On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.

https://guestdailyposts.wordpress.com/guest-pingbacks/

Kinship

Through marriage, I now have a large Irish family.

This is a continually astonishing gift. I come from a comparatively small family which, as I wrote about in my former post “On Weddings,” has become even smaller over the thirteen years I have been with my boyfriend-turned-husband through a series of losses. It is now just my oldest brother and his wife and two kids, my three aunts, an uncle, four cousins and their spouses, four cousins once removed (my cousin’s kids,) and a few of my father’s cousins, and their kids-that-are-sort-of-like-cousins.

My Irish family is comprised of 8 siblings-in-law: 6 sisters-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law. I always wished for a sister. Now I have 6! Actually, I have even more than that, because the two brothers have wives, so that’s 8 Irish sisters-in-law (in addition to the incredible woman married to my brother.)

These women, my husband’s sisters and sisters-in-law, welcomed me into the family with such love and warmth. As did his brothers. And their 23 children! Yes, that’s right. There are 23 nieces and nephews. Add to that the children those nieces and nephews are now having. I think at this writing there are 17 grandnieces and nephews, and…wait for it…2 great-grandnieces! (We go over at least once a year for weddings!)

And that is just the immediate family. My husband and his siblings all have cousins who have spouses and they have children, and those children have children.)

I love my Irish family. I come from the midwest, from people who were of Protestant stock. My people are stoic, hold-your-cards-to-your-chest people. We get together in small batches of time. There is love, of course. But it’s, well, a bit more subdued. There’s not a lot of hugging. Storytelling and laughter, yes. Just in short spurts.

My Irish family? These people truly love being together. They gather for epic periods of time!

And any time they gather, it is certain that there will be the “sing-song” and “a bit of craic.” (Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, by the way. Pronounced like “crack.”)

This entails each person taking attention to perform a song, or play an instrument (there’s alway one around it seems, spoons if nothing else.) Or recite a poem, in what they call recitations.

This reverence for the spoken or sung word goes way back in the Irish culture. It is truly important and meaningful part of their life. And the love of song! The stories told through song are passed from generation to generation. It seems a rite of passage for one of the “young ones” to start singing or reciting a “piece” that then becomes known as their “party piece.”

At first, these sessions (and they truly are sessions — they often last 10 or so hours, literally into the early morning) were totally overwhelming to me. In so many good ways. I was literally mesmerized by the love and the effusiveness. The laughter! My face and sides would ache.

Of course, I was asked to join in from my first trip there. You would think that as a singer and performer that it would come naturally to just jump in. But I was hesitant at first. What they do is different than get up and sing a song. They sing songs well known to the Irish people, and to their family in particular, and people join in and sing along with each others’ songs. And there is some drinking going on, too, which adds to the joviality of it all. They are usually singing a cappella, or without instrumentation. I mainly know American pop songs and show tunes and am used to singing crafted arrangements with piano accompaniment! I wasn’t sure how to fit what I do in with what I was seeing and experiencing.

When I finally did give in and join in, I was well-received for what I had to offer, and so now I have my own party pieces to do. I also think ahead for songs to do that everyone may know so they can join in. (It feels OK to sing one song that only I know – more of a performance – but it feels weird to me to do more than that.) It is more fun to have everyone singing along. I have taught a round to the group that they love to do (as loudly as possible!)

I have had to develop new muscles for the trips to Ireland for the weddings that bring us back each year. Not only stamina for the epic hours spent together into the wee hours of the morning, which can be additionally challenging while adjusting to the time change. But for the sheer volume of human interaction that occurs.

Being a mostly introvert person, I do love people, but I also need refill-the-well time. I love going deep in conversation; not so much the small talk. I have found my own way while over there. Fortunately, I can just sit and listen a lot. I can take little power naps if need be. No one judges. Being “the American” buys me some wiggle room: I am given some leeway.

But mainly, I just love every moment. I bask in the love and the music. I do my party piece and enjoy their appreciation of what I have to offer.

I am blessed with this extended Irish family. It has been the gift that keeps on giving, this marriage to my husband. I am surrounded by love that helps keep me from getting too blue over the key family members who are no longer here.

And I get to study with true masters the art of storytelling through song and spoken word. It just doesn’t get better than that!

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Post: recite

On Marriage as a Collaborative Art*

Sometimes I really want to be single again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the man I married.

The Universe brought a man into my life who is almost perfectly designed for me in so many ways. He makes me think: really think. I love talking to him. He challenges me intellectually and emotionally. We both share certain childhood wounds that allow us to have a kind of understanding of the other that is quite exquisite and profound. We “get” each other in a way not many could or would. There is a shared language of our hearts. And there is that physical chemistry as well, that makes for deep passion and sweetness.

But I never planned to marry. To be frank, I always thought I was too f’ed up and so had written it off in my early adulthood.

Then I met the man who was to become my husband. For the first time, I had thoughts that maybe marriage was for me, after all. But I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

And then, circumstances in my life created some shifts in priority (aka: My own personal Armageddon. My mother and brother died and my whole world exploded.)

And when the smoke cleared, and I was finding my way again through the rubble that was the New World of my life, I found that something in me had shifted.

So when the man-who-would-be-husband made the proposal, I said yes, unequivocally.

But let’s just say that my expectations of what marriage would be were practically non-existent.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. I took to marriage quite well. It astounded me (and still does at times.) It is a mysterious and wondrous thing: creating a home together, a partnership. The closeness. The sharing. The laughter. The tenderness. The challenges. The compromises. The deepening sweetness.

I am also deeply grateful that I have a partner for this part of my life. I have many friends who long for a boyfriend, a husband, a wife. I promise you that I rarely take for granted the incredible gift of this person, this marriage we co-create.

Being an actress, I tend to relate all things back to acting. So for me, marriage is a bit like being in a production of a play you love and care deeply about. You gladly revolve everything around it. You embrace that you are in a collaborative art.

Sacrifices are made willingly for the greater good of the whole. You are willing to live through the hard parts of the process because you know it is all a part of the creation you are making together. You trust in the process. You are diving into the unknown. You expect to feel lost at times because it is in the getting lost that you find something new, together.

You bring your best, he brings his best, and, together, you create something greater than the two of you.

But unlike a production that has a time of completion, a day when you all agree to move on to the next project, marriage is a continuing production. It is an open-ended run.

Those peaks and valleys that are a natural part of it…the moments of feeling lost in the unknown…well, to be honest, there are days when I want to say, “Screw it” and just literally up and leave it all.

Part of the problem is that the Universe was really having a field day when our stars were designed to cross paths. One of the most important qualities that I need and want to have in my life, freedom, just happens to directly rub up against one of the most important qualities that he wants and needs to have in his life. Makes for some critical moments of decision for one or the other of us. And some heated conflicts (aka awful fights.)

I grew up in a household where the father was autocrat. Our world revolved around his needs, opinions and moods. He was a big ‘n tall Texas man with a booming voice. He was intelligent in many ways, but as was true of many of his generation, less so in terms of emotional intelligence.

There was a show on TV in the 70’s, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” a cartoon. The opening theme was a song by the same name, and the visual was of a family anxiously awaiting the father’s return home.

That kind of sums up my experience of our house. But on the TV show, Father was a softie.

Not so in my house. I was always waiting to see whether or not my Dad was mad. He had a mean temper, and a cruel tongue. And he used his physical presence to instill fear in those weaker than he. I guess that means he was pretty much a bully.

Which has always made me wonder what in the hell had happened to him to make him capable of that kind of behavior towards his family: the people he most loved in his life. I will never know. All those who could fill in those blanks are gone now.

I don’t believe it was his essence to be that mean. He learned it somewhere. As is true of many perfectionistic personalities, he was hardest on himself. I’m not making excuses for him. He could be a bastard, and it was not a healthy atmosphere to grow up in, being afraid all the time, walking on eggshells. But I know there is more to the story than just my experience of him.

Having grown up in such an oppressive atmosphere, it is a very high priority for me that for the rest of my life on this planet I not live like that: that I not live on pins and needles, carefully holding my breath around my loved ones, afraid to make a mistake for fear of being shamed and made to feel like I am less than nothing.

Which leads me to value freedom of every kind. Freedom of expression. Freedom to do what I want to when I want to. And that is wonderful, and I honor that about myself. I do.

But. I am in a partnership. And that requires restraint and compromise and taking in another person’s needs and wants and values alongside my own. Sometimes, yes, putting theirs ahead of mine. (No, not in the old-fashioned template of the wife putting her husband’s needs first. But in the way that mature love requires.)

It means being a grown-up. Making The Couple an entity that has a value that is greater than the individual parts that comprise it. Being a kind of parent to The Couple.

Some days, this is easy, cause, well, it’s beautiful. (Remember this song? Well before Mariah’s high notes, there was Minnie…)

Other days, if I am especially tired or spiritually drained, or triggered, to consider compromise can feel like I am on the brink of losing everything that really matters to me. Those old wounds have a deep pull. They cry for me to fight for My Life. Run for the hills. Defend my Precious Freedom. (On no, he didn’t!)

I take a deep breath. Give myself a Time Out. (No, I don’t stand myself in the corner. But I do leave the room, sometimes even the apartment, to go get some air, some space, some present-day perspective.) Remove myself from the situation before I go all Beyoncé on his ass and say things I will later regret. (I am from H-town, after all.)

I go off and soothe that part of my heart: that little girl’s longings for a relaxed home and freedom of spirit and unconditional love. I am the only one who can give that to her now.

I parent my self first, attend to the wound. Then I can bring the Whole Mess that I Am back to the production that is Our Marriage. I am ready and able again to consider his needs, the marriage, Our Couple.

Being a flawed human, I am not always successful at this. When I am unsuccessful (aka I act out,) I take responsibility when need be and work to change my behavior, aka Make Amends. That is parenting too. And when he is ready to forgive me, then there we are.

Ready to make art again. Together.

#marriageasacollaborativeart

 

* Full disclosure: I really needed The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt of “partner” today. Things have been very stressed in my relationship lately. Between our impending new home purchase (and all that brings up and entails) and my “summer of deep change,” we are having growing pains.

So though I wrote this post lsat year, I really needed to re-read it and be reminded of it today.

And though I didn’t think I would ever re-post a post, here I am. My own heart needed to.

 

 

Lasting Impressions

Relieved to find you gone

I relish the space you’ve left

I wander around, plumping out indents your body left behind

Quiet echoes through the house

Bouncing off the boulders of residual angerhurt, weighting the air

And defensive arguments play at high volume on a loop in my head

Maybe someday I will breathe deeply again

And I will hear what my own heart has to say

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: relieved

The Total Package

Give me a man who isn’t fussy about his hair more than I am

Who loves baseball (but will only watch it on TV with the sound turned down)

Compliments my ass

And artfully dodges engagement when I press whether or not something looks good on me

Loves my cat as much as I do

Appreciates anything I cook for him

Takes care of his health without me having to ask

Loves the way I process things out loud

And how often I change my mind

Can listen and be empathetic when I complain

Doesn’t judge when I get depressed

Is turned on by a mere glimpse of me naked

Will hold me when I cry

And let me go when I need space

I just described you, my love

So glad I had the good sense to marry you.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: total

On Being “Childless”

via Daily Prompt: Ruminate

There are things that I ruminate on, like the way my tongue cannot keep itself off of the sharp, spiky tip of my left incisor.

One of those things that I touch on again and again despite its spiky sharpness is the subject of being childless. It is uncomfortable terrain, but I go there again and again anyway.

I hate that term, “childless.” As if by not having a child, you are less somehow, than those who have had them.

Some people prefer “childfree.” That doesn’t quite feel right to me, as if children are something that I wanted to avoid for health reasons, like gluten, or sugar.

I love children. I think they are the greatest people on the planet. I have many children in my life.

But no, I am not a mother.

And boy, is that complicated. For me, and for most people in the world, it seems. So I must, in sensitivity to other people who do not have children and have their own personal relationship to this issue, offer a disclaimer.

I, in no way, speak for other people who do not have children. There are many reasons why people do not have children, are not parents, do not give birth. I cannot speak for anyone but myself. And I cannot know what anyone else’s feelings and experiences around this issue are, and would never attempt to represent them.

I am also not writing here about all the experiences I have had over the years around this issue and my decisions. I am not trying to explain or defend in any way my choices. (I actually am not even going into the reasons for my choices.)

I am writing about what still can get to me around the whole “childless” thing.

It is a continually odd experience to be in the world as a person over a certain age, married, and not to have had a child or children.

I have come to terms with my choices to the best of my ability. I stand by them. They are mine, and they make absolute perfect logic for my unique-to-me life.

Usually, I do not feel less than around this given, this fact that I have not had/do not have children. I do not feel odd. Being the one living my life, my choices are perfectly normal to me.

Yet. There are those moments, when people ask me, “Do you have children?” when I admit that sometimes I doubt myself. That self-doubt can be devastating, for it is as if I turn on my self without meaning to because of my own social conditioning. Let me explain.

Someone I am just meeting or have been getting to know asks me if I have any children. I calmly say “No.”

Well, today I calmly say “No.” There was a time when I would be so uncomfortable leaving it there out of such fear of what they might say, that I’d make an attempt to avoid it by sort of explaining without explaining (as if I owed anyone an explanation!)

“No, no kids. Just didn’t…um…nope.”

(I learned in time that that seemingly small abandonment of my self to avoid the discomfort of answering the question carried way too high a price. That it actually chipped away at my soul. I learned that tolerating the discomfort that followed my simple “No” was a far better choice.)

Back to the story. To recap: they ask “Do you have children?” I say, simply, “No.”

Then it happens.

You see, there is always a small pause before they say something polite, like “Oh.”

In that pause, I can hear the wheels of their mind turning. I know that they are quickly scanning for possible reasons for my lack of children and that they then jump to conclusions and judgements about this fact, this given.

In that pause, a part of me suffers a little as I sense one of three experiences they are having around this information they’ve just been given.

In scenario one, it is as if they are considering I may be/have been barren (what a horrific word) as in there may be a biologic reason for not having had children. I can often detect a hint of pity and sometimes even shame on my behalf. If there was a thought bubble above their head it might read, “Oh, poor thing. She was defective in some way and could not conceive.” “Oh,” they say, in a somewhat reverent tone.

Ahhhh. Message received. So I am less than a woman – a normal woman, a woman who’s able to bear a child – a mother. I am not that. I am somehow not able to be THAT, to be a whole woman. I am lacking. I am deficient. I am tragic.

Scenario two. I sense in that pause that they jump to the conclusion that I chose my career first, because why else would a perfectly healthy, “normal” woman not have had a child? The bubble might read, “Oh. You were too busy putting yourself first to have a child. Hmmph. Yep. Selfish.”

Ahhhh. So they think I am self-absorbed because I did not procreate as expected. I did not do my part in populating the world, in completing God’s will for me as a woman. I am hard, selfish, self-absorbed, self-involved. Perhaps it is better than I did not procreate since clearly I am missing the mother gene. Tragedy averted – perhaps I am not fit to have been a mother, since I clearly lack the generosity and the ability to put someone else first ahead of my ambitions.

In that glance after the voiced “Oh,” I sense a subtle aggressive relief. They are glad that they have put this together and can “place” me in their minds. Now I make sense. I am one of those career women. Hmmph. They can relax again, calmly feeling their own subtle superiority over me. Again, I am somehow deficient. Some genetic aberration made me not want kids enough or at all. Again, I am not a real woman. I am someone to perhaps forgive for her unwomanly ambitions, like a quirky aunt or an eccentric character.

Scenario three is the worst of them.

In those instances, they say, “Oh,” with a quiet tenseness, a slight narrowing of the eyes as they size me up. In their “Oh” is the sneaking suspicion that there is just something wrong with me, not biologically, but morally, ethically, mentally. That I am some sort of deviant.

The bubble reads simply in those times “Oh.” And I literally feel them slightly withdraw physically from me, as if what I have may be catching. I am categorized as a kind of leper, a social misfit. I am not to be fully trusted as I must be off in some way that is perhaps even dangerous because these people cannot fathom my “otherness” without finding it wrong on some level.

I have experienced all of the above multiple times on my own, and as part of a couple, in the world. Nothing is ever spoken aloud. But the messages are there, nonetheless. And they are affecting.

I find it interesting that it is rare that anyone goes beyond the initial question – pause  and “Oh” response to actually ask me or me and my husband “Why not?”

To me, that is proof of the social stigma placed on people who choose, for whatever reason, not have children.

In that lack of further questioning – that invisible social moat that is suddenly drawn separating them and me/us – there seems to be an unspoken agreement that this subject is something to be skirted. Further questions are to be avoided. Suddenly, my/our privacy is to be respected, as if I/we have a chronic condition.

It’s as if it’s just been discovered that I/we had recently lost a loved one and it would not be polite to ask how. It is something for people in my/our lives to query behind closed doors but never directly to me/us.

Worse than my own self-betrayal that can happen in the moments of these interactions, is the fact that I am guilty of this stigmatization against myself and others, sometimes even simultaneously as I am a victim of that same stigmatization.

In my own mind when I meet people who have not had children, I find myself making the same search for reasons to explain their status, the same judgements and conclusions to be able to categorize them in my mind.

I am guilty of judging my own relatives who fall into this category in the same ways that I have felt judged. How disturbing is that?! I find myself thinking of them what I hate feeling others think of me.

I hate this most of all.

But I know that this is a result of deep, almost cellular, societal encoding that I, like all of us, have been surrounded by and immersed in since birth. These aren’t conclusions that I have come to, they have been absorbed by me from others and nurtured via cultural messaging on every level. So through no fault of my own, I am pre-disposed to a bias, even against my own self.

And I have come to understand that those who respond to me the way they do have also been born into those same pre-dispositions.

When I wanted to select a graphic to include in this blog, I could not find one. All that I could find were either pictures of couples or singular women looking down as if sad and shamed being without children. Or oddly aggressive attempts at someone’s idea of humorous art: an image of a child in a red circle with a line drawn through it. Or that yellow yield sign for car windows that says “Baby on Board” re-drawn to read “Baby Not on Board (so you can destroy my car!)” A very sad-looking empty nest. “Child-free by choice!”

None of these images reflect my truth. I cannot find popular culture that reflects my story. I don’t fit any stereotype. There is no club to join.

And so I ruminate. I soul search. I practice forgiveness of my self and of others for our lack of expansive vision.

And often I am able to see the Truth that is beyond the narrow expectations of the social norms that so shape the world. I can see who I am and know that I make sense and that there is nothing lacking in me, no aberrant gene or deviant peculiar twist in my making.

The truth is that I love my life and have no regrets. I mother other peoples’ children as an aunt and as a friend. And I mother the world as best I can.

The question, the “Oh,” and its aftermath gets easier and easier as I get clearer and clearer.

I am whole and healthy and as normal as anyone, but I am not the norm. That is all.

#onnotbeingamother #wholeandhealthy

In response to Daily Prompt: Ruminate

 

 

 

 

On Weddings

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.

IMG_0538.JPG

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.

#irishweddingsarethebest #loveatthecenterofitall