My Book of Wishes


My Grampa made it there in spirit.

My Book of Wishes | A Practical Wedding

A month before we got married, I started a journal I call the Book of Wishes. One day on my lunch break I started a list: I’m going to finish a book. I want to train for a marathon. A Dog! We need a dog! And, highlighted in big letters at the very top: I wish that my grandparents are well enough to enjoy my wedding day

On Thursday, June 19th, Ryan and I packed our car and drove to our wedding venue to get ready for the big day. I got my very first French manicure. Before we left our condo, I slipped two postcards in the mail for my grandfather Fred. We’d gotten the news that he wasn’t able to travel to join us, so I wanted him to know that we were thinking of him.

The sky was glorious. My parents came bearing food, decorations, candles, framed photos of my grandparents, in-laws, friends and family—and a big, beautiful chuppah. My big brother flew out from Hawaii and got right to work creating block prints with our initials on them. My in-laws hosted us all at their beach condo, and we ate pizza and watched the sunset over the ocean. Our dear friend Judi showed up with a carload of amazing decorations for the big day—green and blue mason jars, shells, burlap, vases, jewelry for me to borrow. Ryan’s brother and sister-in-law were there too, and my sister-in-law Shelby was already on her way to join us. It was Thursday and I felt a new, wonderful sense of peace. So many of my favorite people were already beginning to gather. Our lives were buzzing with love—and not just our own. Since getting engaged I’ve begun to notice how quickly love multiplies, and what a relief that is.

Friday morning, June 20th, our friends started to arrive, starting with Laurel, my best friend since womb, this wonderful woman who had collected all the dog doodles I’d made over the years and created a huge, beautiful, life-size dog out of cardboard. Tiffany and Dumi arrived soon after, best friends, sisters really, both armed secret stashes of flowers and confetti. I was walking over to join them when my parents pulled me aside quietly to share the news: my ninety-one-year-old grandfather Fred, who had for the past year been planning to join us on the big day, had passed away that morning.

We stood under the shade of a big tree. Grampa had not been well for some time. He had a sturdy and proud disposition; he was an engineer. My grandfather was a man of clear and direct expression. When Ryan and I got engaged on Christmas Eve 2012, I remember that when we shared the news with Grampa Fred, he smiled, but didn’t seem surprised. As the night wore on, I started to wonder if he’d really heard what we’d said. And then, a few hours after dinner, while all of us cousins were in the dining room, he walked in and approached Ryan, speaking (nearly shouting), “Ryan, I’d like to see you in my office.” We all watched as Ryan followed him down the hall and they shut the door behind them. I was astonished—and, I have to say, flattered. Their private conversation made our big news seem more official—more important.

Grampa retired the same year I was born. I knew him as an avid traveler. He and my grandmother Alice went to Australia, Europe, Central America, Canada. They went all over the United States. I got a birthday card one year that had a photo of them on a zip line in Costa Rica—in their seventies. For twenty years they made annual fishing trips to Alaska, pulling in 140-pound halibut well into their eighties.

Grampa was a gardener. He kept the most thorough fishing logs in the world—tracking weather, water temperature, bait, tackle, time of day, tides. He took beautiful photos and filled his home with pictures of the Canadian and American Rockies.

When Grampa lost Gramma, the woman he called his “peach,” his wife of sixty six and two thirds years (his calculation), he said once that he would never consider meeting anyone else, because he knew that when he saw her again, “she’d know.”

The thing about planning and executing a wedding is that time is premium. You spend months planning, troubleshooting, coordinating, and then the weekend arrives and you realize that the hours will not slow down for you. You have to soak in what there is—feel the sun on your face, kiss your partner, your best friends, your parents, your in-laws, your cousins, and their beautiful children.

That night, at our rehearsal dinner, my cousins, aunts, and uncles were all together, alongside Ryan’s family and friends. When my dad announced the news of Grampa’s passing, he told us that when it became clear that Grampa was too unwell to travel, he had devised another way to join us in spirit.

When our big day dawned, and the fog lifted off the ocean, I thought of all my grandparents. My sweet Gramma Alice, who died a mere month after my brother’s wedding in 2011, and who used to email me when I lived in Spain simply to say, “Whatever you do, keep writing. Keep traveling.” My darling Amah, who was unable to join us in person, but who got to watch our wedding videos (filmed by my sweet cousin Jeff), and who recorded the wedding processional for us at the tender age of ninety-one. They were all there with us, in their own ways—Ryan’s grandmothers too, in spirit. In many ways, I got my wish.

Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson’s writing has appeared in West Branch Wired, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, Flatmancrooked, Sacramento News & Review, Catalyst and Spectrum, as well as selected anthologies. She lives in Northern California with her husband, where she co-founded and co-curates Play On Words, a collaborative literary performance series. Read more at juliahalprinjackson.com.

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  • CH

    So lovely.

    I lost a lot of family members this past year, so this piece strikes me as particularly poignant. I hope you’re right and that they *are* still with us.

  • Michelle

    This post was so beautifully written and really hit home for me. Up until early 2013, I would have told you that my 2 remaining grandparents were planning to live forever. So watching their health decline over the past 18 months and realizing that they probably won’t be around to enjoy my wedding when it eventually happens has been very difficult. But I know that no matter what happens, they will be with me in whatever way they can.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.juliahalprinjackson.com/ Juliahjackson

      Wishing you and your family the best. I know for me I felt their presence in a way I wasn’t entirely prepared for, and it made me feel at peace. Best of luck!

  • InTheBurbs

    And tears at work again…this is beautiful.

  • Jill

    I was married last May and somehow, at the age of 27, fantastically lucky enough to have all 4 of my grandparents present and healthy enough to walk down the aisle. It was one of my biggest dreams. The 4 of them are the reason I left a great life in another city to move home while there was “still time.” Less than 6 months later, my paternal grandfather died somewhat suddenly. My maternal grandfather is showing signs of slowing down. While my grandmothers are healthy for now, they are 78 and 83. They will not live forever but I cannot fathom life without them. It is hard to look at my wedding pictures and see my grandpa there smiling and walking and healthy when just months later he would be gone. I am sorry your grandparents were not physically there, but love that you feel you got your wish. I know they were present. I know they were glad to be there. Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.juliahalprinjackson.com/ Juliahjackson

      thank you, Jill! how wonderful that your grandparents were there with you on your big day. time is a luxury–I know that my parents and grandparents never counted on having their elders there on their big day. thanks for reading!

  • Laura

    In the year preceding our wedding, my grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer, followed by a double mastectomy, followed three months later by a diagnosis of a metastatic brain tumor. She was unable to make it to our wedding, but we Skyped the whole thing to her hospice bed (an aunt, also in treatment for breast cancer and unable to travel, was there with her).

    By that point, my grandma had lost her ability to speak. But when we Skyped with her immediately following the ceremony, she was wearing the party dress she had picked out for the occasion and feasting on cake that my relatives brought to her hospice room. Seeing them have a mini wedding party from afar was one of my most precious wedding memories.

    • Grace from England

      Good god it’s dusty in here! <3

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

      I love that they had their long-distance party to celebrate with you, fancy dress, cake and all!

  • Laura C

    Well, I’m crying. I am so glad my fiance’s grandparents made it here from India for our wedding. Glad they get to see one of their grandsons get married, as neither of the others is in a relationship and A’s grandmother has been itching for a wedding as long as I’ve known him. Glad I’ve gotten to spend some time with them. Just glad they’ll be there.

    And last night I was working on our program, with the memorial note for A’s beloved father, who died more than 15 years ago, when A was a teenager. And it breaks my heart to think about that loss to A and his whole family, but also I know that, for A, one of the wonderful things about our wedding will be having so many people there who knew and loved his father so much; so few of his friends had that chance, and it’s one of the losses he really feels.

    • anon

      One of the hardest things about losing a parent young is that future friends and life partners never get to meet the parent and the parent will never meet them. One of my first thoughts the day my dad died was “if I marry, he’ll never know the person and that person won’t know him.” It’s a thought that never disappears; thank you for recognizing that loss.

    • http://www.juliahalprinjackson.com/ Juliahjackson

      I’m glad to hear that your extended family were there–and am so sorry for your partner’s loss. One of my bridesmaids lost her father about halfway through my engagement and I know how many layers of grief that was for her…but you’re right, guests can celebrate the love they have for each other, as well as their loved ones. congratulations to you – you’ve got a wonderful, special day in store!

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    oh god tears. wasn’t ready for this: “When my dad announced the news of Grampa’s passing, he told us that when it became clear that Grampa was too unwell to travel, he had devised another way to join us in spirit.” He sounds like an amazing man.

  • notquitecece

    NBD just ugly-crying into my coffee. He sounds amazing. <3

  • sara g

    This really hits home for me, because 3/4 of my grandparents have already passed, and my grandma is 89 and has Alzheimer’s and just isn’t able to travel. My fiance only has one grandparent left as well, who is in her 90s and also not doing well. We were able to see her at Christmas but I’m just really sad that we won’t be able to have our grandmas at our wedding. :’(

    • http://www.juliahalprinjackson.com/ Juliahjackson

      I totally hear you…it is sad! we lost ryan’s grandmother six months before our wedding too. One thing we did that I think helped us feel our grandparents’ presence was we found small ways to incorporate elements of them into our ceremony/reception. my surviving grandmother couldn’t come but she did provide music for us, and we wallpapered the back wall with photos of our other family as well. i’m so sorry for your loss and hope that you have a wonderful, special day full of family memories.

  • MDBethann

    Beautiful piece. I know the feeling. I only had one grandparent left – my maternal grandmother – when I married my DH 2 years ago. She was already suffering from dementia at that point and had good days and bad days. We weren’t sure if our wedding day would a good day or not, especially since she’d recently left the hospital, so I spent the week preparing myself for the fact that she might miss the wedding. My aunt got her there a little late, but in time for the vows, and she seemed to enjoy the reception too. I’m incredibly grateful that she was able to make it, because she died this spring, about a week after I told her we were expecting our first child (her 9th great-grandchild). The hardest part about her passing is that my child will never get to know and appreciate her, closely followed by the fact that she won’t be around for my sister if and when she marries and has children.

    It’s hard, and you managed to beautifully capture the silver lining in a loved one’s passing. Thank you.

  • Lisa

    In the span of about 9 months I went from having three grandparents left to one. My maternal grandfather with whom I was closest passed away three days before my graduate recital last April, which meant I wasn’t able to attend his funeral. I had a similar feeling about my recital that it seems you had about your wedding. My grandpa always loved to come to my performances and concerts, and I thought this was his way of joining me for one of my biggest recitals to date. I dedicated the performance to him and put a note in my programs about how special he was to me.

    And nooooow I’m crying at my desk. Thank you for the beautiful piece and the reminder that we carry our loved ones with us everywhere, even after they’ve gone.

  • Sarah McClelland

    My grandma died a week ago today, and I totally started crying at work when I read this. I know she’ll be there in her own way, but I’ll be incorporating her in many ways too. She helped me make my veil a couple weeks ago, which was super special.
    This is a beautiful piece and the comments shared are touching. Makes me realize even more why I love this community.

  • oftenoverseas

    I have lost all but one of my grandparents at this point, most in the last few years. But they’ve managed to make known, in their various ways from the great beyond, their approval of the man I’m planning to marry. I’m pretty convinced that one Grandfather ensured that I crossed paths with this man–their humor, dedication, spirituality, and even coloring–freckles, eyes, and all–are so much a match that I can easily imagine the discussions they would’ve gotten lost in over and over again. I think, too, that my Father’s mother ensured that my engagement ring would be practically identical to her own. I’m not sure yet what blessings her husband have set for us, but, really, while they were alive, Grandma spoke for the two of them anyways. This post made me tear up, and I sincerely wish my grandparents could be here for a wedding, but I’m so happy that they’ve made their blessings known anyways.

  • Jane

    Last week my Grandfather passed away 4 months after our wedding. It meant so much to me that he managed to fly to our wedding but at the same time I feel horrible how hard that would have been for him. He was awake for the ceremony but slept most of the rest of the time, in fact my Mom said afterwards she watched him asleep at one stage with all of his kids and grandkids around and just wanted him to drift off then surrounded by all of us that love him.
    My Grandfather was an inspiration, a kind gentleman, a loving father and grandfather and a man who showed his wife of 60+ years everyday how much he appreciated her.
    We just got back from his funeral where we all came from far and wide. I now have another family member who won’t be with us much longer. Times like these make you cherish the moments with each other.