Kissing the bride

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Rob’s mother marries this coming weekend. Though originally set to be a June bride, which would have made it possible for more family and friends to attend, the groom’s border crossings were increasingly contentious as Canada is not keen on the whole “marrying outside your nationality” thing, although they are less snarky about it than the U.S., whose crossing guards are even ruder than usual to a potential non-citizen spouse.

We had planned to mini-celebrate the nuptials after the fact at Christmas because the bride and groom to be were to be wed two weeks prior, but the plans were squelched by a Nazi parish priest, who insisted on pushing it back to January.

Traveling through the Canadian Rockies at the height of winter is no one’s idea of a good time. Least of all Rob’s. He’s slogged more than his fair share of white knuckle high mountain snowy road driving and his whole being visibly sagged at the prospect of attending a January wedding in the Okanogan Valley.

“We’re flying,” he said.

Not that this is a much better solution. His mother and fiance took about seven hours between delays and sitting on the tarmac to complete the flight here to Edmonton that normally takes less than an hour.

“Maybe the trip will be a respite.” Rob told me as he eyed the Weather Network for temps and precipitation estimates for the weekend. A balmy plus 4C and rain.

He will give the bride away. His mother didn’t have the full on Catholic wedding the first time and is determined to right that past injustice.

Dee was asked to be a flower girl and she is, naturally, giddy with joy at the prospect of donning  a white dress and having her own bouquet. She was quite put out that I didn’t get her a bouquet of her own when Rob and I married. An injustice to check off another list.

My mother-in-law then asked me to read. I couldn’t say no even though it’s probably very inappropriate for a non-believer to get up on the altar and recite scripture.

Especially a verse that she refused to have read at her own Catholic wedding going on twelve years ago.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

A total load of drivel that has no basis in a non-Disney princess reality.

Love has, as far as I know, not a single magical property to make anyone less human. Everything Corinthians talks about is perfectly human and very much a part of just about any relationship a body could have from the one with your significant other to the most superficial interactions with the strangers we run across daily.

I understand it’s appeal and why it’s a wedding favorite. The day one marries is full of promise but also wildly unrealistic expectations of absolute bliss forever that shouldn’t be encouraged.

What did I choose back in the day?

Something from Revelations – which in retrospect is an odd place to go hunting for scripture readings – and the Psalms. One of those semi-porn things that David or Solomon supposedly wrote.

Rob and I had only the vows that the province of Alberta insists everyone use and are, frankly, the best vows I have ever read, spoken or heard.

People should have the weddings they want. It’s one of those things you don’t get to do over and not getting it “right” the first time can be like a grain of sand in an oyster shell for some. Not much of an irritant at first and not destined to be a pearl at any point down the line.

It would likely be argued that Corinthians is extolling the virtues of the Creator, but I think that’s crap. The God I’ve read and been taught about is a tyrant where love is concerned and expects way more than he gives back.

Aside from my reservations about the scripture, I am uncomfortable participating in Catholic ceremonies simply because they are sacraments. It’s not exactly blasphemous on my part but it is tinged with a certain amount of disrespect. But how does one say “no” to a request from someone ones cares about on such an important day in his/her life?

You don’t. You can’t. So you compromise yourself a bit because in its essence it’s not an act that affects my immortal self as much as the bad karma of refusing would.

In yoga, we strive to cause no injury. One of the examples my teacher gave was the story of a monk who accepted the hospitality of a family while he was on a journey through the mountains of Tibet. The monk was a strict vegetarian, but the mountain folk of Tibet are not and they offered him a meat stew. The monk was faced with a dilemma. Eat the stew and violate his own beliefs or refuse and hurt the family, who had no idea that their meal was an affront.

The monk ate the stew and considered it the very best choice. Between eating a bit of meat and doing harm to the good intentions of well-meaning people – the feelings of people win. As they should.

Reed Family Portrait

It’s no secret that I have little interest in my late husband’s family these days. Will happily threw them, mostly, under the bus to be a part of my family when we married. He assured me even before he met them that if our two families were to ever come together in the same room, mine would be the more civilized, more familial and less bat-shit crazy – no contest.

As his illness progressed and then after his death, his family proved less helpful and even more of a hindrance to progress – mine and Dee’s – than I expected and I pushed them that last curb jump into the transit traffic. All contact is conducted through Hallmark and a bi-annual stash of photos accompanied by a bare bones update on Dee.

And good riddance to them.

But then I married into more extended ties.  Rob brought not only his own family but Shelley’s to our union. And he too assured me that whatever the state of my gene pool, his was a cocktail fit for the trailer park.

Shelley’s family, who had more reason than any to not cotton to the idea of me, opened up the welcome wagon far more generously than many brides are ushered into the fold by their husband’s near and dear. Quirks in perspective, they have never been anything but kind and have graciously taken any issues they might have had directly to Rob and not out on me. I really could not praise them or be grateful enough for their efforts.

His immediate family, after the shock passed, have made tentative moves here and there. Rob’s mother has been most in our lives, a sweet gentle lady who life could have shown more kindnesses but who has risen remarkably above a bad marriage and disappointments that would have embittered many.

She is marrying again. I was not as shocked as Rob when she called to announce her engagement to an American she met on a few months ago.

“When’s the wedding,” I asked.

“June sometime,” Rob said.

“Well, I hope Edie and Silver weren’t planning a June wedding,” I replied and earned his “La-la-la” look because he hates thinking about the reality of his oldest daughter’s quite probably impending nuptials. It makes him feel old in addition to forcing him to think about the fact that someone is sleeping with his daughter. I think that’s probably a dad thing.

It doesn’t help that he is turning fifty this coming year and a wedding with its accompanying threat of future grand-parenthood is just rubbing salt in his mortality issues.

But aside from June possibly being a hectic month for us next year, his mother’s wedding plans dredged up sibling issues.

I have met my sisters-in-law. LW, as you might remember, is widowed and quite mired in her childhood issues as well. Our first meeting involved me raking the lawn of her mother’s house, trying to help Rob get things cleaned up for its sale and their mother’s impending move to British Columbia, and as we worked, she followed me about regaling me with tales of how awful a parent their mom was.

I totally get having been parented in a manner that would horrify the uber parents of today. My own parents did their best but fell short in some critical areas here and there. Most notably would have been Dad’s alcoholism and Mom’s using us to try to change him. Did it screw me up? It left its marks. I struggled as a teen and young adult, but one day, in my early 30’s, I came to the conclusion that my parents – flawed and floundering as they sometimes were – loved me, wanted only joy for me, and if I was ever to have that joy, I had to let go off my hurts – real and imagined.

So I did. Life improved on a lot of fronts in the wake and I am glad I chose to move on.

LW? Not so much. Long story short – we only keep up with her via the Facebook status updates of her pregnant 15-year-old who, as nearly as we can tell, is in some sort of foster care right now. As we are not a receptive audience for her self-pity and self-righteous rage, she isn’t much interested in us either.

Shay is Rob’s other sister. I’ve met her too. She is a tiny woman who gives the impression that at any moment she might pounce on you. Tightly coiled and has led a harder life than most. But she makes an effort to stay in touch and has an attitude about letting sleeping dogs curl up in front of the Ghost of Christmas Past‘s hearth that matches Rob’s.

Tyke is my brother-in-law, and I have never met him. He is the pot-stirrer of the moment.

Rob posted old family photos of his family on Facebook recently. Usually, his family pics are really Shelley’s family pics. For obvious reasons, they are closest and more immediate, but he found some old photos taken of his parents at his wedding to Shelley and pictures of Tyke when he was little and put them up.

Tyke and Rob have a complicated relationship from Tyke’s point of view. They have no relationship at all from Rob’s.

Sixteen years separate them, and Rob was gone and married well before Tyke would have been able to form any solid, fact-based memories and opinions of his big brother.

For his part, Rob views Tyke from the distance that their ages naturally imposed on them. As Tyke was running wild, skipping school and getting into all manner of predicaments that resulted in their mother sending him to live with his dad, Rob was raising a family of his own and taking a squinty-eyed view of Tyke’s behavior.

Tyke commented on three of the photos Rob posted to his FB account. The first one was taken on Rob and Shelley’s wedding day by an unknown relative. It features his mother, father and mother-in-law.

“My,” I said, “look at the way your Dad is looking at your Mom. He’s obviously still in love with her.”

At this point in time, Rob’s mother had left his dad. My late father-in-law had trouble with alcohol and a temper that found its release all over Rob’s mother. She left him just two years earlier.

Shay’s teen daughter commented on that photo, amazed by her grandmother’s beauty. My mother-in-law has those exotic Hungarian features that grace Rob as well and a beautiful body for a woman who’d had four children and was in her early forties at the time.

MomInLaw replied, thank you, and Tyke commented that perhaps his niece was  brown-nosing a bit too much.

“What’s brown-nosing,” she replied. She’s sixteen and, let’s face it, that’s an archaic term.

Rob stepped in. Tempers sparked a bit.

Two other photos featured Tyke as either a toddler or a child. The picture of him with a handgun would only be disturbing if it were taken today. A boy with a gun in the wilds of the Canadian Prairies was not such a big deal in the 1980’s.

More comments. More sparks.

And then the bomb dropped, MomInLaw innocently remarked about her fiance and upcoming marriage … which she apparently forgot to tell Tyke about and forgot that she’d forgotten.

Tyke is a bit like my youngest sister, Baby. His blinkered view of the world confines him to mostly him. No one else’s issues – good, bad or indifferent – really get much consideration.

And to be fair, his life sucks. If being able to puke up the saddest tale of woe was a game show, he’d clean up.

He has no education. Seriously, none. Dropped out of the 8th grade. Worked roofing under the table for his ex-father-in-law until he was diagnosed with Lupus in his early 20’s. The disease attacked and destroyed his kidneys, so he’s been on dialysis for a number of years with not much hope of a transplant because his unrepentantly bad lifestyle choices have made him a “risk”. Translated that means the medical establishment doesn’t want to waste a good kidney on someone they are fairly certain will ruin it in short order.*

In addition, he is housebound due to the nightly dialysis. He can’t receive government disability because he never paid into the tax system and his ex-wife cuckolded him on Facebook of all places.

He has a lot of reasons to be angry … with himself, but like most people whose foolishness or willfulness have brought them to their days of reckoning decades too soon, he prefers to place blame on his family.

Rob is the favorite son and he is the loser. Rob got his great life handed to him while Tyke was foiled by one and all. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I have actually heard all this before. From my own younger brother, CB. More than once he’s compared our lives and accused me of having it “too easy”.

“Really?” I asked. “And which ‘easy’ were you envious of? The fact that I remained single until I was 34 or had to go through IVF to have a child or the fact that my husband died?”

“But you have a good job,” he stammered a bit, ” and a house.”

“I worked for those, remember. The whole going to college and wage slaving away thing?”

“Dad paid for your college though and he didn’t offer to help me.” Indignant now.

“I worked my way through school, and perhaps you’ve forgotten who funded your lost ski bum years while I was living off rice and beans as a teacher?”

Baby has similar delusions about the foundations of my awesome life.

As Tyke does of Rob.

But the thing that sticks most in Tyke’s craw is the fact that in spite of the fact that he’s been mean and mostly unlikable his entire life – no one in the family will volunteer to give him a kidney.

“Not one of you cares enough even to get tested to see if you match!”

But it’s not that simple and the fact that Tyke refuses to acknowledge the sacrifice that would be expected to follow a positive match is at the heart of the reluctance.

The first time Tyke asked for a kidney, Shelley had just died three months earlier. Rob stopped in Calgary on his way to the U.S. where he was taking her ashes to spread in various places that had meant something special to the two of them over the course of the 27 years they’d been together. At the time, Rob substituted much-needed cash for the kidney Tyke really wanted – though he took the money easily enough.

One might sympathize with Tyke’s desperate request even in the face of Rob’s grief if they didn’t know that when Shelley was first diagnosed, Tyke had commented to his mother that he didn’t see what the big deal was. He, after all had just 10% of his kidney function left while she had “just a little growth on her leg”. A “little growth” at stage 4.

I could be shocked but I’m not. Baby once compared her low-life boyfriend’s upcoming four-month stint in county lock-up for a parole violation to the fact that my husband would soon be dead. And I, according to her, didn’t have as much to complain about.

So rounding back to the recent FB tiffle – which continues on in the form of incoherent rants arriving in Rob’s message inbox – Tyke blasted Rob again for not submitting to type matching.

“But you aren’t really eligible now after the heart attack,” I pointed out. “He knows that, right?”

Rob shrugged. “I don’t know what he ‘knows’ sometimes but I’m tired of being his punching bag whenever his childhood rears its ugly head. I sit here and read his words and feel my chest tightening and my heart hurt.”

Which is enough for me to toss Tyke under the bus with my dead husband’s in-laws, but he’s not my brother. If he were my brother, I’d let him have – both barrels, unfriend, have a nice life. I resent the stress he’s causing Rob because he’s not grown up enough to admit that he’s angry his mother forgot about him and jealous of the fact that he isn’t her favorite.

I wasn’t my Dad’s favorite. DNOS was. And I used to resent it. But eventually I grew up and realized that “favorite” and “loved” aren’t the same thing. I was not someone my Dad could be “friends” with, but I was his daughter and he loved me.

In the end, Rob will find the exact measure of tact or Tyke will wear himself out. What will not happen is Tyke being struck by a maturity bolt from the blue because I have been waiting for that to hit CB and Baby for the last twenty plus years to no avail and baby siblings who strive hard to hang onto the immaturity mantle have tenacious grips.

*Getting an organ transplant here is not just a matter of need and queuing up. Age, lifestyle and willingness to follow the strict drug protocol after the fact are all used to decide who gets the organs that become available. It seems brutal, but it’s more fair than the U.S. system that almost throws organs away by giving them to people who aren’t going to make the best use of a precious resource for whatever reason.

This is a shot of Lake Edith in Jasper Nationa...

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So, the date is set for Tuesday, June 26th at 5 p.m. in Jasper National Park. The invitations have been issued. The rooms and photographer booked. Dinner plans made. The dress is being altered as I write this.


I sent Rob some pictures of me in the dress. His daughter, Mick, saw them and him looking at them and asked, “Isn’t that bad luck?” He told her that he had helped pick out her mother’s dress, and they were married twenty-five years. I told him that Will hadn’t seen me in my dress until the wedding day, and he was sick not even three years later. So much for the bad luck theory.


He asked me if I am getting excited and, truthfully, I am not quite there yet. I did most of the heavy lifting getting the wedding arrangements made when I married Will. Wedding details consumed me and it was made worse by Will’s insistence on a princess bride type thing. Because the wedding is taking place in Canada, Rob is taking care of many of the traditional bride things. He runs things by me. A bit of a role reversal which helps me understand better the lack of apparent enthusiasm men seem to have for their weddings. It is not a lack of interest but rather the fact that they are not intimately involved in much of the planning. And there is still so much here to be done. Sell the house. Wrap up things at work. Pack. Successfully cross an international border. I guess I am too mired in the details of here and now. I know the wedding will be beautiful. Rob is determined to make it so, and I trust him. The setting is gorgeous with a mountain backdrop by a river. He has previously proven himself quite the romantic, and I have no doubt the ceremony will meet or exceed standards already set.


My dress is beautiful. Ivory satin A-line with a deep v-neck and two thin straps on either side in the back. It had a very small train which I had the seamstress, Sally, remove, so now it just skims the ground slightly. I have an ivory pashmina in case it is a bit cool and white sandals that I don’t think completely match, but since they are on my feet and mostly hidden, who cares? I have been thinking about how to wear my hair and what old, borrowed, blue and new items I can wear. And flowers. A bouquet is a must. Not roses though that is as far as that thought has gone. For jewelry it will be just the necklace that Rob gave me the first time we met in person in Idaho Falls. Two interlocking hearts. One silver like the chain and one gold with a single diamond setting. I have never taken it off.


In truth the only thing about the upcoming wedding that is really on my mind is the wedding night when we are finally just us. In Arkansas we spent part of one evening dancing in front of the fireplace. Just lost in each other. I could spend forever looking in his eyes, pressed against him, wrapped tight in his arms. Music in the background. Warmed by the fire. Time spent by just we two has become the most precious thing. Whether it is romantic interludes, sweeping water out of a flooded basement or just having breakfast and talking.


Rob was talking with his sister-in-law last evening before our nightly conversation and she wondered why we weren’t going to try just living together for a time before getting married. I can understand why people would think that would be a good idea. I used to think that living together before deciding to marry was a good idea too. But Will and I lived together but with the understanding that I expected a commitment within six months. Even then I didn’t believe that living arrangements should be open ended. I did not think it wise to put distant or even vague deadlines on such an arrangement. Living together until you graduate from college or save enough money for the wedding or to buy a house. I don’t see how you can truly commit to another person if the intent is not right there from the beginning as opposed to something you work yourself up to. Research has actually proven my assumptions correct. Couples who live together for a short time with the intentions of marrying are more likely to marry and stay married than couples who live together with the intent to try out the arrangement before committing to marry. Furthermore, couples who co-habitate without a firm marriage commitment up front are less likely to marry in the first place and more likely to divorce when they do marry. I remember being mildly rebuked for our living arrangements by the priest when Will and I were planning our wedding and I hauled out these very statistics for him. I could tell he was aware of them too by his reaction, and by the fact he never mentioned our “sinfulness” again.


You can’t practice being married. How could you? Could I have practiced for the difficulties that can only be encountered in a union that is committed? The struggle with infertility that Will and I faced or the years of care-taking that preceded his death? Could Rob have been prepared for Shelley’s cancer? Her last months? And even the happier times. Or the day to day? You can live together. Split the rent and the bills. Buy furniture and a car. Take vacations and shop for groceries. Make love or just have sex. But you are still only roommates because the door is still technically open. Husband and wife. Partners forever. That is something that is achieved day to week to month to years. It goes even beyond the outer boundaries of love. It calls for a commitment up front that is really faith-based and asks that you trust the other person to love and support you, even when you are not so lovable and giving the support requires effort, if not actual hard-work.


I am looking forward to our wedding day, the rituals and the nervousness, and the romance, but it is just the first step on a longer road. A wedding is just for a day but a marriage is for a lifetime.