How does one handle a hole left by an important loved one while attending a special event? I wish I knew. This summer one of my daughters and I traveled from Portland, Maine to Mobile, Alabama for the wedding of my great niece Zelda. She is my brother Steve’s first grandchild. She was born at the end of the year he died. A massive coronary took him at the age of fifty-two. Among his three children, there are now nine grandchildren, including two charming step-grandsons. I was thrilled to be included in the celebration. My dear sister-in-law is now remarried to a wonderful guy who always makes me feel welcome when I visit. He is a Yankee from Boston, so we have a lot in common. My nieces and nephews and their spouses are friendly, as are all the grands. I am the sole survivor of my childhood nuclear family. My parents and brother Wayne also succumbed at a young age to coronary disease. The same illness has plagued me, but I am still here.
It is sometimes challenging to be in Mobile where my brother lived and worked. I can still feel his presence in the family home. Bittersweet feelings fill me when members of his family take me to Dauphin Island, one of Steve’s favorite places to go to unwind. Driving into the cul-de-sac that the family house sits at the head of always makes me remember how he stood in my kitchen in Maine and bragged about living on a “cul-de-sac.” He had announced it was probably something we still didn’t have in Maine. Steve and I grew up poor in Central Maine. He was so proud to be able to buy a four-bedroom, three bathroom house in a very nice neighborhood.
The wedding ceremony was perfect. Zelda was beautiful, elegant, and radiant in her stunning gown. Her groom was adorable. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were lovely. The only thing that didn’t work as planned was when Zelda’s two-and-a-half year old cousin Harlie fell asleep on her mother’s lap during the long mass and couldn’t serve as one of the gift bearers with her dad, aunt, and another cousin. I got teary but got away with it as many guests did as well.
The reception was another thing all together. My explanations as to who I was confused some of the relatives on the groom’s side, especially one dear southern woman who didn’t realize that Maine was actually still in the United States and not part of Canada. I felt a bit awkward identifying myself as the late grandfather’s sister. It got worse as the dance floor came to life. Zelda was dancing with different male relatives as the custom is. I thought of how Steve had taken dance lessons for his son Rhett’s wedding, so he wouldn’t look bad on the dance floor as he felt he had at Zelda’s mom’s wedding. I had to disappear for a few minutes. Fortunately for me, the women’s room was down a side hall and quite a distance from the dance floor. No one was in there. I could howl in sadness for a couple minutes without alarming anyone. I wiped away the sparse mascara I had attempted to put on for the special occasion and got myself back out with the group without anyone but my daughter missing me. At least I think I did.
The day after the wedding was filled with updates about who was going to what college, who was on the honor roll, who got an award at karate class, and other important stuff that sweet relatives like to share. We reminisced about past family gatherings and got into silly stories that have been told many times before at reunions. I took time this visit to just simply enjoy looking at all three of Steve’s children being in the same room at the same time with me. This hadn’t happened since his funeral. My nieces live in Mobile near their mother, but their older brother and his family live in Ohio. I worry about being a painful reminder of what had happened twenty-two years ago, but it was wonderful to be there and share this special occasion with them. Still, damn it all, Steve should have been there. He was missed.