Last weekend, I traveled to Southern California for my best friend’s wedding. It was both my first wedding without Tim, and the most I’ve danced in my entire life.
I’d be lying if I said I was quivering with excitement for this event. Logistically, I’ve been running around like a crazy person all month. The day I got back from North Carolina I had my estate court date, and two days after that I got up at 3:45am central to start heading to California.
Emotionally, I didn’t know I would feel. I knew that my goal was to make sure I shoved my feelings in a box and closed them, because this weekend wasn’t about me. Plus, I had read some widow blogs online that talked about going to weddings and having to leave mid-ceremony because they couldn’t handle it. Even to grief me, that sounded nuts. I shrugged it off. I’m tough. I can handle most things. I was not going to ruin my friend’s wedding by being an emotional basketcase.
Plus I’m an ugly crier with a nose that turns Rudolph red. This is an important detail to warn others about the photos that will inevitably surface of me on Facebook, because I burst into tears 5 seconds after trying to pose for a picture with the bride before she even came close to walking down the aisle. Those tears had nothing to do with being a widow, though. They were because I am a big emotional mush these days, and the bride is one of dearest people in the world to me.
Also I may or may not have been relieved that after many email chains and texts, she had decided on a bridal cardigan.
During the ceremony, I held it together extremely well up to a point. I did a lot of what I consider “artful crying” where I dab my bleary eyes before actual tear drops start. Glossy eyes are one of my best accessories lately. They’re all the rage.
Then the groom started his vows, which included a quote about love outlasting death. He concluded with something like, “I vow to love you for the rest of my life and after” and I pretty much lost it. Someone who knew my situation was sitting next to me, and squeezed my shoulder. I had to cover my face with a tissue at one point, and started chanting in my head “PONIES AND PUPPIES PONIES AND PUPPIES” so I could pull myself together. It worked, and I composed myself before I fell out of my chair in a fetal position going “Whyyyyyyyyyy?”
Walking back to the reception, people around me were chattering about how amazing the officiant was and how beautiful my friend looked. I stayed mostly quiet, and looked down at the ground as I walked. Right next to the paved road in this rocky patch of dirt, I saw a single sunflower blooming through the ground. It was the large kind you find in flower stores, not the wildflower variety, and the same kind we had for Tim’s memorial. The bloom was as big as the palm of my hand and still covered with green leaves as it waited to burst open.
Despite the drought, the road, the footpath and the rocks this thing reached skywards, beyond logic. I’m not someone who tends to explain the world with a blind faith, but I felt like Tim was fighting through space to be there.
After I shoved my face with BBQ and began to work my way through my (first) bottle of wine, the bride and groom went out for their first dance. They choose a sweet Ben Folds song, “The Luckiest” which has been one of my favorites since college. At first I just stood a few rows back behind everyone watching them dance, humming along to my new version “I am, I am, I am the (Un)Luckiest.”
Then as the final chorus began, the one about an old couple dying days apart from one another, all the other couples attending the wedding joined the bride and groom on the dance floor to finish the song. I had to walk away. All those feelings I’d been shoving down were boiling, and they needed an ugly cry to get everyone to behave again.
So I walked around and had my cry, and then I touched up my eye makeup. I put powder on my Rudolph nose, and I went back out to the dance floor which by now had thankfully changed to Ke$he. No one can cry while listening to Ke$he. No one.
Weddings are a celebration of love, and love is something that is unchanged by physics or biology. I didn’t have my husband to dance with that night, although let’s be honest – he was never a dancer so it’s more like I didn’t have my husband to stand next to me and watch other people dance that night. Even as I felt the intense longing for him, there was still love to celebrate. There’s the love of friends and family, people I have known before and people I will meet in the future. I danced for all of that love.
I also danced because I drank so, so very much.
During the wedding ceremony, the couple passed around their wedding rings and asked the audience to warm them in their hands and say a prayer or wish on them. I squeezed the rings in my left hand, and wished my friend would never have to feel how I felt that afternoon, sitting alone without my husband by my side.
The thing is, if you marry someone and stay committed to those vows, everyone will feel what I feel at some point. If you don’t, it’s because you never had a great love. Love doesn’t listen to physics and biology, but our bodies do. Your loved one will not always be with you, no matter who they are or how young or old you may be. This pain is coming – for everyone.
When I walked around the perimeter of their wedding crying during the first dance, I wasn’t bothered by being so sad. The grief, though painful, was like a wash flowing over me that said “You loved and were loved, and there is nothing more important.”
So I amend the wish I put on my friend’s wedding band. I hope she does feel like this one day, and I hope she does learn the meaning of ’till death do us part.’ But I hope these things happen when she is much, much older. I hope they are like the couple in the song they first danced to as man and wife.