One of my favorite posts of all time is from longtime reader Lauren on the subject of choice. She talks about choosing a path and about allowing ourselves to mourn the paths we don’t take, even if they were never something we really wanted. Today, I think Erin Thompson elaborates on these ideas beautifully. Not by exploring choice, but by exploring what happens when our choices are made for us. (Warning: this one might require tissues.)
When I was little, the only real attention I gave to my future wedding was a lot of analysis of the problem of how to get down the aisle. Not that I thought that I would have cold feet or trip on my heels. The problem was my dad—specifically, his gigantic, powerful, electric wheelchair.
My dad became a quadriplegic when I was eighteen months old after a freak accident partially severed his spinal cord. He maneuvered his wheelchair with a joystick he controlled with some residual power of movement in his arm, but his level of precision was unreliable. He tended to speed up and slow down unpredictably, making walking beside him difficult, and small muscle spasms or bumps in the road would cause him to veer off course. The walls in our home—and occasionally, my toes or shins—bore the marks of these minor mishaps.
So, no puffy dresses for me. I considered those far too vulnerable to being run over or even tangled in his wheels, imagining my train slowly ripping off as he rolled me down the aisle. I frequently considered the possibility of riding down the aisle on his lap, which seemed like a good idea to the eight-year-old me. Ditto on nixing a long veil, since he couldn’t lift it over my head before he handed me off to the groom. And instead of dreaming about something borrowed and something blue, I plotted where to stash a handkerchief. He was an unabashed sentimental crier who couldn’t wipe his own eyes, so I was probably going to have to do it midway through the journey so he could see to steer.
This type of advance planning is characteristic of children of the handicapped. Even today, I’m usually the one walking slightly ahead of a group of friends, a possibly annoying quality I like to attribute to my childhood years of skipping ahead on mini scouting expeditions, reporting back on conditions such as whether the street corner ahead had accessible curb cuts or if we would have to find another way to go.
The one scenario I never considered in all those years of logistical daydreaming was the one that will actually take place on my wedding day. There will be no worrying about wheelchair axle grease on my dress, or him stranded in the middle of the church thanks to a dead battery. This is because he wouldn’t be there are all. He died when I was twenty-two.
So, when I get married, now I can wear a puffy dress. I can have a veil (and my mother to lift it for me). I’ll definitely still need a handkerchief stashed somewhere handy, since it turns out that weddings are one of the times when I miss him the most, and the most sharply, even though he’s been gone for over eight years. Sorry, friend in whose wedding album I appear in the background, crying hysterically during the father-daughter dance (after being blindsided by those emotions at that wedding, I now sneak off to the bathroom when the time comes). Sorry, friend whose complaints about how cheesy her father’s speech at the reception would be that I shot down with the comment that she should be grateful that she has a father to give a speech at all (especially sorry because, in truth, that speech really was quite cheesy).
I’m not sorry that I’ve had all of these experiences. He was a great dad and a great role model both for how to have a good life and a good death. Plus, I am now fantastic at planning routes for strollers, moving dollies, and wheelie luggage. And, best of all in a deeply bittersweet way, I could say “Hey, me too!” when my boyfriend revealed that his mother had died when he was a toddler. This was on our first date, by the way, initiating a tradition of getting personal very early on. Maybe too early, such as when, at a brunch during our first month together, I asked him if he could remember the name we had picked out over drinks the previous evening for our firstborn son, and he had to gently break it to me that we had not, in fact, had any such conversation. Although apparently we did have quite a few drinks…
My dad is still a prominent feature in my fantasy wedding planning. As I’m getting more and more excited about the possibility of a future with my boyfriend, I find my thoughts often turning to the best way of honoring both him and his mother during our ceremony—a way that will also celebrate all the other father and mother figures that we have both been lucky enough to collect along the way. Hopefully, I’ll get to share my big plans with you guys when it happens. Until then, wish me luck on navigating life without a bumbling yet adoring rom-com dad to give me advice when things are temporarily gloomy and to look spiffy in a tuxedo at my wedding. Dad would have been rocking a bolo tie, anyway.
Photo by Gabriel Harber Photography (APW Sponsor)