I was a bridesmaid this weekend. I always joke that our friends are not the (traditional, bridesmaid having) marrying type, and by and large they are not. That comes from a deeply bizarre mix of growing up around poverty and having slightly bohemian friends. But I’ve been a bridesmaid twice, both times for my friend Lacey. The first time was ten years ago when we were 20, and the second was this weekend when we were 31. The fact that the wedding party was a group of girls that have known each other for twenty years tells you much of what you need to know about our hometown and the kind of intense loyalty growing up in a very difficult place engenders. For me, the wedding was about the story of the last ten years, the growing up we’ve all done, loss, and the profound hope of love.
I get a lot of emails about second weddings. I hear a lot about ladies who are terrified how their community might judge them—ladies who are worried whether they deserve a party the second time around. Here is what I learned this weekend: chances are, this fear could not be farther from reality.
As bridesmaids, this was not our first time at the rodeo. We knew a thing or two about getting the bride dressed, making sure the groomsman behaved (at least till after the ceremony—shots!), and setting up centerpieces. Ten years ago, we’d done what on paper looked like the same tasks, and we’d worked hard trying to get it right. But none of that compared to the ferocity of love present at a second wedding with a crowd of women who have walked through the fire together and who know what love and loss look like. Ten years ago, I worked hard to make Lacey happy on her wedding day. This weekend, I would have walked on water to make her happy, and all the other girls felt the same way. When someone you love has walked a hard path with grace and found someone who really makes them happy and adores them just the way they are? That is the kind of love you fight for, curl hair for, set up centerpieces for, wrangle tuxes for, line up groomsmen for, wipe tears for, and throw confetti for.
Going into the weekend, I had a sense of just how hard everyone was loving Lacey and Ric. But I thought, on some level, that we’d pretend the last ten years didn’t exist. That to make room for love, we’d let everything else go. What I hadn’t realized was the way that weddings allow you to hold many conflicting things in your heart at once. They allow your heart to enlarge; they let you access the rooms whose doors you’d locked.
On Saturday, all of the last ten years were in the room at once. I watched Lacey read her vows (off her phone!) thought about how wonderful it was that she finally had found someone who deserved her. I watched her dance with her eleven-year-old son, and teared up thinking about how I used to spoon baby food into his mouth while gossiping with Lacey about my over-wrought collegiate dating life. I watched Lacey’s tiny niece, a flower girl, spin around the dance floor, thought of her as a baby, and hoped for the future.
And then there was the loss.
Two years ago, we lost Niki, one of the bridesmaids in the last wedding, to H1N1 (horrible and senseless). She died suddenly and young, and she left behind two small boys. I thought, somehow, that we’d make it through this weekend by not thinking too much about it. That we couldn’t wish the best for Lacey and Ric while mourning the loss of Niki. I was wrong. Niki’s mom came to the wedding, and sought each of us girls out, hugged us, and talked to us. She told us it was important for her to be there. She told us about the end, but she also told us that she wanted the best for each of us in the future. And then, after we all group hugged her crying, she whispered, “Stay together girls.” And so, we will.
This weekend we helped usher a new marriage into the world, and we watched explosive joy share the stage with loss and hope. We felt our hearts expand. And what we’re left with is nothing but the fiercest best wishes for Lacey and for Ric, the newest member of our tribe.
That is what weddings are for. Remembering. Love. Hope for the future. And allowing your community to lift you up. Especially after you’ve walked through the fire. Most especially then.
Pictures: Rory Gordon Photo