My husband and I generally get along quite well and have ever since we first began dating with one notable exception--when we were planning our wedding! About a year before we actually wedded we began attending prenuptial counseling, not because anything was wrong, but because I had decided that if I were ever to marry again my future husband and I would participate in prenuptial counseling. I wanted to know that my life partner would be willing to commit to examining and answering the hard questions and be willing to go through that process in tandem with me.
So, we chose a wonderful counselor who presented questions we had never even considered about ourselves and about how we would like to be partners—religion, children, sex, all the biggies and then some. I came to the process confident that this was the person I wanted to partner with for the rest of my life and after several sessions left with lots of doubts. We began to argue and waffle and it mostly seemed to be about the wedding, the actual ceremony and party to follow.
Matt was reared a Catholic and went to Catholic school until 10th grade. I was reared Methodist, but stopped practicing at age 8 when we moved to a different town and my mom became disillusioned by organized religion. Matt is the youngest by far of 7 and felt a lot of responsibility to live up to his family’s traditions and expectations. I come from a family of 2 and had already been married, the previous ceremony and choice of spouse had pretty much destroyed any hopes or expectations my family had for me in the wedding department. They were just happy that I finally decided to date someone my age that they considered somewhat normal. We struggled with how we each as individuals and how we as a couple would fit or not fit into our ideas of family. We began to question whether being together was the right thing.
Our arguments centered around simple and ultimately unimportant questions like, where would we get married? In a church? Which church? Did it need to be a church we felt connected to? What if it wasn’t a church? Was it our responsibility to provide free, unlimited booze to the family? Where was the money for such a grand party going to come from? Matt struggled and I pushed him to confront who he really was and wanted to be in the face of centuries of Catholic tradition. He shut down, I pushed more. Then one day during a session with our counselor he said, “Why don’t we just elope?!” I was ecstatic. I stayed up half the night looking for exotic wedding/vacation destinations and by morning emailed him a list of several resorts in Central America and the Caribbean.
We eventually narrowed it down to one called Soulshine. We felt it was a perfect match for our own desires to finally feel laid back about everything. We decided it was important to both of us that our friends and family be aware of our plans but that we wanted to go have our own private ceremony and then celebrate later with them in a relaxed way. So, we planned a 10-day honeymoon/wedding vacation for March and a fun party with friends and family in April. All of the sudden the pressure was off. We were just going to get married and celebrate.
We got married on a Wednesday on a pier in paradise. A very important political person who moonlights by officiating weddings led us through a beautiful ceremony close to sunset. The only ones in attendance were the officiate, the photographer (we wanted to capture it all for those family and friends who may be disappointed they didn’t get to see it for themselves), the resort masseuse who was holding the rings, and a bird. Matt and I did not notice the bird because we were very focused on reading the vows we wrote and making sure the rings didn’t fall through the slats into the water.
After the ceremony, the officiate commented on the beautiful bird who attended our wedding. “Was there anyone who was supposed to be here but couldn’t?” she asked. We responded right away, no of course not we eloped, and then it hit both of us. It was Bob.
Bob was one of Matt’s best friends, the one who had very carefully orchestrated the beginning of our relationship. It was Bob who saw who we could become as a couple and did all that he could to make sure we got together. Without Bob, Matt and I probably would not have ever spoken to one another, much less gotten married. It was Bob who stuck with each of us until he heard the answer “Yes” when he askedthe question, “So, are you in love with him yet?” on one of our daily walks with the dogs. It was Bob who would have been missing from a formal wedding or reception.
It was Bob who should have been at our wedding but couldn’t because he took his own life just a few months after Matt and I had decided to wed. And yet there he was in spirit embodied temporarily in a beautiful bird rarely seen in those parts, especially that time of year, and never for such an extended period of time in the open. The bird stayed for the whole ceremony, watching & listening intently.
Once we saw it we both shed a little tear and there was never a question in either of our minds that Bob had been at the ceremony. Weeks later I was asking my mother-in-law about her Catholic traditions, particularly around weddings. She then shared that she and her husband eloped! Our ceremony never was important to her. She was just truly happy to see her son so happy.
That’s when I realized that on an unconscious level Matt and I struggled not so much with our previous religious traditions as much as we did with the fact that our friend was no longer with us. That he would never be able to come to our wedding and make the best man speech telling everyone how he was responsible for this union and all the funny stories that went along with that. He would never drink beers on the back deck of our new house, or tell our children about how we were when we first started dating. Seeing the bird brought home how wounded we felt that he chose to take himself out of our lives and also how brilliantly the universe brought him to us anyway in that important moment. The bastard showed up to our wedding as a bird! We could have never predicted.
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Written by Ginger Castle