Last fall, my daughter and her fiancé asked me to officiate at their wedding happening this weekend. I was speechless. My first thought was, "Marriage is serious business--- will they take their vows seriously if I'm the one presiding?" Followed by, "How will my Catholic family handle this one?"
Then I flashed back to all the turmoil I went through when my two daughters were little, worrying that if I divorced I'd ruin their lives forever, especially their chances at a happy marriage. Fortunately, my next thought was, "I guess things turned out better than OK, because this is quite an honor ... and I doubt it would have happened had I not raised her as a single mom."
It also reaffirmed to me that a divorce is not the end of the world. Yes, our family life has not been as I'd imagined it, and my daughters and I have struggled. But we've also learned to adapt (sometimes begrudgingly) and to realize change can stretch us in good ways we never imagined.
I grew up innocently believing (thank you, happily-ever-after fairytale endings) that once I became an adult my life would settle into a nice routine and go on as calmly as it appeared to be doing for most of the adults around me. My daughters, however, grew up knowing that life delivers unexpected bumps that can turn one's world upside down. Hopefully, they've also learned bumps can catapult us into new ways and gifts.
When my oldest started dating in high school, I remember her lamenting,"It's not fair that I've had no role model of how to be in a relationship because you and dad broke up when I was little. All my friends have parents who stayed together and so they know how to be in a relationship. It's so unfair."
Somehow, I managed the comeback, "Actually, you're lucky. You get to create your own way to be a couple and you aren't stuck unknowingly repeating what we did." Stunned, she went off to her room -- a real coup for any mom of a teenager.
Back to the wedding, which is now only days away. Taking my minister role seriously, I've been immersed in all kinds of readings about love and marriage. And of course, Pinterest's Wedding Boards full of DIY projects that have taken over our lives.
I've discovered that centuries ago, June became the most popular month for weddings -- thanks to the "annual bath", a once-a-year communal event (really, people back then only bathed once a year) happened, leading couples to marry soon afterwards because they looked, and smelled, their best. Flowers came to be a big deal-- to mask body odor. And bridesmaids? Dressed identically to the bride, they were actually decoys to confuse greedy folks wanting to kidnap a wealthy bride for her dowry. The best man, and bridesmaids, also had the job of getting the bride to the church on time and fending off unsavory and hostile family members.
However, what's amazed me most as I scour the web is how, despite the fact many marriages end in divorce, the fairytale aspect is still alive and well. It's now popular for brides and grooms to pose holding rustic signs reading "Happily-Ever-After" and "Mr. & Mrs." -- not "Ms." as in my day. Women plan their weddings on Pinterest, before they are even engaged. A friend's daughter recently told me she was worried about her brother's choice of fiancé saying, "Shouldn't it have been a red flag, to him, that his girlfriend had a Wedding Board ... before they even met?"
I'm still searching for pearls of wisdom to share with my daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law on their wedding day. Knowing the pain of losing the dream, I want to protect them both from a similar fate, while I honor their joy. Its a tricky line to walk, because I want them to realize what they are getting into, but I don't want to burst their romantic bubble.
So far, the best I can do is tell them love is a choice you make every day and it's the annoying little things, which build up over time, that chip away at your love and marital bond. (See "Falling Out of Love") If you can keep the lines of communication open (listen, listen, listen) you give each other a shot at building a loving relationship. Otherwise, you could fail each other without even understanding why -- and that's one of the big, painful questions I see the men and women I work with struggle through, when it's too late.
And, I want to thank them both for trusting me, a divorced single mom, to conduct their ceremony and rite of passage into married life. It's an honor that's softened the blow of my own difficult divorce and it lets me know things have turned out OK.
If you have wisdom to share, please send it along to me. And I'll pass it on to others...