On Tuesday D and I celebrated our first month of marriage, which isn’t a significant milestone to many but to me it was important and needed to be acknowledged. Having spent the last 10 and a half years of our lives together, it was safe to say that we knew each other fairly well going into this thing and I thought that marriage would simply be a continuation of our decade long partnership. In many ways it was but there were also subtle changes that occurred and taking a moment to reflect on that was something I needed to do.
Back in June, when family, friends and coworkers found out about our secret ceremony they reacted with messages of love and support. Many asked if our relationship felt different and inquired as to whether or not I would be changing my last name (I’m not). Initially I responded by saying that things felt more or less the same but as time went on, and the more I thought about it, I realized that something had shifted, however remotely. There were small changes such as remembering to wear my wedding band in the morning and introducing D as my husband rather than partner or boyfriend (a term which seems to carry more significance, particularly in the company of strangers) and taken together these minor alterations transformed my feeling and understanding of our relationship: I feel more connected and stronger as a unit.
Now I think I understand why my dad wanted us to get married. But just as I’ve come to this realization, I’ve also come to recognize that my dad, whether intentional or not, has become a major player in my wedding story, and it’s impossible to move forward without looking backward. It’s taken me a month to mull over my feelings and I honestly think I still have a long way to go but I may finally be ready to talk about my wedding, one of the most bittersweet moments in my life.
As I’ve mentioned before, D and I have been together for a long time and were content to continue our common-law situation, giving little thought to getting married; that is until we found out my dad was sick. Those days in April will forever be a blur in my mind. Days were indistinguishable from one another, bleeding from one to the next but I do remember a few moments with exacting precision.
On Friday April 10th around 10pm my mom called to tell me dad wasn’t feeling well and had come down with a fever so she was taking him to the hospital. They suspected it was something to do with his gall stones and weren’t particularly concerned. The next day I called to follow up and schedule a visit but my mom said they hadn’t been assigned a room yet and it would be difficult to locate them in the hospital so we stayed in touch over the phone, speaking to one frequently. The following Monday on April 13th at around 1pm I got a call from my mom with news that doctors had found a mass and confirmed it to be cancer scheduling my dad for surgery the next day. With this news, my entire family came home and the next day was spent waiting for our cue from the doctors and medical staff that my dad would be receiving his operation. That cue never came due to a series of unfortunate events, which caused my dad to get bumped. Finally on Wednesday April 15th around 3pm we got confirmation that my dad would be heading into surgery later that day and so we rallied around him, waiting. That wait seemed to go on forever. Shortly after 8:30 pm that evening the surgeon came out and delivered the worst news imaginable: my dad’s cancer had metastasized and the prognosis was very, very bad. This is where the accuracy ends and moments begin to blur.
Following the news from my dad’s surgeon, all I remember is crying, and lots of it. I remember painted murals in the hallway of the surgery ward but I don’t recall what they were supposed to represent. I remember my heart feeling crushed and everything feeling like it had been turned upside down. I remember the hug D gave me that seemed to pull me back from the darkness. It was somewhere between all of this that I turned to D and asked him to marry me (I think I also wiped my nose on his shirt at some point too). He didn’t say anything and only continued to hug me. We went home that night and I don’t remember talking about anything, only getting into my pyjamas and crying all over Charlotte, who kindly obliged by snuggling in close and licking the tears from my face. Thursday came and went with all the focus rightly being on my dad, and by the time I got home I didn’t have the energy to talk. Then on Friday D called around lunch to ask what size my fingers were, and I had no idea, so I sent a photo of my claw like hand to him (which I’ve been told is the worst and most useless photo known to man) in hopes that it would be of assistance. At this point the jig was up and I knew what was happening but still when the proposal actually happened later that evening, my heart swelled and I felt overjoyed in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
When I went to the hospital the next day and showed my dad the ring he went silent, blinked hard, and told me that he was happy I had found such a good man to walk by my side. Then, ever the pragmatist, he asked me not to wear my ring to the hospital since it was too big for my finger and he was afraid I would lose it. As always, I listened to my dad.
For the next nine days of his hospital stay, my dad and I spent a few hours each day planning my wedding from my phone (my bill for that month was sky-high to say the least) and due to our extreme focus, in that time I had managed to secure a beautiful venue, find the photographer of my dreams, line-up an officiant, schedule an amazing florist, and buy the perfect dress. Our date was set for May 31st and my dad told anyone and every one that would listen that he was giving me away in a month’s time. We even had our father-daughter dance planned, our song picked out and the choreography arranged in his mind. All we needed was time.
That time never came and he passed away on May 6th at 11:55pm.
My vendors were incredibly gracious, first having augmented their schedules to fit my tight timelines and then once again when I told them my wedding was on hold. There were no questions asked, only sympathy, support, and kindness. Paperwork was taken care of and refunds were offered. Everything was resolved except for the issue of the marriage license, which I learned needs to be signed within three months of its issuance. If it had only been a matter of cost I would have forgotten it, filed it away as something to deal with later but I couldn’t because it meant more to me than that. The day before my dad died, I had gone to city hall and gotten the license, showing it to him before he returned to the hospital, promising that the license would be signed and that he would have his son-in-law. He was weak at this point but gave me the widest smile he could muster, and squeezed my hand tight. In that moment I knew he was happy and so was I. To me, to D, and to the memory of my dad, the certificate was much more than a piece of paper or bureaucracy, it was a promise to be kept, which is why we forged ahead with our wedding in spite of our very heavy hearts.
We knew that after my dad’s death it was always going to be a shit time. Knowing how close we were to having the wedding I had envisioned made coordinating a new event even more difficult because each decision was a reminder of what could have been. There wouldn’t be a day that felt right to get married, at least not in the immediate future but we wanted to honour the promise we had made, so we began planning again in earnest. I made the decision from the outset that our ceremony would only include the closest people in our lives and that it would be a simple affair – nothing more than what was necessary. Before any decisions could be made we had to choose the date, which came to us easily: June 21st, Father’s Day. It was a risky decision because it was going to be an emotional day regardless, and planning it around such a momentous event seemed like stacking the cards against ourselves but for some reason it felt right. The other details came together fairly easily – the guest list, my dress and jewelry, flowers, and restaurant – were arranged quickly and I’m glad with how every thing turned out.
One day, shortly before our wedding, my mom mentioned that she had been looking at the lunar calendar and noticed something of interest. I wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at, figuring it was something superstitious but nothing of particular consequence. However, what my mom told me did surprise me: June 21st on the Gregorian calendar was May 6th on the Lunar calendar. Our ceremony was scheduled for 1pm on that day and we realized that my dad was still alive and in relatively good spirits during this time on May 6th. Some how, in the midst of all this turmoil, it felt like the universe had given me a little peace – dad was coming to my wedding, if not in person than in spirit. I know it sounds crazy and deluded, like something I’ve manufactured to help me cope. Perhaps it is but even so I’m fine with that. The date might seem to be a coincidence and not seem like much to other people, others may choose to interpret it differently but to me it felt like a good omen, and a sign that we were supposed to be married that day.
June 21st came and went and overall I recall much fondness and love whenever I think of that day. There were moments that I wish could have been different, that were much more difficult than I anticipated but still, I feel everything went the way it was supposed to have gone. The weather even held out despite the nasty forecast of torrential rain, thunder and lightning. It was a day I will remember with joy and it is this feeling that I hope to carry forward when D and I recommit ourselves to one another next year.
After our wedding this year we had debated whether a second ceremony was necessary and ultimately decided that it was. There were our incredible vendors, all of whom demonstrated courtesy, kindness, and grace beyond measure that we wanted to work with. There were people that we wanted to have by our side, that have supported and loved us for so long, who we wanted to share our day with. There were rituals and plans I had dreamed up with my dad that I want to see fulfilled, if not with him then my mom, someone I hold equally responsible for my happiness and success. There were so many reasons to celebrate the good things we have in our lives, and it was love and hope and joy that informed our decision making, which is why I find myself, a married woman planning my wedding once again.
I had been debating whether or not I should share this story, understanding that writing this post was much more to my own benefit than it was to other people’s interest and while ruminating this choice the phrase, “I open at the close,” borrowed from my favourite series, Harry Potter, came to mind. Just as May 6th represented a day of death and finality, it also eventually came to be a day of hope and possibility, which confirmed to me that in order to move forward, I must first look backward.