Since we were married in Vancouver (in March 2003) we ended up having two receptions--three if you count the small family dinner at the hotel on our wedding night. The Texas reception was held at my house, now ours. Although it turned out to be a most bittersweet day, the experience is one of my most treasured memories.
One thing that made it fun was that it was very much a family affair. All the women in my family sat down at Christmas to plan the party, each promising to bring her trademark appetizers. We even designed the invitation together. My friend Verusha was going to make the cake, but she ended up going out of town that week. So guess who brought the cake? Okay, you'll never guess, so I'm going to tell you. It was Carla! Remember her?
Anyway, the food was perfect, and our house was overflowing with dear family and friends.
(A Friend from my Thursday Group)
It was fun showing off all the work Bill had done on the house, like laying tile, painting and hanging nicer baseboards, and replacing the wood under the banisters. I tried to listen to all the conversations swirling around me, but all I could catch was a few snippets. It didn't matter. The contented chatter and the laughter enveloped me like my favorite bathrobe.
But underneath all that was a layer of sadness that most of the guests probably missed. If you looked closely, you could see the glint of tears behind the smiles.
|Amy, Rick, Dad, Mom, Melody|
Just a couple of days before, we'd all gathered at Mom and Dad's to visit with my sister Amy, who'd flown in from Indiana. That was when we learned that my brother Rick had colon cancer and would need surgery and chemotherapy. He was only 43 years old, and he had two teenage children. Of course we all cried in those first moments of shock, but Rick's wife Diane admonished, "I don't want everyone crying over Rick. He needs us to be positive."
As we set everything up for the party that Saturday, she reminded us, "No crying today. We're here to celebrate Bill and Sarah's wedding."
She was right, of course, and I think we did pretty well following her advice. Still, there were moments when I'd exchange glances with Mom or one of my sisters, and a few wayward tears would escape despite our determined smiles.
By the end of the evening, after hours of talking and eating and opening presents--which produced a staggering number of remarkably unflattering photographs that I'm resisting the urge to post--we were utterly exhausted. After the last of the other guests left, the whole family stood in a circle in our living room and held hands.
|That's 5-Year-Old Ethan on the Front Row|
And we prayed for Rick, prayed like we'd never prayed before. I don't remember what we said, but I remember the love and strength that radiated through that circle. It was at that moment we realized just how much we loved each other. We'd always been close, but I guess we'd taken each other for granted up until then. It reminded me of a little refrigerator magnet that Bill's sister or mother had just given us:
Our family is a circle of strength and love. With each birth and every union the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love; every crisis faced makes the circle stronger.
Over the months that followed, we spent a lot more time together while Rick battled the cancer. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him, but he weathered it resolutely. I respected him so much! And I grew to love my sister-in-law more than ever. She was fiercely protective of him. She looked out for him in the hospital, making sure he received the highest level of care. She stayed by his side every day, yet still managed to keep their family going in his absence. And she always reminded us to stay strong and stay positive for him.
It's been eight years now, and Rick is healthy. At a follow-up a year or so back, his oncologist gave him the news we'd been waiting for: "You can tell your family to stop worrying now." And I think we have. But our family will never be the same.
I probably wouldn't have chosen to mark the beginning of our marriage with such sorrow, but now I realize what a fitting start it was. As a new bride, my head was full of romance and passion, but from Diane I learned that there is so much more to marriage. I pray I can be just as strong a wife and mother whenever my family needs me.