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Valeria & Stuart, Part 1

Today’s post is about a million wise things at once: it’s about weddings and loss, it’s about making your own wedding dress, it’s about an international wedding, and a destination wedding. The post comes in two parts, because the story is so rich, so here we go….

Marriage wasn’t in my mind. In fact I kind of had given up on meeting somebody.

You know what comes after that sentence, right? The typical, “two people meet, date for a while, get married in a castle, she wears a beautiful big gown that fairies made and they live happily ever after.”

Not quite. It is more something like, “girl meets boy while working in a bar, thanks to his mum who is a customer and his brother who works with the girl. Boy is English and lives in England. Boy travels for two solid years every 6 weeks to visit the girl, both saving every penny to afford the tickets. The day comes when they both think it’s not great to carry on like that. So, girl moves to England. They both know they want to commit seriously, get married, buy a house and a dog,  have babies, the lot.”

So. What’s next?

After realizing flying any of our families to the other side of the world for the wedding was both impractical and expensive, we settled for the middle (almost literally) and decided to get married in Mexico. We started looking into hotels, prices, etc. and found a resort that we could afford and set a rough date. My partner proposed formally inside the Winchester Cathedral, a beautiful building with lots of meaning for us. I was not bothered about an engagement ring, but was happy when I get a one. So far so good. Until 3 months later, when my mum calls me with the news that you dread the most when you live so far away from your close family: doctors had discovered a brain tumor in my dad. And the world seemed to collapse in front of my eyes.

My dad had surgery. It turns out that it’s not just a tumor, but a metastasis from his lungs. Cancer. The bloody big C. He has chemotherapy for the first time.

We braved it as the loving close family we have always been. We lived on the phone. My sister (who by that point had lived in Spain for years with her husband) and I make lots of effort to travel and visit him. Meanwhile the wedding becomes the elephant in the room that nobody dares talk about. Some friends ask when we will book, we don’t know what to say. We make plans, but to me everything seems so distant and impossible that I almost don’t believe it.

Suddenly a ray of light emerges from the clouds. My dad gets better for a few months and we are back on track. Then again, another tumor appears. More chemotherapy, but the doctors are still hopeful and we battle it together again. My dad feels so good that they even go to Spain for a month to see their first grandchild be born. We feel confident, my mum especially has such great faith, that we think life will get better and we go ahead and book the wedding. Thinking the trip will be more than the holiday-plus-wedding-combo we originally thought, and it will turn into the celebration of my dad’s recovery as well. We are six months away from the departure date.

I decide I will, after all, make my wedding dress. (I am a former fashion designer and used to make prom dresses for a living. I also made my sister’s wedding dress, to my dad’s pride, in 2006.) Just after the new year I start on my dress, very aware of the little time I have to finish it, but content with the fact I didn’t start early in order to focus my energy on a promotion I got at work. I decide not the tell anybody except my close family and partner that I will be making the dress for fear some people will judge me for choosing a career changing opportunity (you know that thing you do in order to get money and that you have to do for most of your adult life) over my dress (you know, that rather overrated piece of clothing that could cost you more than your entire wardrobe or a small car like Meg once, and that you will only wear for a few hours).

Things take an ugly turn and my dad’s body has enough of chemicals. His kidneys fail.

At that moment my other sister (I have 2) is doing a scholarship in France, so all three of us are away from my parents. Hard, very hard. I feel guilty for having booked the wedding. In the space of a weekend he goes into the hospital. The one sister in France cuts the scholarship short, at the risk of spoiling her career future, and we both travel to see him. The other sister stays in Spain since the baby is so tiny he doesn’t have a passport yet.

What follows is not pretty. My dad gets worse by the minute, although he is very aware we are there with him, and passes away a few days after. That’s on February 9th. Our departure date is 27 of March.

My partner and I think about canceling and decide not to. First, because most of the people traveling with us have paid for their own trip and they won’t recover the full money. Second, and most importantly, because my dad was the least selfish person I will ever meet and nobody thinks he would want us to stop living our lives. And, to be honest, we all could have used a break from so much sadness(my mum especially).

I went back to England and I submerged myself into sewing. We live in a tiny flat, so daily we kind of step on each other’s space. Imagine trying to manipulate a large piece of white fabric without soiling it, doing the fitting myself and all that without my partner seeing the dress (oh yes that’s the only bit of tradition that stuck).

It was a sad time but I felt grateful my hands were so busy that the sadness seemed more bearable. And I sewed nonstop. I sewed while remembering how happy my sister was with her wedding dress and my dad’s face when he saw it for the first time (we had kept it from him only and he has never been so anxious). And how proud he was when all the family (full of heavy weight designers and seamstresses) admired the work. I sewed while knowing I was building more than a dress I would wear only once, but a statement of our relationship (imperfect but our very own and so unique), a testimony for the future, possibly a dress that one of my kids would play with one day (we did that with my mum’s).

I sew until a day before leaving for Mexico, much to my partner’s anxiety. Although he reassured me that he was proud of me for doing things like that, I am sure he thought more than once that I was going to end up doing a quick trip to the mall to buy “anything white” or  marry him in my underwear or something like that.

The trip and the wedding were beyond perfect. You see, when you go through all the sh*t in your life you tend to think nothing good will ever come. Or worse – that you don’t deserve it.

We stayed for two weeks in a magnificent place where both families(16 people in total, including us) had a great time and they all got along so well despite the language barrier. It was so much fun to see my mum with very little English knowledge and my mum in law with almost no Spanish skills trying to talk and somewhat succeeding. And everybody was relaxed and happy.

Continued…

Photos by: Arrecife Studios

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