Often lost in the chaos of planning a wedding is the cognizance that there are more complex problems to grapple with in life than whether to pick the Luxe Cream or Luxe White envelope for a wedding invitation. Even the most laid-back, wink-wink-I’m-in-on-the-joke bride can forget that the bothersome engagement rites of passage are nothing more than mitigable party-planning headaches.
I’d been pondering this a lot of late, in part because of tomorrow’s anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. Of the many stories illuminating the victims’ lives after the massacre, one stays with me now more than most. It was of slain student Michael Pohle and his high school sweetheart and fellow VT student Marcy. They were to be engaged and it was such a foregone conclusion that Marcy was hoping the ring was coming on her birthday the next month. The story in which it was relayed captured the bottomless grief of the girl who would never be the bride to the man whom she loved so completely.
The love stories ended at Virginia Tech a year ago are harrowing, yet they are dwarfed in number by those cut short by war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, one stays with me, this time only as an image—a photograph taken last year by photojournalist John Moore.
This morning, the father of the man I dated for five years before meeting my fiancé, died unexpectedly. After emergency surgery last week it was believed that he was going to pull through.
My ex-boyfriend and I split amicably enough. It was not without a little mess. It rarely is. But we quickly re-calibrated and became friends who checked in on each other from time time to time. My dog started as Our dog. I’d joke with him when he emailed that he was late with his alimony payments and he’d inquire as to whether I was making my current man miserable, too. We got engaged to our new loves within a week of each other. He landed his pretty bride-to-be at the start of that week and when I followed six days later he gleefully pointed out that by beating me to the punch he’d won the breakup.
Hearing the news about his father’s death was like a punch in the stomach. (Tornadoes sound like freight trains and unexpected death packs a wallop to the torso. Cliché springs from accuracy in these instances.) His father was the kindest and jolliest of men. He had a big laugh that came from deep inside a prodigious belly. His hug was its own event. When my ex told me several months into our relationship that his father had once been a U.S. Marine Corps drill sergeant at Parris Island I dismissed it as him screwing with me. Santa Claus having once been locked up for assault would have been more plausible. Even after we broke up I would still get cards at the holidays from him and his wife. That my ex and his fiancée will not have him at their wedding and in their lives as they start their own family is a damned thing to comprehend.
I’m thinking today of the ones we want with us more than we want all the crystal stemware and electronic gadgets on our wedding registries. Those of us staring in frustration at the Luxe Cream and the Luxe White envelope have likely lost sight of the fact that it is a privilege to consider that an agonizing dilemma. We’ve lost sight of the fact that the ones we want, we need, could be gone in an instant. Here’s to those who figure out a way to go on after that happens.