I’m on a cross-country flight for my godson’s wedding. It will be the first time seeing him since his father, my dear friend, died of cancer. Steve died during COVID making his death one of so many for which there was no memorial; a gathering for him further complicated by his having moved to Canada. When I hug Susie, his wife, it will be our first touch since she lost him. She wisely planned a brunch for old friends the day before the wedding so that she could give space to those first greetings since Steve died—a gift to all of us and to herself, to be sure. It was her attempt to untangle the joy of a wedding from the unfamiliarity of Steve’s absence.
But joy and loss cannot be untangled. I will think about Steve countless times during this wedding of his son, dear Caleb, who looks so much like him. While I am only predicting, I’m guessing that the day will go something like this…We will sing, think of Steve, pray, think of Steve, toast, think of Steve, cut cake, think of Steve, dance, think of Steve, and so on. Joy and loss tangled together.
I’ll remember how Steve and Susie laid their hands on our shoulders and prayed for Dan and me during our wedding 30 years ago this May. I’ll remember Steve asking me if my allergies were bothering me once when I was crying. I’ll remember Steve telling me that I was more valuable than what I could do when I was planning to miss an important event. I’ll remember the way Steve made going to get donuts into a Spanish verb—“Donarmos!” he’d announce, grin wide.
And I’ll remember being asked to be Caleb’s godmother, on a day we weren’t thinking any of us would be gone before his wedding.
God, I hate death. But I love weddings. It will be wonderful to witness this rite of passage for dear Caleb and I feel sure the wedding will buoy me. I will wonder at where he is in his young life…the adventures ahead for him. I’ll enjoy seeing the joviality of his friends, the special touches that will set this wedding apart from others. I’ll watch Caleb and his new wife—Natalie is her name—for the signs of how they connect. I will be grateful for the solid foundation of his loving family, however incomplete it may feel without Steve present.
As happy as the day will be, I’ll feel the sting of death. We all will. A wedding celebration shows how we stand in rebellion against death, insisting that life carry on. Although today I don’t feel much like a rebel. Today, I just miss Steve.