As a young girl I would often dream about my future wedding. I would picture myself wearing a pristine white wedding gown−one carefully sewn with a slimly fitted lace bodice gracefully opening into a skirt full flowing of crinoline-lined tulle. It was a dress I imagined a ballerina would wear, slight and carefree, a dress that evoked visions of the lighthearted marriage and family life I one day aspired to enjoy. But five years before I would have the opportunity to wear my own envisioned wedding dress, I had to first help my mother pick out her own.
The three of us, my mother, younger brother and myself, had been on our own for nearly four years following my father’s death. Passing away suddenly, and with no chance for any of us to say goodbye, my reality became one spent clinging to my mother in both mind and body, every day fearful that one day she, too, would disappear forever.
Our family of three felt small, not only in numbers but also in spirit. Further weighing on our already fragile psyches were monetary woes that demanded my mother move us to a new house far away. In our downsized home of only a few months, a card table standing in as a makeshift kitchen table until future finances would allow a more suitable replacement, reminded us nightly that our family was disjointed. When my mother met the man who would one day become her second husband, the loss I felt for my father amplified. Her diverted attention to someone else was no less than a personal affront to my father’s memory and an inevitable compromise of her maternal identity.
In anticipation of their nuptials and my stepfather’s upcoming move into our house, his first order of business was to purchase a new kitchen table for our home. That old flimsy card table would no longer do for “family” meals. Meant to be a magnanimous gesture, for me it was an act riddled with conflict. The effects of a new person, an outsider, in the mix could not be missed, and as I would learn in time his influence and directives would not always be welcome as he gradually, if not always tactfully, integrated into our lives over the coming years.
But the die had already been cast.
On their wedding day, I watched my mother walk down the aisle in the wedding dress we picked out together, and understood that by the end of the processional our little family was going to be forever changed. How remained uncertain.
Years later at my own wedding, it was my stepfather who gave me away and who became one of my biggest advocates when my marriage eventually dissolved. Now as I watch my children grow, I still cannot help but feel sadness that my own father is not here to enjoy his grandchildren, and to help shape their lives. But as my children spend time with my stepfather, truly their grandfather in every way except for genetics, I know that out of my father’s loss there came something wonderful. I gained a third parent, a mentor, and a friend, and my children have never once wanted for a grandfather other than the one they know only as Grandpa.
Some families begin with a wedding. Ours began with a new kitchen table.