We buried my father yesterday

We buried my father yesterday.  It was a long, difficult, emotionally draining day.  But there were amazing moments that will stay with me for a long time.  Because the funeral home in charge was in Delaware and the funeral was in DC, we didn’t have a visitation the night before.  Instead, the immediate family received the guests at the back of the church before the service began.

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I was amazed at how many people were there – old family friends from my childhood years, who I hadn’t seen in decades.  Family and friends from all over the country – my mom and I counted 20 states and the District of Columbia were represented, if you include my cousin’s husband who lives in Minnesota but works several weeks each month in Alaska, and flew in from there.  The full list is: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington state, Texas, Alaska, and of course DC.  My Dad’s life touched many, many people and it meant so much to me that they wanted to be there to let us know how much he meant to them.

The priest gave a very nice homily, honoring Dad.  Then my brother and my cousin both gave eulogies.  I have to say, Terry, my brother, did an amazing job.  It was heartfelt, honest, humorous, and above all was a perfect tribute to my dad.  We laughed and we cried.  I only wish he was able to give me a copy so I could share it with you.  But he spoke from his heart, not his notes.  He didn’t have any of it written down.  And it never occurred to me to grab the iphone and record it – what I would give to have it to listen to when I want to remember his description of my dad.

After Terry was finished, my cousin, Shannon, who was one of Dad’s goddaughters, shared a few stories of times she remembered with Dad – also heartfelt and touching.  We then processed out to the Navy hymn, chosen by Mom to honor Dad’s Naval service.

From the church, we processed to Arlington National Cemetery, where Dad was interred with full military honors.  If you have never been to a military funeral, I am not sure I can describe it.  The solemnity with which they conduct the entire ceremony was incredibly moving.  First, we arrived at the administration building to make sure that everyone was there before we proceeded to the actual gravesite.  Once we were ready, everyone got in their cars and we drove to what was referred to as the staging area.

caisson

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

We stopped, got out of the cars, and watched as they moved the casket from the hearse to the horse-drawn caisson.  We then walked behind as he was taken another couple of blocks to where the grave was.  Marching in front of the caisson was the Navy Honor Guard flight – about 30 sailors in dress uniform with bayonetted guns on their shoulders – and a band that played as we walked, as well as at the graveside.

After the family was seated, the priest said a few prayers.  We then stood for the military honors. The Naval pallbearers removed the flag and held it tight over the casket.  While they stood there, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace, 7 men shot off 3 rounds each for the 21-gun salute, and then a trumpeter played Taps.  The pallbearers folded the flag, and it was presented to my mother. The Captain who handed it to her said, “On behalf of the President, the department of the Navy and our country, we want to thank your husband for his dedication and service.”  That flag will always be a reminder of Dad’s commitment to what he felt was his patriotic duty to serve in the Navy.

I have shed a lot of tears since that night in November when mom told me he was gone.  I imagine I will shed many more in the days and weeks ahead.  But I am glad that he is no longer trapped in a body that couldn’t walk and a mind that couldn’t remember.

view of AF mem

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

If I didn’t know it before, after talking to family and friends this week, I know that he loved me as much as I loved him.  I also know that he will always be with me – in my heart.  And I can always go visit him, at a lovely spot right between the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial.  What an honor!

Road trips make me nervous

I love road trips.  I love everything about being in a car on the open road.  The scenery. The music on the radio.  The time to visit with each other without having a million interruptions.  But road trips make me nervous.  I usually have the nagging worry at the back of my head that something is going to go wrong.  Because it always does.

The very first road trip that Jeanne and I ever took together should have been a sign.  We always end up having adventures when we travel.  Over the years, we have had some crazy things happen.  One time we had to sleep in the car when we couldn’t find a single vacant hotel room for 400 miles.  Another time, we were caught in a hailstorm that left dents on the hood of the car.  And there was that time we had rented a car for the trip. We had mechanical trouble before we even got to our destination, had to trade the car in, and then were rear-ended on the way home, so ended up in a 3rd vehicle before the trip was over. But the first trip – the one we’ll never forget – is the story we still tell when we get talking about weird travel stories.

My mother had won 3 nights at a hotel in Nashville, and knowing we both loved Country music, offered the certificate to Jeanne and me.  She even offered to let us use her car for the trip, but mine got better gas mileage, so we didn’t take her up on it.  That was our first mistake!

I was teaching in Northern Virginia at the time, so we hit the road during my spring break. Our first stop was Atlanta to visit a cousin of mine; from there, we made our way towards Nashville, by way of Chattanooga and a couple of famous distilleries (to take a tour and see how the whiskey was made).  After visiting these tourist stops, we got back on the interstate headed for Music City.  All of a sudden, we heard a popping noise, and then smoke started billowing out of my engine.  We pulled over, knowing something was terribly wrong.  Not having any idea what we were looking at, we raised the hood and decided we had better see what we could do about getting some help.

Keep in mind, this was long before either of us owned a cell phone!  Fortunately the next exit was within view and at the top of the ramp, we could see a service station.  We locked the car and started walking.

When we got to the gas station, the mechanic asked what he could do for us.  We pointed down to the side of the highway and said – see that car?  We need to get it towed up here because something is wrong.  He didn’t have a tow truck but he did have a phone for us to call AAA and arrange for one to come.  The closest one was located 20 miles north of where we were, had to drive past where the car was to get to the next exit and turn around, and then could tow the steaming car about ¼ of a mile up the exit ramp.  When it finally got delivered to the mechanic, he told us the water pump had blown, that he would have to get a part from another town and that he couldn’t have the car ready until noon the next day.

He then directed us to a motel down the road – the only one within walking distance.  The Smoke House was more than just a motel.  It was a restaurant, gift shop, motel … and wedding chapel!  Over the course of the next 24 hours, we took advantage of all of these – except the wedding chapel, of course.  We had only been dating about 3 months at that point!

I googled the Smoke House recently.  The motel is still there – it is now a Best Western, and I don’t see the wedding chapel mentioned on their website, but the restaurant and gift shop look exactly the same.  The rooms, though, have been updated.

19 years ago, when we walked into our room, the first thing we noticed was a floor to ceiling mural on the wall in front of us.  Larger than life, it depicted a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass of whiskey on the rocks.  The rest of the room décor also seemed to remind us of our earlier stops.  For one thing, the bedside table was a whiskey barrel!

There wasn’t much to do, since we were without transportation, so we spent a lot of time in the gift shop and restaurant.  Once we had looked at every knickknack on sale and eaten lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day in the one restaurant, we still had some time to kill before the car would be ready, so we decided to walk across the street to the local winery.  Their sign advertised tours of their operation – we have always enjoyed learning about the manufacturing process, whether it is the CocaCola museum in Atlanta, the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis, or in this case, the Monteagle winery in Tennessee.

The tour cost the lively sum of $3, which we figured was a bargain for something to do that day.  We were hoping it would help the time pass quickly and that we could get on our way soon.  We waited with a few other “tourists” by the head of a flight of stairs.  When the employee opened the gate that was blocking the way, he indicated it was a self-guided tour and we should just proceed down the steps.

We reached the landing at the bottom and quickly realized that we had overpaid for this particular “tour”.  Standing on a landing with windows on either side, we were facing a handwritten sign on the wall in front of us that told us to look to the left to see the pressing process and look to the right to see the bottling process, and “thank you for touring the Monteagle Winery”.  The only saving grace was that we were given a free wine tasting when we got back upstairs.

Whenever we get ready to go on a road trip these days, we always know there will be an adventure awaiting us along the way.  Some good, some not-so-good.  But if nothing else, we know we will get a story out of it!

Some day, I’ll tell you about the year I went looking for a new job and had a story to tell after each interview.  It would be almost enough to fill a book!

How do you show your love?

Today is that overly-sweet, hearts-and-flowers, you-can-only-show-your-love-by-spending-oodles-of-money, “Hallmark Holiday” known as St. Valentine’s Day.  In the 19 years we have been together, I can count on one hand the number of times that Jeanne has given me a gift for this occasion.  I know she sent flowers one year, and a “candy bouquet” another.  I think she gave me my favorite moisturizer one time, but if there were other gifts, I have forgotten them. And that is OK.  I don’t need a gift to know she loves me.  When I left for work this morning, she told me I looked pretty – that was gift enough for me!

We usually buy each other a card at least, although this year, we are trying to cut back on unnecessary expenses, so we are going to do what some friends do.  Go to the card store, browse the racks of pink and red sentiments, choosing just the right one that expresses our love, show it to each other and say “Honey, this is what I want to say to you today.”  We’ll put the cards back, walk out of the store, and congratulate each other on saving $5 on a card that would end up in the trash can in a week.  And then go out for our annual tradition – Chinese food!

May you be surrounded by love today and always.

Peter and the Rock

I am currently participating in an Adult R.E. (Religious Education) class at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The minister is leading a course titled “Owning Your Religious Past” that is designed to address where we have come from in our spiritual journey.  She described it this way:

“Few UU’s are born into the faith, and when we find our way here, it can be with significant baggage from past church experiences. This class will help us sort through what was, what is, and what can be in our experience of religious community, its tools of self-exploration and sharing, finally enabling us to realize a faith that is powerful, nurturing, and relational.”

Last Sunday, the 2nd in the 5 week curriculum, we spent some time with our eyes closed, remembering a church from our past that had a big influence on us, either positively or negatively, mentally walking through the entire building, recalling sights, sounds, and smells.  We then spent a few minutes drawing a floor plan of it and sharing with the other members of the class what we remembered.

My memory was of the Catholic church of my childhood.  I remembered walking up the large flight of marble steps, through the heavy wooden doors, and into the sanctuary with my family.  We were usually late, rushing in as the first hymn, or even the first reading, was already underway.  We sat in the same general area each week – near the back, on the left side of the center aisle.  I still do that at my new church – although now I move to the right, near the side aisle, and am a bit closer to the front.

I think we are all creatures of habit and tend to gravitate to our “comfort zone”.  I remember often asking my dad why we had to sit so far back.  Looking back, it was probably because we were late, and he didn’t want to make a bigger scene than necessary.  He was never one to draw attention to himself.  But his usual answer at the time was to suggest that I look at all the candles on the altar and then tell me that if the place caught on fire, he wanted to be as close to the door as possible!

One of the sights I remember from many Sundays sitting in the pews was the Bible verse painted around the clerestory, just below the upper level windows. In letters edged with gold, it read

TU ES PETRUS, ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM

For those as lacking in biblical knowledge as I am, that verse is from Matthew 16:18.  As you can see, it was in Latin, which I never took, and it wasn’t until I was in French class in high school that I deciphered what it meant.  In French,  the name Peter translates as Pierre, while the word for rock is pierre.  Yes, the same word.  Sometime after I learned that, I was sitting in church one Sunday, looking at the words high above my head (probably trying to keep from falling asleep during the sermon), and realized that Petrus/Petram looked a lot like Peter. Aedificabo looked like “edifice”, which had to do with buildings, and all of a sudden I put it together.  I was sitting in St. Peter’s Church!  And there was a Bible verse I vaguely remembered hearing at some point in my Catholic school education about “You are Peter, and on this Rock, I build my church.”

It all began to make sense.  At least, the choice of Bible verses made sense.  (I mean, it was St. Peter’s Church!) I never did make sense of the dogma that was preached.  Which is why I no longer consider myself a Catholic.

I have been thinking about my childhood church a lot lately.  Taking part in this exploration of our religious past is bringing up lots of memories, but I also have realized this week that St. Peter’s is still a part of my present.  7 weeks from today*, I will be back in St. Peter’s Church.  This time, though, I will be sitting in the front row, listening to my brother eulogize my father, and missing my rock.  I just hope the church doesn’t catch fire!

 

*For those who don’t know, we have had to wait for my father’s funeral until we were given a burial date by Arlington National Cemetery.

Christmas is harder than I thought it would be

It’s Christmas Eve, and I just got home from the “Wonder of Winter Lights” pageant at my church.  My partner is out tending to other people’s animals – she works as a pet-sitter, so holidays are her busy time.  The house is clean in anticipation of company tomorrow – friends who are also far from family, are too busy to travel, and/or aren’t Christian so don’t have a reason to be with family on a random Tuesday.  My dogs and cats are sacked out, so the house is quiet.

When I first get home, whether from work, shopping, or – as tonight – church, I almost always open the computer and check out what’s been posted on Facebook since I last logged on.  I check my notifications, read my private messages, and look to see if there are any new likes on the page I help administrate.

profile pics

This is just some of the many I have posted to Facebook.

Tonight, for some reason, I scrolled through my old profile pictures – I tend to change my image pretty regularly.  I went back almost 2 years.  Some of them are of me and Jeanne.  Some of them are just me.  Some of them indicate causes (or teams) I support, or show our pets.  And some of them are of Dad.  There are a couple of me with Dad.  Those are the ones that are making me sad tonight.

I didn’t expect to have a hard time today – I got through Thanksgiving without much problem.  As I posted after he died, I had lost him several times over the past few years.  He really hadn’t been with us for Christmas – mentally – for several years.  So this shouldn’t be all that different.  At least, that is what I told myself.

me & dad at bowlingBut something about seeing this picture, taken almost 3 years ago, brought tears to my eyes.  It was taken at the bowling alley where Jeanne and I were on a league.  Dad was visiting for a week or so while mom was on a trip.  This was the year that DC got hit with back-to-back snow storms that delayed my flight up there to bring him home with me.  I was so relieved to have him with me at that point that I wanted to keep him close, even when we went bowling.  He was so cute that night – cheering for everyone on my team, giving us a thumbs up when we did well and a thumbs down when we didn’t.

I have so many happy memories of our times together – I am trying to just think of those and remember the love.  The sadness kicks in when I start thinking about how we won’t have any more chances to make special memories.

Even after the dementia got bad, up until the very end, he would smile every time he saw me – tonight, I am missing his smile.

10 Holiday Memories

I make pumpkin pie for everyone else and cherry pie for me!

These days, I make pumpkin pie for everyone else and cherry pie for me!

1) Making yeast rolls with Mom and snagging one from the bread basket before it gets to the table.

2) Learning how to make real whipped cream from Grandmommy and eating a spoonful by itself because I don’t like pumpkin pie.

3) Being in charge of putting out place cards and deciding who I want to sit next to each year.

4) Talking Dad into pouring me a taste of the wine so I could feel grown up for just a day.

5) Listening to mom sneeze 3 times at the end of the meal and her telling us Granddaddy always did the same thing.

These friends helped us celebrate holidays each year.

These friends helped us celebrate holidays each year.

6) Waiting for dessert until family friends come over and then having game night while we digest it all.

7) Carrying boxes (and boxes and boxes) of decorations down from the storage cupboard above the bathtub while mom fixes hot chocolate the next morning.

8) Helping untangle the lights with Dad because Mom doesn’t have the patience for it.

9) Taking each ornament out of the box one at a time and each of us getting to hang “ours” on the tree wherever we want.

This is my tree now, but I still like to turn out all the lights and admire it!

This is my tree now, but I still like to turn out all the lights and admire it!

10) Turning out all the lights except the ones on the tree and the candles in the windows, turning on the radio to the station playing carols, and listening to the crackle of the fireplace as we are surrounded by the warmth of family.

What are your childhood memories from this time of year?

Feeling thankful…

In 2010, I posted a gratitude per day on my blog.  Last year, I tried to do it on Facebook, but couldn’t keep up.  This year, several friends are participating in the Facebook meme of posting something they are thankful for as their status every day. The month is more than half over already and I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon!  Since Thanksgiving is just a day away, I thought I would just write one blog post about being thankful.

Despite having lost my Dad a couple of weeks ago, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, I am extremely grateful for the care he received, both last year in Memphis and this past year in Delaware.  The staff at Cadbury, particularly the nursing staff, was amazing, caring for his physical needs while treating him with the kindness and respect that he deserved.

I am thankful that I was able to see him as many times as I did this past year.  The cost of travel, especially by air, can be quite prohibitive, but my mother made sure I was able to get there several times by paying for my tickets.

I am incredibly lucky to have a job that, first of all, allows me to have time off in the summer and secondly, offers family medical leave during the school year so that I can spend time with my parents when they need my assistance.

I am always grateful for my loving wife (I can say that for real, now!), who loved my dad almost as much as I did and who supported my need to spend time with him.  She has been my shoulder to cry on when the grief threatens to overwhelm me.

I am thankful for my brother.  Even though we don’t have a lot in common and rarely talk, we know we have each other’s back and that counts for a lot.  I hope he knows how much I love him.  I am also incredibly thankful that he met and married his wife.  She has become one of my dearest friends – I can call her any time, day or night, and know that she will listen, offer advice when asked, keep my confidences if I need her to, and give generously of her time and talent.

I am also grateful for my students, who teach me something every day, if only how to be a better teacher.  They are kind, smart, interesting, caring, amazing young women who will help shape our community and our world in the years to come.

I am thankful that I am making healthier choices (most of the time) when it comes to what I eat and the activities I participate in.  Over the past year, I have made many positive changes and hope to continue in my journey towards fitness and health.

I am thankful that I have found a family of choice so far from my family of origin.  Without relatives closer than 800 miles, it could be very lonely here in the south.  But I have some wonderful friends who treat me like family and for whom I would do just about anything!

One of the best parts of this past year was the privilege I had of marrying the woman I love.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the members of the LGBT community and all the allies who have fought for marriage equality over the years.  Without their hard work, we would not have been able to legally declare our love and commitment.  As it is, we still have work to do, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of history – I have faith that some day (soon), we will be able to look back and say we were there.  And that the next generation will be able to look back and think “what was the big deal?”

As we head into the frantic holiday season, filled with TV ads, mailbox-filling catalogs, and incessant Christmas music from every conceivable corner of retail locations, I took a moment today to just sit.  Sit in silence, looking out at the water in Lewes, DE, and contemplate all that I have to be grateful for.  That includes you – my readers.  Thanks for reading about my life here in this little corner of cyber space.

Dad will be in my heart forever

For the last 3 years, I have known my dad was dying.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which we all know is incurable and ultimately terminal.  But I had hopes that he would be around for a long time – there are stories of people living with Alzheimer’s for 10+ years.  The thing is, he probably had it for much longer and we never knew.  Or maybe we knew, but didn’t want to face it.

For a long time leading up to the diagnosis, we knew something was wrong.  He would repeat questions or forget appointments or get into fender benders that he should have been able to avoid.  He would get angry for no apparent reason – he was basically a kind, gentle man, so that was very out of character for him.  At first, I chalked it up to his work-a-holic tendencies that left him out of sorts after retirement.  He didn’t have any hobbies, so he didn’t know what to do with himself when he wasn’t working a full-time job.  But then it became clear that it was more than that.

We originally referred to it as “dementia” – which covers a whole host of disorders and can be caused by a wide variety of problems, ranging from vitamin deficiency to strokes to the dreaded Alzheimer’s.  I think the hope was that he would get better.  But he just kept getting worse.  And then the doctor said what we had all been doing our best to deny.

Mom did her best to manage with him at home, but with my brother and me each about 800-900 miles away, she had a hard time being the sole care-giver.  About 6 months after the official diagnosis, the family decided that it would be best if Dad moved into assisted living.  That was almost exactly 2 years ago.  He moved in on November 1st, 2010.  On November 4th, he fell and broke his hip. Surgery was necessary, but as we had heard, the anesthesia accelerated the dementia, and he never really got back on his feet.

His first assisted living arrangement was near me.  This eased the responsibility on Mom, but she had to travel by plane to see him – something she did about once a month for a year.  I enjoyed being able to see him frequently, though.  I would often stop by on my way home from work, sometimes just to say hi and check on him, others to actually have dinner with him and visit for a while.

At the end of that first year, she decided that she wanted him back closer to her – a decision that was very hard for me to accept, but ultimately was the right one, since his new residence was in a facility that could better care for him as his medical needs grew.  He was there about 4 months when they moved him from the assisted living memory unit to the skilled nursing floor.

I was able to visit him 4 times during the past year.  The first visit was in January – about 2 months after he moved back East.  I was discouraged for the first two days because he didn’t seem to know me, but the last day I was there, he knew exactly who I was – he even introduced me to a staff member by name and as his daughter.  The next time I saw him was in May.  I only had a couple of hours with him – I was on my way to my 30th high school reunion.  Fortunately, he was having a pretty good day that day as well.

In August of this past summer, I was able to go again – this time for several days.  He still lit up when he saw me, recognizing me as someone he knew and loved, but was confused about which family member I was.  I spent time with him during the day, and even took him to the main dining room for a couple of meals.  It was hard to see the decline, but I was glad to have some time to just be with him.

Last month, Mom was scheduled for surgery – she arranged to have it at the hospital closest to Dad and to do her rehab in the same nursing unit.  I took the week off work to be with her – something I am now incredibly glad I did.

I noticed the decline in Dad almost right away.  He was much less able to communicate – rarely talking, mumbling when he did, and dozing off frequently (if he was awake at all).  I arrived on a Saturday and stayed until Friday, seeing Dad each day except Monday, when I was at the hospital with Mom all day.  Most of the time I spent with him was in silence – he was either sleeping or unable to respond to anything I said.  Occasionally I would get a nod or even a slurred yes or no, but that was about it.

At the end of the week, I had to return home – I had a job waiting, and my mother was being cared for by the nursing staff.  My brother’s wife was due to arrive 4 days later to help out when Mom was discharged.  I had plans to fly back for Thanksgiving – which was only 4 weeks away.  When it was time to go, I stopped by Dad’s room to say goodbye, but he was sleeping.  I told him I loved him, that I would be back and to do whatever the nurses told him.

That night, the nursing staff decided he needed to go to the hospital because he was severely dehydrated and needed IV fluids.  He hadn’t eaten much all week, and had had even less to drink.  They kept him overnight, and may have kept him longer to administer more fluid, but Hurricane Sandy was due to hit within a couple of days and Mom was concerned he would get stuck at the hospital.  He was there alone, because she was less than a week out of surgery and couldn’t go with him, so she arranged to get him discharged and brought back to his room.  But we all knew that his condition was of grave concern.  So my brother decided to go out with his wife, and together they decided to fly out a couple of days early to beat the storm.

They got there Sunday, the storm hit Monday, and by Tuesday it was clear that Dad’s time was running out.  He rallied a bit that afternoon, but was unresponsive again the next day. On that Thursday, my brother texted me in the afternoon that Dad was close to passing.  His breathing was very shallow and slow, although his pulse remained strong. The doctor put him on morphine that evening, since he seemed to be in some distress.

Several days went by with little change – on Sunday, my brother and I both commented that we were surprised he was hanging on.  We knew it was just a matter of time, though.  Between him, his wife, and my mother, Dad had someone sitting with him almost all day.  From what they have told me, Dad seemed peaceful – the morphine helped him rest comfortably, so that eased my mind.  On Monday, my brother stayed with him almost all day long – he had to leave the next day, and was hopeful that Dad would pass before he had to leave.  But in his stubborn way, Dad hung on almost 2 more days.

They left the morning of Tuesday, November 6th and Dad passed Wednesday evening.  I know my brother has some guilt over that – he probably has that refrain running through his head. “If only…”  But as his wife has said, Dad was probably waiting for him to leave – he always liked to do things in his own way.  I am just disappointed that I didn’t realize how close the end was when I was there – if only…

The night that Mom called to say dad was gone was one of the worst of my life.  Even though I knew that day would come, and over the 10 days leading up to it, I had been expecting it any day, it still felt like a blow to the gut.  My dad – my hero – was gone.  Really gone.  Not just locked away in his deteriorating mind, but gone from this earth.

I have lost my dad again.  I lost him the day he was diagnosed.  I lost him the day he fell and had to have surgery.  I lost him the day he moved to Delaware.  And I lost him on November 7th at 10:30 at night.  I guess the thing I can hold on to now is that I will never lose him again – he will remain in my heart forever.

 

Feeling the love…

I have gotten to see a sneak peek of our wedding photos on Facebook.  My sister-in-law is amazingly talented, so they are all exceptional.  I can’t wait to see the rest of them, but in the meantime, I wanted to share three that I just adore.

The first one was taken before we left for the church.  I love the archway as a frame for us.

The 2nd one was taken after the ceremony, on the balcony at the church.  You can almost feel the love shining out of the picture.

The last one is of us sitting in the “parlor” at the Bed & Breakfast.  We had been toasted by our “best women”, and were opening gifts.  The emotion I feel from this one is pure joy – one of the things I love most about our relationship is the laughter we share every day.

Thank you, Lori, for sharing our day and offering your incredible talent to document this milestone for us!  We love you!

A play-by-play of our wedding day

Last week was the worst week of my life and the best week of my life.  On Wednesday evening, my Dad passed away (a blog post for another day).  On Thursday, I left for Iowa to get married.  Jeanne and I had been planning our wedding since the end of September, and since the date for Dad’s funeral is up to Arlington National Cemetery and may be several months off, there was no reason to change our plans. We had planned for it to be a very small affair anyway – just us and 2 attendants – so we decided to go ahead and leave.  Between the original plan and the date of the wedding, we did add one guest – a cousin who lives close enough to drive to the location we had chosen.

Jeanne & I, along with our dear friend Lorena, drove about 1/3 of the way the first day.  We got back in the car Friday morning, arrived in Davenport at 2:15 pm, and met up with my sister-in-law who drove in from Wisconsin.  We got there in plenty of time to pick up our license at the court house, check into the Bed & Breakfast we had found, and get to the church for a 4 pm rehearsal.  All went smoothly that day, and we went to bed early to be well rested for the big day.

Saturday – our wedding day – was almost perfect.  The day began with sleeping in (which we all needed), followed by a yummy breakfast casserole, cinnamon rolls and a trip to the mall to get our nails done.  My color matched my flowers and Jeanne’s color matched her blouse.  It had been sprinkling as we walked into the mall, but when we left, the sun was shining – yay!  After a quick bite at Panera to make sure we all made it through the afternoon, we returned to the Beiderbecke Inn to get ready.  Jeanne was ready first and went downstairs to wait.  My cousin Michelle arrived and kept her company while our 2 attendants helped me get into my dress.  Michelle then came up to see me and give me two tokens to have with me during the ceremony – a hankie that was her mother’s and a pin that was one of Dad’s other sister’s.  The pin belonged to my godmother, and was a silver shamrock with a pearl at the center.  Both gifts were very meaningful and gave me a sense of having part of Dad with me on this special day.

When I was finally ready, I came down to meet Jeanne.  As I rounded the corner in the staircase, I could see her waiting at the bottom – her mouth hanging open as she saw my dress for the first time.  I was so happy she liked it!  We took tons of photos, inside and out, and then headed for the church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, a UU congregation very similar to our home church of Neshoba.

When we got there, several cars were already in the parking lot.  Our minister in Memphis had emailed the minister in Iowa to suggest that he invite members of his congregation to attend, since we couldn’t have our church family with us.  When we went inside there were already 2 families and a couple of other people.  More arrived before the start of the ceremony – we were amazed at how many people came to see 2 strangers get married.  One couple, Dana and Betty, told us that they had been married over 2 years ago, and when they had their ceremony, they had also been together 19 years.

The ceremony itself was lovely.  The minister said a few words of welcome, and talked about love.  One phrase that stuck with me was he told us to “knock gently on each other’s hearts, and open them to each other in gladness”.  Our friend Lorena, who we gave the title of “Best Woman”, read the chalice lighting words. Lori, my sister-in-law, who was the “Matron of Honor”, read a passage from Robert Fulgum.  Following that was a prayer that Lorena and Lori read together.

Then came the vows – we had each written our own and not shared them at that point.  I was already a bit teary because Lori & Lorena had each teared up a bit during the readings.  I went first because I didn’t want to cry at Jeanne’s and then not be able to get through my own.  Turns out I cried during mine anyway.  But I got through it.  Jeanne’s were touching as well, so I was glad I had a hankie in my pocket!

We exchanged rings and then all of a sudden we were married!  Our recessional was “Can I have this dance” by Anne Murray, so we danced for a bit in front of everyone, and then walked down the aisle.  As everyone left, we stood by the door thanking them for helping us celebrate.  Several of them gave us cards, and one woman actually gave us a gift.  It was a small figurine of 2 people (of indiscriminate gender) embracing – we found out later, it was crafted by a famous local artisan, Isabel Bloom.

We took more photos, went to the minister’s office to sign the paper work, and then went outside to take even more pictures.  Our Matron of Honor, Lori, is a wedding photographer by profession, so she knew just what poses to capture and how to take advantage of the light.  Most of the photos were taken on her camera, so we will get those after she has a chance to upload and edit them.

A few photos were taken on iphones. This one turned out well!

It was quite breezy on Saturday, so that presented a challenge, but Lori is experienced in dealing with challenging situations, so I have no doubt the pictures will be amazing.  As we got into the car to leave the church, the rain started up again – just a sprinkle, but we were thrilled that it waited until we were finished with pictures.

We returned to the Beiderbecke to put our feet up and visit for a while.  Michelle had brought Prosecco and sparkling pear juice, so she, Lori & Lorena toasted us and our marriage.  We opened gifts from Michelle and Lorena, opened all the cards from the members of the church, and then got ready to go to dinner.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped again!

We had a 6 pm reservation at Biaggi’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant that has locations around the country, but none in Tennessee, so we hadn’t heard of it before.  I just found it the way I did most of the parts of this weekend – searching on the internet for “Fine Dining in Davenport”.  The atmosphere was warm – literally and figuratively. We were seated near a fireplace in a back room – a round table set for 5.  Lorena sat next to Jeanne, Michelle was next to me, and Lori was across the table from us – perfect vantage point for the photographer!

The waiter, a nice young man named Angel, informed us that the manager wanted to provide a bottle of wine for our celebration, so we went with Prosecco again.  For appetizers, we ordered calamari fritti and lobster artichoke dip, shared around the table. Then it was on to soup and salad – I had a Caesar and Lori & Lorena shared a beet salad and a bowl of lobster corn chowder.  The soup was passed around also so we could all taste it.   Everyone agreed that the food was all delicious.  Then came the main course.  Jeanne ordered a seafood pasta bowl that included shrimp, scallops, muscles, and clams in a tomato sauce.  I had shrimp & crab cannelloni in a lobster cream sauce.  Michelle had chicken piccata, and Lori & Lorena each ordered a ½ order of a pasta dish – the cannelloni and a black fettucini with lobster and wild mushrooms – and then shared them.   We should have all gone with 1/2 orders – Michelle, Jeanne and I all had leftovers, while Lori & Lorena cleaned their plates!

Finally, it was time for dessert.  Lori had brought a stunning cheesecake made at a Wisconsin bakery, Simma’s.  Besides being beautiful, with swirls and plum-colored dots that matched my dress, it was the most delicious wedding cake any of us had ever tasted!  It was two-tiered, and we used the figurine given to us by the member of the UUCQC as a cake topper – it was the perfect size for the cake.

We had to say goodbye to Michelle after dinner, but it had been a wonderful day and we were so grateful she was able to be there to help us celebrate.  Lori, who was doing triple duty as witness, photographer, and driver, got us all back to the B&B for a relatively early night.  The drive home the next day was going to be long, so we retired to our respective rooms by 9 pm.

Even if our marriage is never recognized by the state we live in or by the federal government, we are so happy we made this trip.  We have hopes that it be legal everywhere one day, but in the meantime, we know in our hearts that we are legally married and that we will continue to love each other … at least one more day than we have so far.