My daughter first entered our parish church in my arms, to receive the sacrament of baptism. This August, again in a long white gown, she walked on the arm of her Dad to the sacrament of matrimony.
There had been sacraments in between. As she came down the aisle a bride, I saw momentarily a little girl in blue, hands piously joined, on her way to First Holy Communion. Such frequent flashbacks dog wedding preparations. Busy with myriad details and struggling to stave off bankruptcy by the wedding industry, parents experience sudden jolts of incredulity. Surely, this cannot be happening? How had time, often standing still, moved so swiftly to this place? Wasn’t it yesterday the big yellow school bus stopped at our driveway to pick up the small passenger?
In the front pew her brother and sister watched the bride make vows. Five years had passed since all three were under the same roof. There is something untidy about scattered lives after years of being together. Most parents seem to celebrate their children growing up and out; I am the pit bull of motherhood, hanging on to the last fragments of our family intact.
Intellectually, of course, I understand the inexorability of change. Emotionally, I am without protective calluses. Every departure after college holidays provoked my tears. I do not subscribe to the sentiment that I should rejoice in the absence of the people I love.
Aware of my apparently quirky point of view, the bride’s siblings doubted I would survive the Nuptial Mass. After all, I weep when the bride is no relation. They assumed I had stacked the deck against survival by requesting hymns likely to reduce me to rubble. My composure is generally endangered by beautiful music, acutely so in church, in the presence of an organist, trumpeter, and soprano. Contrary to fulfilling the pessimistic prophecy, however, I can report victory. I did come perilously close to dissolution hearing the familiar strains of “How Great Thou Art,” sung in loving memory of my Mom, whose favorite hymn it was. Weathering this, I floated through the always affecting “Panis Angelicus” on a single Kleenex.
In a decision that cheered my heart, the bride took flowers to the statue of St. Joseph just before the recessional. It must be genetic. In parochial school I became aware that St. Joseph was routinely ignored in religious celebrations in favor of the Blessed Virgin, a slight that inspired my devotion to him. So the bridegroom honored Mary, while the bride paused, and a long pause it was, at the pedestal of St. Joseph. I hope he will remember that tribute and grant her the happy death for which patronage he is known. But not yet.
The reception was held in our backyard, looking designed for the occasion. Her Dad and I had slaved for months over the lawns and shrubs and flowers with special zeal, liberally spraying Miracle Grow, the next best thing to water from Lourdes. Unaccountably, given my deficiencies, I gave birth to two Martha Stewarts; the bride’s artistic touches were everywhere.
An outside evening event in the cool, often windy bay area summer can be risky. But the bride’s night was warm and windless, certainly a gift from the Lord. Candles flickered; caterers catered; music filled the air. The bride chatted over wine with guests who first met her when her only beverage was milk. Friends from school days, now wives themselves, offered nostalgic anecdotes beginning, “Remember when?” to hoots of shared delight. I remember when they were in uniforms and braces.
The best thing about growing older is watching children mature. It is astonishing to recall that my 6’3” Air Force pilot son spent his first flight, at ten days old, sleeping on my tray table. I think of couples who decide to have no children and deplore their staggering mistake.
The wedding involved weeks of work, consuming hours of time. When the day finally dawned, an enormous clatter on the patio alerted me to the arrival of rented tables, chairs, glasses, and utensils. Initially just a mountainous stack, I rued the intrusion on a picture-perfect yard. But when all was carted away a few days later, the scene looked sadly vacant. I had an unexpected case of post-party blues.
In the life of our family, another major passage was over. The bride’s dress hung, discarded, from a closet door. Her room, so recently bustling with activity, was silent. Life’s normal rhythms resumed. But there were remains of the day. I found the beautiful bridal bouquet suspended upsidedown to dry, its owner’s attempt to preserve a tangible keepsake. Something special in her life had come and gone. I knew the feeling.
This article originally appeared in the November 1998 issue of Crisis Magazine.