
  • Will we e-mail?
  • Will we write good old-fashioned letters? (Our incredibly creative brunch hostess made this easier by giving each guest a packet of notecards, with the envelopes already stamped and addressed to Liz. All we have to do is write note – insert card – lick – send.)
  • Will we call? Actually, with the wonders of modern technology, Liz and family actually get to keep their DC home number. Think global, call local.
  • Will we visit?

Where will we pick up when she gets back? Will we at all? (Note to Liz: I hope so!) After all, we’ll no longer share those venues I mentioned earlier – our children’s school, our class. If our friendship survives the years apart, I will celebrate. If it doesn’t, I will grieve the loss … and still celebrate, too, knowing that some friendships seem meant for certain places and times.

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  1. Jonathan Berger permalink

    Michelle — despite the difficult content, and of course knowing that I AM the cause of all of this pain, angst and grieving on the part of Liz and her friends, you wrote beautifully and I really appreciate that you did that. We will miss you guys of course, and look forward to continuing our friendship in other ways and in other places!! Love, Jon

    • Michelle Buzgon permalink

      Thank you for your kind words, Jon. And don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you forever 😉

      Seriously, there would be no need for all this “pain, angst and grieving” if you didn’t also bring great amounts of joy, happiness and celebration into the lives of Liz and your beautiful girls. I mean, Liz must have an awfully good reason for accompanying you on this world tour … and I’m guessing it’s not the balmy Lithuanian weather.

      Where are those darn tissues?!

  2. Susan permalink

    Of course, I am sure that you know that there is a close connection to Lithuania with our family. My paternal grandparents (Jay’s great grandparents) were from Lithuania and I was there (with my brothers and father and uncle and cousins) in 1992, just after they achieved independence from the Soviet Union. Having been there, then, we wish your friends all the best! It will be an interesting adventure, and I hope they take it in that spirit.

    All best,

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