my two weddings
I would love to tell you that we were married in a secluded Japanese Garden, on a gorgeous summer day, surrounded by friends and family. I'd tell you all about how Kooka, dressed in a long white gown serenaded us with an accapella version of "Wherever the Trail May Lead." I'd probably mention how Punk pronounced us man and wife, and Kooka said, "You may now kiss the bride - but not for too long." I'd reminisce about how Uncle Ken delivered a beautiful service; how we both shared vows with 4 of our kids; the kids spoke vows they wrote themselves; how Punk promised to love and respect Rico just as he would his own dad; and how Kooka said, "I hope you like being in this family as much as we like having you here.
Then I'd go into all of the details about the afterparty. . . . how Kooka and Leah made us 2 cakes (coconut/ lemon and peach); how so many of our friends and neighbors showed up to help us celebrate; how all of the kids splashed in the pool - nevermind the hypothermia; how I finally got to kiss my husband goodnight - and how amazing it felt to say that word to him.
I would tell you this - but it would only be partly true - halfway true. Because while all of those things really did happen, they didn't happen on our wedding day. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our real wedding day was 7 days earlier . . . and that day went something like this:
In the ICU at United Hospital.
Gram - almost 95 years old and living on her own, has taken a tumble. She has a small brain bleed and is in need of a pacemaker - immediately. This woman, who has raised me since I was 6 years old, is telling the doctors that she can't stay here long. There's a wedding this this week she says, "and I am the matron of honor."
She is. But as we sit through two blood draws, three exams, and two very long heart stoppages, it becomes clear that Gram - the toughest woman I know, may not have a week - and if she does, she certainly won't be spending it at my wedding.
The nurses pull in a recliner chair for me, as I prepare to camp out for the night. Gram looks at me and says "What are we going to do? I have to get you through this wedding. Then everything will be ok - then I can die in peace."
"Well, I guess I'll have to put it off, so you won't die at all."
She leans back on her pillow, closes her eyes and says, "I'll die anyway, and then I'll haunt you."
She's not kidding, so I know I have to come up with a better plan.
Thankfully Rico and I had applied for our marriage license 6 days ago. It will be ready to pick up in the morning. Thankfully, my childhood friend Michelle is an ordained minister and has offered her services. Thankfully, we can make this happen - even if it isn't exactly how we planned.
I let the nurses know that the minister will be here at 10:30 in the morning, giving us enough time to legally get hitched before Gram goes into her surgery. But the night is long. The alarms go off constantly, the pacer pads restart her heart more than once. Still, she is lucid, and funny, even though the fact that she her heart is stopping about once every four hours is taking it's toll. I pray for her to get some sleep.
At 9:30 am Gram is on the phone with Rico - reminding him to bring a dress for me, and making sure he wears a nice shirt. She has barely hung up the phone, when she looks at me and says, "Now . . . .It's going to happen right now."
It takes a minute to register what she is saying. And then I get it.
She is dying.
Right this second.
Right in front of me.
Her heart stops beating.
I shout for the nurses - and by the time they get into the room, her heart has paused for 14 seconds. But the pacer pads have done their job, and no sooner have the nurses held her hands and said her name, then she is, totally, completely, fully awake asking when the minister will get here.
Not that it matters. The doctor has decided that the surgery cannot wait. Within 10 minutes they have prepped her and we are wheeling her down to surgery. I am right next to her bed, and the last thing she says to me is "I love you. Don't start without me."
Of course we won't.
Michelle arrives. Rico arrives. Uncle Ken and Loretta are there. My brother shows up. And we wait.
We wait for two hours, and finally breathe when the surgeon comes out to tell us, "She's doing great. She's amazing!"
There are happy tears in all of our eyes. But then he says:
"It was a bit more difficult - a bit more painful than most surgeries."
"Why?!" - this is both me and little brother. She asked us both if it would hurt and we both promised her that it would not.
"Well, she refused any form of medication."
"Her exact words were, 'I don't want any medicine, because I have a wedding after this and I want to have my wits about me.'"
"WHAT?! Wait - NONE? Like NO medication?"
"No. I finally convinced her to take a little shot of novicaine to at least dull the initial cut - but she refused anything else."
"Oh my GOD. Where is she now?"
"Well, she didn't have to come out of a fog, so we just wheeled her back to her room. She's probably waiting for you there."
So we bolt back to the 3rd floor, and there she is, sitting up in bed. Her first words are, "Wow, except for being sore - I feel great!" Then she looks at Rico in his clean white polo, and black pants and says "You look great." Giving me the once-over, she decides that my jeans and filthy, slept-in hoodie are less acceptable. "You don't," she says. "Go put on some wedding clothes."
So I do. And we get married right there in the cardio unit of United Hospital. It actually says that on our marriage certificate - United Hospital, St. Paul. The nurses have asked the hospital chef to bring a us a wedding cake and a carafe of coffee. There are champagne glasses filled with ice water, the hospital photographer shows up to capture the event, Yoda is exceptionally good, and once she's signed the papers, Gramma finally consents to taking a vicodin.
We kiss her goodbye, and I go home with my new husband.
Yep. We did.