My three-year wedding anniversary last week made me think a lot about memory and history—how big events like our weddings shape (or don’t shape) our lives, and how their memory intertwines with our present. So this week, in a whole bunch of ways, we’re exploring the idea of history. First up Anna talks beautifully about remembering her wedding, echoing exactly how I felt a week after our wedding on our honeymoon, sobbing about moving away from exactly how it felt.
Remembering my wedding day is like trying to look for too long into a very bright light. It’s been nearly a year since that day, a year filled with adventures—I started my first “real job,” and we bought our first home just two months ago. Everything else from a year ago feels a bit dim with all that’s happened since then. But the day I married Will still dazzles.
Soon after getting married, I saw a show about how the brain works that described how remembering something can actually change the biochemical signature of the original memory. I became reluctant to remember the wedding after that—I wished I could capture the experiences of the day and etch them into glass so that they would never change in the biochemical signatures of my brain cells. Even looking at pictures made me worry that the images I saw through my eyes of our wedding would fade in comparison. One thing that’s nice about pictures, though, is that they can help you remember things that would otherwise fade, and allow you to experience a different perspective on things that can enrich your own.
The best part of the wedding day itself was how I felt once things got going. In the morning I was rattled and overwhelmed, impatient for the event itself. I was wearing a hokey “bride” shirt that my sister had given me, and I was irritated by how it made everyone smile knowingly and console my impatience with reassurances that everything would be fine. I knew everything was going to be fine! I just wanted it all to get going! (This could be a cautionary tale about afternoon weddings, but it’s not.) The thing I wanted was to have my dress on, make-up done, hair out of my face. I wanted to see my fiancé as my fiancé for the last time—for our “first look.” When I finally saw Will waiting for me, and I flew into his arms, I felt, irrationally, like I’d finally arrived at our wedding. Forgive me for the Star-Trek-speak, but it was like there was a configuration of the time-space continuum where I needed to be, and in my dress with Will was it. I didn’t care much about what happened between that moment and the ceremony. Sign the Ketubah with the rabbi? Sure, ok. Doing family photographs on the hotel lawn? Fine! As long as I got to stand next to Will, I felt like I was where I needed to be.
We had worked hard on the vision of the whole day, wanting it to reflect us and our relationship, and to have meaning. Will is an avid fly-fisherman, and I’m happiest when I’m birdwatching, so we melded our two passions by making “rivers” the theme of the celebration. Tables in the reception were named after rivers that were important in our lives, and we even found fish-shaped vases for flowers. The ceremony, though, that was the most meaning-filled part from the planning side of things, and in preparing it, we were preparing ourselves for the meaning of the experience.
I had crafted the ceremony carefully with Will’s input, working hard to incorporate seriousness and joy in a healthy balance. Striking that balance was important to me. My mom died of ovarian cancer seven years ago, and I felt strongly about including her, and her absence, in our wedding. I’ve been to weddings of brides who lost their mothers where that loss is never mentioned, and while I respect each bride for however she wants to experience her own wedding, that kind of omission was not for me. In the final month of my mom’s life, my dad and sisters and I were able to be with her to help her (with the support of Hospice) to die, and we were able to talk with her about what it would mean for our lives. She made it clear that she never wanted us to wallow in grief, or to focus on her death rather than on her life. It was therefore very important to me to include my mom in just the right way—it made it a more honest experience for me. After a long search, I chose a poem (“From Blossoms” by Li Young Lee) and asked my dad if he’d read it. I was gratified when he agreed, and when he said that he thought it was a lovely way to honor Mom.
These are a few lines from the poem that most resonated for me:
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Those words were the perfect thing to express how I wanted to honor the absence of my mom while also keeping the joy of the day intact.
In envisioning the ceremony, I expected that the poem would make me teary, but I imagined that, just as with other moments in my life when I felt sad about missing my mom, that I’d fight back the tears and move on. Not so. That’s my most vivid memory of the wedding—how my emotions were completely uninhibited. Talk about having an honest experience, I had no control over my feelings—it was like being drunk on emotion. When my dad read the poem, I was very sad, and I wasn’t holding anything back. I wasn’t able to be done with being sad until the feeling was done with me. There was no fighting back tears or gracefully dabbing at my eyes—and in the pictures, you can see it. Looking at the pictures of my crying then make me cry now. I look sad. And I was. Joy soon followed, and then I was smiling again, just as I’d hoped.
And as much as preparing the ceremony beforehand had helped prepare us for the life experience of getting married, the reception was definitely the best part. Our favorite bluegrass band played up a storm, and our friends and family danced late into the night. When the band left, the party continued with finishing off the opened bottles of wine, dancing to iPod music on cheap speakers, and just smiling ‘til our faces hurt. Of those hours, I remember feeling simply happy—and how uncomfortable a corset gets after twelve hours.
If they could bottle the feeling of your wedding day, and you could get toasted on that high whenever you wanted, I don’t know if I would. That’s powerful stuff, and I think should be reserved for the weightiest human moments—life and death—for the specialest of special occasions—like a sort of champagne for the soul.
Will and I are planning to start trying for a baby on our first anniversary. Neither of us have ever had kids, but my guess is that we’ll be getting pretty drunk on some of that “soul champagne” when the time comes. Cheers!
The Info—Photography: Eva York / Venue: Benbow Inn / Band: The Compost Mountain Boys / Anna’s Dress: Maggie Sottero / Anna’s Veil: Vintage (originally worn by groom’s mother) / Anna’s Necklace: Designed by Anna from her mother’s sapphire jewelry / Anna’s Earrings: Anna’s earrings that belonged to her mother