As I sat in Dublin airport after a weeklong trip over for another family wedding in Ireland, waiting to get on the plane to go back to NYC, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weddings. I have had two. But only one husband.
Let me explain.
On July 10th, my husband (who is Irish) and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, having married on that date in 2010. On July 24th, we celebrated the seven years since we were legally married in a civil ceremony on July 24, 2009.
In early 2009, my father, after having lost his father (my grandfather), his wife (my Mom) and one of his two sons (my brother) all within three years, was battling acute myeloid leukemia. He was a fierce warrior who, despite being in tremendous grief having lost the woman he had loved for 56 years and his beloved child, was fighting hard to stick around for myself and my remaining brother and his family. And he was doing a heroic job of it. That’s a whole other blog in and of itself.
Though he was fighting hard and we were deep in the planning of a big, beautiful wedding to be held on July 10, 2010 that I prayed he’d be around for, I had this intense sense that we should be married earlier somehow. So we decided to “make it legal” a year ahead of the big wedding. We chose July 24, 2009, and decided to invite just a few key people, my Dad being the primary important guest.
It ended up being a very sweet little service at the city hall in downtown NYC, which is actually quite nice as such spaces go. My husband’s sister (the one Irish family member who lives in America) and her husband and daughter came to represent his family for us. I wore a brooch of my mother’s and my father wore a tie pin that had been my brother’s. We all went to dinner together afterwards to celebrate.
My favorite memory from that ceremony was actually the next morning. My husband and I took my Dad to breakfast and then to the airport. I thought to take a short impromptu video of my Dad at breakfast, where I asked him how he felt now that I was married. With his signature wicked wit and amazing timing, my Dad made a joke followed by his wish that we would be as lucky as he and my mother had been in their happiness together. He said that if we’d “have love at the center of it all” we’d be fine. The lighting is awful, but is the only video I have of him as an adult, and I cherish it. I also have a few photos from the civil ceremony. I often think back and wonder how difficult it may have been for him to make that trip up to NYC for the service under the circumstances. He never let any strain show if so. He was there for us, and I am so grateful.
My Dad lost his battle with leukemia on April 14, 2010, a few months shy of our wedding date. I am incredibly grateful that I have beautiful memories of him standing beside us that day at the courthouse. That he was there to share in our joy. That he was able to “give me away.”
Despite his death, and perhaps to honor him, we went ahead with the wedding as planned, as you do in life. It was incredibly hard, but we knew he would want us to move forward and to enjoy the kind of wedding that he and my mother had always wished for me to have.
It had been tricky deciding where to have the wedding. I’m from Texas and my family is there. He’s from Ireland and his family is there. But our lives are in NYC. After much deliberation, we decided to hold it in NJ: to be close to NYC for out-of-town guests to enjoy, and yet near to where my husband’s one US-living sister’s home is.
It had been very hard for me to plan a wedding without my mom and brother being there, but my Dad, and my other brother and his wife, had been there to support us in every step. Along the way, there were small but poignant signs of my mother’s presence, so I felt her there with me, but of course I would have done anything to have had her there physically. And my brother’s absence was unimaginable, and still is to this day. Losing a sibling is a strangely incomprehensible thing. That’s a whole other blog to be sure.
Additionally, remember my husband’s only US sibling? My sister-in-law and her husband and two children in NJ? Their house became “Wedding Central,” and they generously hosted not only the Irish contingent in their home, but hosted the day-after BBQ there as well, and did countless other things. Too many things to list, but the list included helping to transport everyone before during and after the wedding weeks, and hosting an unforgettable post-wedding NJ shore week that became our “family-moon.” (Two gorgeous beach houses, food for 40, and days of sunshine, love and laughter.) They were basically the most generous people you could wish for, and were pillars of strength for my husband and I as we carried out the actual machinations of coordinating a wedding in an area we knew little about.
With all of this family love and support, our dream wedding was planned and we were ready for the big event.
We were so blessed to have had so many of both of our families travel from afar to come to our wedding.
I come from Protestant people, and small families. We were small in number to begin with, but after the losses of the previous three years, we were even smaller. My little remaining family would mostly be coming from Texas, though there was an aunt and cousins coming from California and Colorado, and two of my Dad’s cousins from Vermont and Delaware.
In massive contrast, my Irish Catholic husband is the youngest in a family of 9: 3 boys and 6 girls. Wow, right? All raised by their mother on her own after their father died when my husband was two. Super wow. She sounds like an extraordinary woman. I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her.
From these siblings, my husband has 23 nieces and nephews. (Though this presented a great challenge at first in terms of learning everyone’s names, this has turned out to be an incredible bonus. With luck, there will be as many weddings to go to! I just came from the 9th Irish wedding, my 8th. The first happened before I came along, but with luck I won’t miss another!)
32 of these wonderful people came over from Ireland for our wedding. We were incredibly honored and chuffed (Irish for complimented) that they would all make the effort and the expense to be there for us. We were similarly honored and chuffed that my family, and many of our friends came as well.
Maybe everyone feels that way around their wedding — each gift feels astonishing and treasured; each guest, an unbelievable honor. We were blown away.
What we wanted most from our “real” wedding was to bring our two families and friends together. All of the people who had helped shape our individual lives and our coupledom. We had a huge rehearsal dinner for everyone from out-of-town and a barbecue the Sunday after our wedding in hopes of bringing Texas and Ireland together. We knew it would be the one time in our lives that this would happen, and we were going to make the most out of it.
And though it was a bittersweet joy without my father there, because he had made the trip over to Ireland in 2008 with us to my husband’s family reunion, everyone at our wedding, save for a few of our individual friends, had met my father. I felt so buoyed and held by the love from both of our families and our friends that day. I know that they carried me through it all. Their love infused my heart with joy to counter the sorrow that was there that day as I missed my mother, my father and my brother.
If all of the above is not enough to be grateful for, since becoming a part of my husband’s wonderful, huge family, I have come to realize that they are the gift that keeps on giving. When I met and fell in love with my husband, I could never have imagined that my own little family would become even smaller in such a short time. It is a true miracle that I have inherited a whole other family, one that continually astonishes me with their warmth, their closeness, their total love of being together.
Every time we go home to Ireland, I sit in gatherings filled with laughter and great “craic” (Irish for enjoyable conversation,) music and love. These are marathon sessions that go into the wee hours of the early morning, colored with stories and songs.
I grew up wanting sisters, and now I have 7, 6 from my husband and one from my brother! I literally pinch myself sometimes when I am surrounded by that love in Ireland, or in NJ, or in Texas, amazed at being a part of such inclusive and infusive love.
Don’t get me wrong. I would give anything to have my parents and my brother back. But in lieu of that, I consider myself one of the luckiest women on this planet because I now have a huge family of both Texan and Irish people, and they fill my heart with so much love there is little room left for too much sorrow.
And I have two anniversaries to celebrate and cherish every year lest I ever forget the many gifts I have been given alongside the great losses of my life.