I felt my tension evaporate. “People don’t understand how bittersweet this is for us,” I said. “I’ve been thinking that my lack of excitement has something to do with the fact that when you and I say ‘I do’ to each other, we’re essentially saying another good-bye to Joe and Leslie.”
Bob nodded. “Yes, that makes sense.”
On a chilly January day, our 16 guests assembled at dusk in a cozy spot in my father’s neighborhood. Becky and I arrived last, our friends having insisted that a bride needs to make an entrance. As Becky and I approached, hand in hand, I felt tears begin to well. “You have to stop thinking about Daddy,” Becky said. I smiled my agreement, though I couldn’t have said what I was thinking or feeling at that moment.
At the makeshift altar, I handed Becky my bouquet, turned to face Bob—and burst into tears. “Would you like a moment?” Bex asked. “Yes,” I said hoarsely, swiping at my face. Reaching for Bob’s hands, I felt myself steady. Bex, who opened with a few witty observations, soon had me laughing. “You didn’t even want to call this a wedding,” she said. “And so: Welcome to your ceremony, which will bind you legally in the eyes of the law, even though we all know that you’ve been in love for years.” As she segued into the remarks I’d written, Bob’s eyes filled with tears.
“What you both wanted for your ceremony was to stand here with the three people who hold your hearts in their hands: Becky, Adam and me,” Bex said. “You each feel that you have not arrived unescorted at this altar. Over here, Dad feels Mom hovering by his side, beaming her incredible smile over the proceedings. Over here, Jill feels Joe hovering by her side, offering a wink of approval. Both of you know, as does everyone in this room, that the two of you would not be here today were it not for the loss of your respective mates, who for decades blessed your life, your home and your children with their vitality and joy...And it is precisely because of that vitality and joy that you are here today. Experience convinced each of you that life is sweeter when shared.”
As Bex prepared to ask the age-old questions that, she noted, each of us approached “not giddily, not naively, but with hard-earned wisdom and depth of experience,” I squeezed Bob’s fingers. Did Bob take Jill? Did Jill take Bob? We did. And when we kissed? I felt only the joy of my love for my new husband.
In the days to come, as people referred to us as the newlyweds, I gained a new understanding of my tears—and Bob’s, too, I suspect. To intimates and strangers alike, I was no longer Joe’s widow. Bob was no longer Leslie’s widower. We were now husband and wife. But for Bob and me, it will never be that simple. Leslie and Joe are a part of who we are, both individually and as a couple. We will continue to love, honor and cherish them, long after death did us part.
JILL SMOLOWE’s new book, Four Funerals and a Wedding, looks at resilience in a time of grief.
Next: The Ex Files
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