Once upon more than a decade ago, before I divorced, before I was a mother, before I walked down the aisle in 800 pounds of tulle and crystals to meet my groom, my then-boyfriend proposed on Christmas Eve. It was a rare holiday when both of my grandmothers were visiting, and as they stood with my parents and brother in a circle around us, I shared the news with them — we were getting married.
There was a pause before the squeals and I thought for a flash that one or both of my grandmothers might fall to the floor.
“I never thought it would happen,” one said. We’d been together for five years and made a cross-country move at that point, well beyond a grandma’s timeline for betrothal.
“I need to sit down,” the other said. And then added, “I am so glad this happened before I died.”
There was laughter. And relief. And also, bubbly dug up from the squeaking refrigerator in the basement. My grandfather had died only months earlier, and September 11th followed within weeks. It had been such a sad fall. Grasping champagne flutes and joy and each other all felt very good.
My Grandma Alice and I were close until Alzheimer’s began pulling her from us at age 95. As a child, she always made angel food cake special just for me, and snuck me brownies for breakfast when my mother was still asleep. In college, she packed more brownies into layers of wax paper and foil and sent them to my dorm room. Even when I was a very pregnant lady, she patted my back and sang to me until I fell asleep next to her. We laughed hard, hugged often and talked on the phone regularly.
And so, of course, she was delighted in my delight at getting married. She and my mother and I cried together as I stood before them in The One wedding dress. She listened as I rattled off ceremony and reception and invitation list details on fast forward. She gifted me with a beloved family quilt at my shower. When the time came to choose her dress, she was thrilled to pick a comfortable but slinky black velvet floor-length number, also covered in crystals. I bought her a matching satin clutch bag and jewelry. She loved it all.
We wore my grandmothers out at that wedding with the dancing and mingling and events before and after the big day. In the months between the Christmas engagement and ceremony, my brother nearly died in a horrendous motorcycle accident. Seeing him standing beside me with my parents and my two grandmas — that was an even deeper, greater blessing than the toast months earlier. There was so much life in that room, and I was grateful for every twinkling star of it.
She was too far into dementia to trouble her with the news that I was divorced, and it didn’t seem to matter. Only the present moment counted in the nursing home, as we combed her hair and sang her old songs and propped my little boy up for her to gaze at with delight. My other grandmother, who has loved her own daughters through divorces, kindly nodded and prayed and sent me hand-painted cards, and then invited me to lose at a game of Yahtzee! against her.
At her request, my Grandma Alice was buried in that black velvet grandmother-of-the-bride dress. At 103 and achingly incoherent with the disease in her brain, she lived much longer than anyone would have guessed or even wanted. In my grief, I held on to old moments then, like her hand grasping mine and her handwriting on a congratulations card and her questions about my “man-friend.”
Despite a troublesome end to my marriage, a painful and long divorce and many tribulations with the once-husband, I never, ever regret the fanfare and fortune of my wedding day. It was wonderful and true and the room was full of so many people there just to wish us well.
Plus, I have books and frames full of pictures with my grandmothers, who just were happy to see me happy. And also to float down the aisle in their gorgeous gowns.
Not all marriages end, not all begin with a ceremonious day. But I hope every bride feels the kind of love and support my grandmas gave, whether it is from a family member or a grandmother stand-in. And I hope every woman who is leaving a relationship, getting divorced or considering walking away feels the same grasp of a grandmother’s hand to guide her along.
Did your grandmother approve of your wedding, marriage, or even divorce? Did you have a grandmother stand-in to support your union?
P.S. Want to watch a wonderful example of grandmotherly love? Here, 72-year old Sherri Gray of Nashville, sings wholeheartedly in to the camera, proudly wearing her “Straight but not narrow” sweatshirt, performing a song for her bride-to-be lesbian niece. The song, written by gray, is dedicated to Lisa and Shannon for their wedding this summer. This grandma/aunt? She’s a good one.
Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.