Seven Weddings and a Funeral

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.

Earlier this week, I watched and listened as my dad and my aunt wrote and rewrote and read aloud drafts of eulogies for their mother. How to sum up a lifetime of memories in — according to the instructions from the church lady helping with the arrangements — three to five minutes?

This morning, edits were finalized and printed. Today is her funeral. But I am not there.

I’m on a plane. Today I put the finishing touches on my own document and sent it off to print. It’s a wedding ceremony.

Tomorrow I am honored to officiate the wedding of two close friends. It’s also the seventh wedding I’ve attended in the last few months, the fifth in just the last seven weeks.

Seven weddings. Seven celebrations of love and community. Actually, make that eight.

In the last few days, bouncing between wedding planning and funeral planning, I’ve been more struck by the similarities than the differences. One isn’t a beginning, and the other an ending. They are both endings, and both, too, beginnings.

More than anything, I feel steeped in the importance of love and community. And the inadequacy of those words to describe the feelings.

I don’t know how many people came to my grandmother’s wake, I just know that for three hours, there was a constant line of people out the door, each with their own stories about her.

Our immediate family is large (and loud, and unmistakably Italian, with a dose of Irish). I met cousins I didn’t know I had. I met high school classmates and football teammates of my dad and his brothers, and colleagues of my aunt. I lost track of how many people explained, “I lived next door,” or, “I’m from across the street.”

It meant a lot to my grandpa to see the clerk from the pharmacy where my grandma used to pick up her prescriptions. Grandma befriended so many people who remain strangers to most. But not to her. My grandma used to cut out newspaper clippings and bring them to the pharmacy, pulling the clerk into the vast web of those touched by her kindness and care.

Her wake was an incredible show of community. An embodiment of how one life lived well can touch so many, so profoundly.

Perhaps she touched one life above all. Her partner, her husband of 63 years, my grandpa.

I’m 32. What is it like to be married for twice as long as I am old?

Yesterday, I sat on the couch next to my grandpa, and watched him flip through a stack of old photos. He got to the end, and started over again. I can’t comprehend what that feels like. How deeply he has lost. But it’s clear as day how deeply he has loved.

In his eulogy today, my dad will say, “If you want to know what love is, just look at my father.” Through her years of illness, my grandfather tirelessly, tenderly, and without complaint, cared for my grandmother.

For better and for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

Tomorrow, I will say “repeat after me” and read those words aloud. In doing so, I will join two people together into a union, a partnership, bound by love. “Love does not exist in isolation,” I will go on to say. It is community that underpins our strength.

I thought it would be confusing this week to feel so many emotions at once, to have to switch modes between grief and celebration. I’m certainly exhausted, but it now makes perfect sense to be crying one minute and laughing the next. The emotions don’t conflict, they’re simply different expressions of what is meaningful, and true. Different expressions of love and community.

What else is different are the ceremonies themselves. One a traditional Catholic funeral, appropriate for my grandmother, and her strong faith in God. The other a wedding written from scratch, performed outdoors, by the power vested in me by the internet.

They certainly look different. But this funeral and this wedding, and the other six outdoor weddings, and, no doubt, my grandparent’s own wedding sixty-three years ago, are built on the same foundation. They center on the same themes of love and community. Love and community. Basic words we use everyday. This week, I am grateful to feel their meaning, deeply, in all forms, all expressions, all of the feels.

I made a Spotify playlist of the songs chosen for her funeral to listen to on my flight. I may not identify with the religion, but there’s something about the music that makes me feel closer. As I fly onward, I am there today in spirit. So is grandma.