The first wedding

My sister and her husband married on May 25th this year, a little over three years after we lost my mom. It was a beautiful wedding, of course, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the moments of intense grief and sadness that wound their way fully through the day, like seams of coal. 

I blinked through tears at the delicate yellow roses tucked into my sisters bouquet, there because my mother had loved them best of all flowers.  A single, long-stemmed yellow rose sat in a thin vase on the alter, when my mom should have been sitting beside my dad in the front row pew.  There is no preparing for not seeing her on this day.

As the maid of honor I gave the first toast of the night, and will include it here (partly so I myself don’t forget it, or lose the sheet of crumpled paper upon which I scrawled it)

“Congratulations, first, to the bride & groom on a wonderful wedding.  I’ve been thinking all week of how, exactly, to properly embarrass Whitney during this speech, but there is not much I can say about our childhood that is more humiliating than the ground Chuck covered in the slideshow.  Clearly the ’90s were kind to no one in small town in Indiana.  And sure, I could talk about the time Whitney fell into the fountain at Kopps, or when she sledded straight into the creek in the city park, or fell into the stream by our elementary school, or took a swing on a vine in December near a small river at our grandfather’s house that ended badly, but I’ll save those stories for another time.  

 

Rather, tonight, I’d like to stand up here & speak, if I may, on behalf of our mom, who is very much here in spirit, if not in person.  Whit–she would be in tears right now–thrilled at how beautiful you are, & how great this reception hall looks.  And–most of all–at how happy you are.  She is so proud of you, & so excited for you & Chuck & your continued life together.  Given that you’ve hit way more “adult” milestones than I have at this point, I can’t pretend to offer you marital advice, but I think we both grew up with a tremendous example of what it means to wake up every morning and choose to love you partner, when it’s easy, and when it’s hard, in sickness & in health.  I wish you all the happiness & fulfillment of that daily choice, & I trust that your own children will someday grow up with the security & joy that we were blessed with as kids.  I love you, Whitney, & I’m thrilled to welcome Chuck into our family.  

 

And what a great group of friends & family it is.  I know a yellow rose on an alter isn’t what we wanted, Whit, but this room tonight is full of people who love you both, & are committed not just to pulling off a fantastic party tonight, but also to doing everything they can to support you & Chuck and your life together.  We are here to love you, encourage you, & offer you plenty of advice (solicited or not).  I can’t help but think that somewhere mom approves.  I love you both so much.  Whit–you know what to do, because we grew up with a great example.  And Chuck, I want you to know that the next body of water she falls into, she’s all yours!

 

Cheers to you both!”

On this night, as on so many others, grief teaches me yet again that joy and pain often co-exist, and that even our most celebrated occasions are tinged bittersweet by the absence of those we still love.  Perhaps it is our job to hold those moments close inside us, to cherish them no less for the pain than for the joy, and do the sometimes dolorous work of not forgetting.  

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