“Jack died.” The night my brother, Phil, called and told me, I thought he was talking about our father, Jack. Dad was almost 90 and in declining physical and cognitive health. While his passing would be sad, it would not be unexpected and a blessing in some ways. He would be at peace; not agitated and frail. Then Phil clarified. No, our younger brother, Jack, was dead. He had few details, except that the funeral was scheduled in a few days.
Before that message, the month had already been unsettling. My husband learned in the spring that he would be going to Iraq. He departed for Fort Benning in early July to train and draw gear. On the night of the news about Jack, he had only been in Baghdad a week. Returning home so soon was not an option.
While it’s been almost 9 years ago since Jack died, he’s been on my mind this week. His older daughter got married last weekend: Memorial Day. While my brother’s death was not service-connected, it was a family memorial day, compounded with a heaping dose of uncertainty. Would we be welcome, even though we had been invited? There had been turmoil before and after Jack’s death and we had limited contact during the ensuing years. There was a lot we didn’t know about our nieces; many milestones had passed about which we had no awareness. So, receiving the invitation was surprising. My husband was encouraging, “Do it for Jack,” which is how we came to attend my niece’s wedding; representing my brother’s side.
And, we’re glad we went. Weddings are joyous occasions, even if you don’t know the couple; a celebration of potential; of romance, companionship and love. We found that Jack’s two daughters have grown into beautiful young women. One was marrying her life partner whom we had the opportunity to meet. Jack’s younger daughter has just finished her first year of college. The love between sisters was clear.
My brother’s family went out of their way to include us; in photos and with reassurance about how Jack was still part of the family. The bride’s bouquet had a locket with her father’s photo. During the service, there was mention of Jack and the deceased grandfathers’ influence. My brother’s former wife, the bride’s mother, told me that she had blended the gold of their wedding bands into a ring for each girl. And in a modern take on memorializing, a cousin of the bride showed us a tattoo commemorating her uncle; a dream-catcher image with Jack’s birthdate.
When relationships go sour, it’s not just one person or a single circumstance. No dream-catcher can sort out mistakes and hurt feelings. With inviting us to the wedding, my brother’s family extended reconciliation. By attending, we signaled our willingness to bring peace to troubling memories. The marriage of my niece solemnized her union with her husband, but has also been an instrument of healing for her father’s families. A message heard at weddings is, what God has joined together, let no one separate. We are slow learners; hopefully we’ll get it right this time.
I imagine my brother smiling; jubilant like his face at the finish of the 1983 NYC marathon.
© Joan S Grey, 3 June 2016
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