From Jo Floyd Lucas
For the last few days I’ve felt like I sometimes do late in the day on Thanksgiving. Most of us are familiar with the feeling, especially those who are in charge of making the dinner. We feel a little frazzled, a little overworked, and certainly tired by the time that gorgeous feast hits the table. We’ve prepared, entertained, and fed the multitudes. We’ve laughed and cried and loved more than we’re used to, and we end the day (at least I do) with this incredible feeling. I compare it to the feeling in our belly at the end of the dinner. Uncharacteristically full, uncomfortable and achy, but content and sated, all the same.
My heart feels like that this week. I’ve had one of those roller coaster weeks, with crazy activity interspersed with tears, laughter, sorrow, and joy, and it’s left me with that uncomfortable ache that filling your heart to the brim with love can cause. It hurts so good.
Most of you have heard about the wedding I attended last Saturday. There are no words to describe how beautiful it was. In anyone’s book, it would have been a fairytale affair, with the sweet and beautiful Tori marrying her knight in shining armor, Dmitry, a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. It was a multicultural affair, combining traditions from the U.S. and Russia in wonderful fashion. The bride was serene and elegant, the groom handsome in his dress uniform and supremely confident.
It’s always a tender moment when the bride’s father (and in many cultures, the mother as well) escorts the bride to the altar. Usually evident is a mix of emotions on the bride’s face, including everything from unbridled joy to fear and trepidation. The father’s face usually contains a different mix of pride and cautious optimism. On the trip down the aisle last Saturday, I witnessed something else entirely, radiating from both the bride and her father. Gratitude.
This day was but one to most of us, but everything in the world to Tori and her family. It was uncertain whether Joel could make it down the aisle at all on this most special day, but to be able to escort his youngest daughter to the altar to meet her brave knight was miraculous, indeed.
Just as miraculous was a beautiful and generous wedding gift given them by our friend, Danny Burns, who dedicated an entire hour + show of romantic classical music to the newlyweds and her parents on the eve of the wedding. It meant so much to the family that Sally sought me out before the reception to tell me that they all had “tears streaming down their faces” when she told her daughter of this incredible gift. You can read part of Danny’s dedication, and learn just why this wedding was so important here:
Sally, Joel’s wife and an incredible force of nature, had tended to every detail of the wedding, all while caring for Joel and seeing to it that he would have an enjoyable day. Having bought and sold classic cars before his retirement, Joel was surprised with a chauffeur driven 1956 white Rolls-Royce as he and his daughter prepared to leave for the church that morning. Other surprises popped up throughout the day from Sally for Joel, Tori, Dmitry, and the entire wedding party, all reflecting her love and gratitude for the happy day.
And the reception. Oh, my! I have had the good fortune to celebrate various occasions with Russian friends for several years, and I don’t know of any culture that surpasses theirs for a combination of respectful tradition and outright FUN. It began with the mother and grandmother at the doorway of the reception, holding a large loaf of special wedding bread and barring the couple from entering. After a beautiful and touching speech by the groom’s mother, Irina, and before they could come in, the bride and groom were each instructed to take a bite from the loaf, and the one removing the largest portion would be deemed the head of the household. To no one’s surprise, Dmitry is now unquestionably the head of that household.
Then there’s the vodka. Russians would honestly be unable to celebrate without it. It is intertwined in the culture and traditions of the country. After hours of reveling, the party kicked into high gear when the newlyweds were offered shots of vodka by relatives, with everyone proclaiming, “Gorka! Gorka! Gorka!” which loosely translated, means “bitter.” They then had to take the bitterness of the vodka from their mouths by kissing each other, the crowd counting out how long the kisses lasted.
The wedding and reception rank high on the list of my most happy days. Of course, the future is not guaranteed to any of us, so the day remains a precious reminder to me of how to live our lives with intent.
Oddly enough, the very next day was another poignant reminder of the same message with altogether different emotions. A friend of mine from NYC arrived to stay with us for a few days as he sorted through his late mother’s household and took care of her affairs. She passed away last month after a very brief but valiant battle with ovarian cancer, and it has shaken my friend to the core. As many of us have felt, he was unprepared to lose her just yet.
I set out to do what I could to make the unbearable process a little easier. Together with a few others, we assembled a team of capable people to go the house and assist in sorting, labeling, and moving. My friend’s father, long divorced from his mother and estranged from my friend for many years, drove from Illinois each day to be at his side. Evenings were spent creating pleasant diversions for him in order to take his mind off the overwhelming task.
I was touched beyond words when I was presented yesterday with several of his mother’s possessions that my friend had chosen just for me, including music, artwork, and other special items. I had only visited with his mother a few times, but I knew her to be a woman of great substance. She was one of only three women in medical school when she attended in the 1950’s. She became a neurosurgeon, which was unheard of. She subsequently created the specialty of neuroradiology at St. Louis University Hospital, and was an eminent writer on the subject. Oh, yes…great substance. But at her memorial service last month, each of her children gave eulogies in which they asserted that this woman’s greatest accomplishment of all was in attaining sobriety, a journey she had begun 3 decades earlier. While her intellect and surgical abilities had saved countless lives, it was her sobriety that had healed her family. This was a woman of true substance.
My remarkable week concluded yesterday, when my friend told me that he had decided to go back to Illinois with his father after the day’s work, to stay overnight with him and his stepmother for his last two nights in town. That didn’t sound terribly significant to me until he confided that he had not spent the night in the company of his father since he was a very young child. Their relationship is healing as the grieving process for his mother continues.
So today, I feel the fullness of so much. Grief of illness. Grief of death. Joy of love. Joy of new beginnings. The roller coaster continues, and I know I’m just along for the ride. Like everyone else, I endure the dips and exalt in the thrilling view from the heights. I’m achy and happy all at once, but mostly just plain grateful to still be on the roller coaster.
I apologize for the length of this post. Someday I hope to learn the economy of Rick’s language. Until then, I remain a wordy girl. I hope you’ll bear with me.