Weddings are one of those occasions when you really want your loved ones to be there. You want them to witness your happiness and (hopefully) share theirs with you. You may also want them to participate, to demonstrate their support for your decision to commit yourself to someone you plan to spend the rest of your life with. I certainly did. But when Eileen and I got married in May, we knew that most of our most loved ones – our parents – would not be with us. Four of the five of them had died, and none were going to take part in our wedding ceremony. There’d be no parents to walk us down the aisle, nor to perform toasts in our honor.
Now I’m quite used to not having parents around. Mine died long ago: my father, in 1965 at age 50; my mother, in 1982 at 65; and my stepfather, in 1986 at 70. While I think about them often and miss them a lot, I’ve learned not to expect anything from them anymore. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know what they’d be thinking, saying or doing now. Rather, it’s that I’ve grown accustomed to considering them as part of my past. Occasionally, however, I imagine what their responses to me and to today’s world would be.
For instance, I know that they would have been happy – really happy – to see me get married. They had always encouraged me to explore life and to find my own path. And because they raised me to be independent and make my own choices, they were happy when I was happy. Entering into a committed relationship with someone I loved certainly fit this bill. Sure, I wasn’t marrying the nice Jewish man that they had expected or hoped for. And sure, I was already over 50 and unlikely to have children. But they would have seen how much joy there is when Eileen and I are together. And, I have no doubts that my parents would have liked Eileen. They would have easily realized that she is the perfect spouse for me.
Back to the wedding. While it was clear that none of my parents were going to be there in person, I still wanted them to participate, and to witness the event. Eileen was of similar mind, so we decided to include our parents symbolically, by incorporating objects that had been theirs into our traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. We would bring them closer to us by using their belongings. And, in doing so, our memories and our gratitude would be reactivated. By letting our guests know the provenance and history of these objects, they, too, would feel a bit of our parents’ presence.
Of course, every wedding has two sets of parents to consider. I’ve spoken only of my own, but right from the start, Eileen and I agreed that we would invite all of our parents to participate symbolically in our wedding ceremony. In fact, Eileen’s father could not be with us either – he died in late 2005 – so including a coveted object of his would also bring him closer to us and to our joy. It would be equally important to do the same for Eileen’s mother, the only parent who would be attending. While she was physically at the wedding, she wasn’t there in spirit. (See my blog entitled “Flora’s Elegant Wedding Rebuff” to learn of her mixed emotions about her daughter’s marriage to another woman). She didn’t want to be part of the processional or to participate in other public ways, so we incorporated an object of hers into one of the most obvious symbols of home and family life.
So, what were these icons – reminders of our parents – that we integrated into the wedding ceremony? The most visible one one was a tablecloth, hand-crocheted by Eileen’s mother, that we used as the covering of the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy). We attached each corner to a bamboo pole, decorated with rainbow-colored streamers. Bamboo is an Asian plant common in the Philippines (where Eileen’s parents are from), and represents friendship and longevity. I like to think that even if she wasn’t entirely pleased with what was going on under the chuppah, Eileen’s mom was proud to have her handiwork displayed so prominently. To me, it was her blessing over us – in disguise.
Jewish weddings include two cups of wine, each with its own blessings. The first is at the beginning of the ceremony, the betrothal or kiddushin. Two blessings are recited: one over the wine itself and the other over the sanctification of the marriage. The second is cup is used when reciting the seven blessings (sheva brakhot), which complete the marriage ceremony. Most Jewish boys and men have their own kiddush cups (often given to them at their Bar Mitzvahs) and since I had two fathers, we used one of each of their silver cups for the two wine blessings. (My father’s was given to him when he was born. It is inscribed with the date of his birth, but since he had not yet been named, it says, “Baby Rome, December 28, 1914”).
Finally, Eileen and I each wore jewelry of the remaining (i.e., not yet represented) parents. She put on a gold necklace made of interlocking rings. It was one of my mother’s favorite pieces of jewelry, and she wore it often on Friday nights and other festive occasions. I have strong and loving associations of my mother with that necklace, and it warmed my heart to see it on Eileen’s chest. (If you looked carefully under the necklace, you could also make out a sign of Eileen’s fortitude, the scar left from her successful battle with thyroid cancer.)
I save the best for last. It’s not that the object from Eileen’s father was the most valuable, the most touching, or the most representative of who he was. Rather that it was that it was a funny and ironic choice. I got to wear one of her dad’s most coveted ornaments. It was his Richard Nixon tie clip! (He had worked in the White House kitchen for many Presidents – from Johnson to Reagan – and though he was a tried and true Democrat, he said that Tricky Dick was his favorite boss, always friendly and warm to the staff.) The irony of it is that, like the owner of the tie clip, Richard Nixon was reputed to be opposed to same-sex marriage.
The truth is that our parents are always with us in our hearts and our memories, no matter what they may think of us and of our decisions. While they can’t always be with us when we want them, the physical reminders that we used at our wedding helped us feel that they were accompanying us on our journey into marriage. And, they served as a way to honor our fathers and mothers, just as we’re wont – and wanted – to do.