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I Am Sam: When Lord of the Rings Helped Me Process My Friend’s Death

For those of you don’t know, I’m a major fantasy fan. I grew up reading Lord of the Rings. My parents read it to me when I was five. Yes, five. Needless to say, I had no hope. I was hooked on fantasy. I’ve read many fantasy books over the years, but my favorite is still Lord of the Rings. It goes back to my childhood. It’s rooted in my heart and soul. (In fact, I’m writing my own fantasy trilogy right now and hope to get it published at some point.)

Fantasy also goes back to one of the most important friendships of my life: my Kindred Spirit, *Rebecca. When I met her in high school, we first bonded over the fact that we both loved Lord of the Rings. Silly, I guess. But it was rare to find girls that actually loved it. So when we realized we both loved it, we became friends. Gradually, we learned we had a lot more in common. In fact, we were Kindred Spirits in every sense of the word. But looking back, the beginning of our friendship will always be Lord of the Rings.

I think this is why God used Lord of the Rings to comfort me when Rebecca, my dear Kindred Spirit, was allegedly murdered in an abusive relationship inside a cult last year.  (Read full story here).

He knew it was a special book that went all the way back to my childhood, the happiest and most innocent time of my life.

He knew that it was a special bond between Rebecca and I.

He knew that, because I’m a writer, a story could best capture what I needed to process in the weeks following her death.

***

If you aren’t familiar with the story, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the thread I want to focus on in this post.

Frodo and Sam are two main characters that must journey into the evil land of Mordor to destroy a ring of power that the Dark Lord Sauron could use to conquer the world of Middle Earth. Frodo bears the ring across the barren, smoky lands of Mordor, and Sam is his faithful friend and companion. As they journey closer and closer to Mt. Doom, Frodo begins to be more and more burdened by the power of the evil ring. Sam is the one who doesn’t give up, who gives Frodo encouragement, and who ultimately helps bring victory when the ring is tossed into the fires of Mt. Doom. They are able to return to their homeland (the Shire) in peace.

However, Frodo is never the same after this. He has deep wounds from the journey. Evil overcame him, and he cannot embrace life like he used to. So he chooses to pass into the Grey Havens, which is the heaven-like country of the elves. He leaves to find peace and healing.

But Sam has to stay. Loyal, brave Sam can’t follow his friend into the Grey Havens.

Here is a scene at the end of the book when Sam realizes that Frodo is leaving:

“Where are you going, Master?” cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

“To the Havens, Sam,” said Frodo.

“And I can’t come.

“No, Sam. Not yet, anyway….Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do.

“But,” said Sam, and tears started in his eyes. “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.

“So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them….

[But Sam], your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere…You will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.”

***

This story struck me anew as I was processing my friend’s death over the last year.

My friend was like Frodo. She carried a burden too great to bear; she was overcome by the wounds of evil. An abusive relationship, an oppressive cult, and the deliberate attacks of the Enemy to destroy her.

Yet God, in a strange kind of mercy, let her pass into heaven. No, please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think God murdered my friend. I think He was deeply involved in trying to get her out of the situation, and I think He hated what her husband and the murderer did to her in the end. But I do think that in the end, her death was used to free her. In the end, her death was a rescue from the darkness of the circumstances. She passed into heaven, and she was healed and restored as she never could’ve been on this earth.

If she’d lived, she never would’ve been the same again. She never would’ve been the Becca we knew and loved. It would’ve taken years and years of counseling for her to recover who she was after such deep emotional & spiritual (and alleged sexual) abuse, and the betrayal by the one she loved so dearly (her husband). The wounds had done their deep work.

In Becca’s death, the truth came out. The oppressive environment in which her friends lived was lifted. The control her husband had over the whole group snapped. Lives were restored because of her. People were freed. Her death was the catalyst that brought about the downfall of the cult. She rose from the ashes and shone light, even in death, light that burned away the darkness.

But she herself gave the good things up for others. She sought for the truth, she began to resist her husband, and she paid the sacrifice.

 “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

No, I don’t understand it. I will never understand why she died. But I do understand that God ultimately redeemed the circumstances, as He does in any evil or painful situation we have in our lives. I’ve seen it many times in my own life, and I see it—no matter how painful it is—in Becca’s life and death. Becca is smiling even now as she sees what her death lead to. That her sacrifice meant something.

***

I, on the other hand, am Sam. I was Becca’s loyal, faithful friend. I walked by her side, even when she seemed to not care if I was there or not. I watched her change, and I didn’t understand what was happening. I grieved deeply for her loss even before she died, because I watched her fade away. I watched evil overcome her, although I could never understand why it was happening.

Until the truth came out after her death.

When Becca died, I wanted to follow her. I couldn’t imagine life without her. She was my best friend, my older sister, my mentor, the one I looked up to. And when she died, my heart broke. I believed firmly that she was in heaven, and I wanted to follow. I wanted death over life for several months. I wrote candidly before that I contemplated suicide at one time. Oh, how badly I wanted to follow.

But Sam’s story was the story God used to keep me here.

“No, Teryn, you cannot follow. Not yet,” He said. “Because you are Sam, and you still have work to do. You still have a life to live.”

“Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do.

I am Sam. I will live, and I will plant seeds of life and light and beauty. I will help grow things that make this world into a better place. I will write stories and posts that give people hope and healing. I will help people know they are not alone. I will live a full life in honor of the friend who gave hers up out of love. I will help rebuild the shattered remnants of the world she wanted to free, to save. I will fight abuse wherever I see it, I will help others remember how beautiful and precious life is.

That is how I can honor her, until my part of the Story ends, too.

 

***

And you, whoever you are. You who have experienced great loss. You who have seen a loved one pass away like Frodo and want so desperately to follow.

Please know that you are still living here on this earth for a reason.

You are Sam, and you cannot follow, not yet.

You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do.

Do not let grief destroy you.

Live. Find hope and beauty, and spread it to all those you know.

It is the best thing you can do for your loved one.

*Name changed for privacy.

  • http://daniel.ionson.wordpress.com Daniel Ionson

    I think throughout my life, LOTR has shaped parts of my psyche that JRRT would have never believed (or intended). But it’s just that real. His own experiences in WWI shaped his tale, and so he had a clear understanding of death.

    • http://identityrenewed.wordpress.com Teryn O’Brien

      Yes, he has deeply influenced me in many ways, too. Thanks for the comment, Daniel.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    God uses Frodos and Sams alike. You have written a wonderful tribute to your Frodo-friend, Teryn.

    Tim

    • http://identityrenewed.wordpress.com Teryn O’Brien

      Thank you, Tim.