The Picture.

Ian functioned as my desk one day while I worked on invitations at the hospital! Clearly, he just loved it.

Ian functioned as my desk one day while I worked on invitations at the hospital! Clearly, he just loved it.

I used to love wedding shows like Say Yes to the Dress, but I’ll confess that since my own wedding, I cringe and scramble for the remote control at the slightest flash of crinoline. Something in me can’t watch women thoughtfully ponder the merits of lace and birdcage veils, monograms and seating arrangements. It’s not that I think those frivolous little details don’t matter-rather [embarrassingly enough], there  is a sense of loss as I think about all of the little things that go into wedding planning that were once so very important to me—things that I didn’t get to experience in the way that I’d dreamt about. Ian was diagnosed less than two impossibly short months after Kellan knelt down in the sand at Bald Head Island and asked me for forever. I remember standing in the hallway outside of my little brother’s hospital room in a daze, looking at my Mom in disbelief as she asked me a question about the church we had been attempting to book for the ceremony. Stunned, I vehemently told her My stupid wedding doesn’t matter. With more than a hint of fire in her resolute brown eyes, my five foot nothing Mother looked back at me and in a voice that left no room for discussion, informed me: Your wedding matters. We are going to do cancer AND your wedding. We are going to do them both.

That’s just my Mom. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in twenty-six years of living, it’s that you don’t argue with that woman.

And we did it all, right up until Ian’s last three week stint in the ICU. Dresses were fitted, cakes were tasted, linens and songs and hors’douvres were selected. And still, I have no concept of what it must be like to plan a wedding without the ominous threat of cancer muddying the champagne waters. What is it like to obsess over shades of blue and English garden roses versus lilies, as though there could be no greater dilemma in life? How must it feel to spend the last month of your engagement elatedly, breathlessly counting down the hours until you get to say “I do”, soaking up every

Ian, Emily and Mom helping me cake taste one day!

Ian, Emily and Mom helping me cake taste one day!

last, sweet moment? My last month was spent sitting beside Ian’s hospital bed in room 17 of the ICU. I never wanted to talk about how many days were left until the wedding while I was in his room, just in case he could hear me. I was afraid he’d figure out how long he’d been there and become scared, or worried that he might not get to be at my wedding.

I hesitate to say any of this, because regardless of the circumstances surrounding a wedding, it  should NEVER, never be about the silly, precious details—or even the sweet anticipation leading up to “I do”. There is nothing inherently wrong with caring about the details, but a wedding is always about I choose you for better or for worse, and mine certainly was that. And goodness, it was beautiful. Sweet friends and family made sure of that—and one day I will tell you the story of how my best friends sat down in the critical care waiting room, laptops out, white wine in hand, and took every piece of my wedding away from me so that I could keep spending my days with my brother. I’ll tell you about the seating charts that they carefully arranged in antique window panes [they’re so breathtaking that I’m hanging one in my apartment], the wines that they picked, the navy ribbons they tied on programs, the caterers they met with. Never has there been more extravagant love poured into a wedding—March 2nd was soaked in it.

Danielle, Michelle, Ian, Dad, Dan and Ash at a tasting at my reception venue. I was so glad later, that Ian had been there.

Danielle, Michelle, Ian, Dad, Dan and Ash at a tasting at my reception venue. I was so glad later, that Ian had been there.

So please understand that I loved my wedding, and am indescribably grateful for the bridesmaids and friends that made it happen. It’s just that sometimes, a piece of my heart hurts that it all had to happen the way that it did. I feel like such a diva saying it out loud, but it’s true and I think Jesus understands. I grieve the loss of my brother—and I also grieve the loss of what I had hoped that time would be. The sheer excitement, the unabashed joy, the giddy countdown.

One of the things that I’m learning about grief is that when something like cancer strikes, it takes more than a life. Cancer stole my baby brother. Cancer also stole a thousand dreams that I didn’t even know I had-dreams about a wedding and a dance with a curly-headed kid, an excited last month of singleness, a proud graduation ceremony, a first job, Christmases and birthdays and Uncle Ian. I grieve the death of my brother daily. I also grieve the death of a thousand dreams as they are slowly, painfully un-realized one by one. And I think that’s okay.

Tonight I’m hopping a plane for Maryland, where Kellan and I will spend the next couple of days celebrating one of my dearest friends in the whole world [she was in the waiting room in the ICU that day] and her soon-to-be husband. On Sunday, exactly three months after our own adventure began, we’ll watch Ashley and Dan promise to honor and serve and love each other no matter what. “I do” will be so much more meaningful to me now that I’m on the other side of it. Regardless of what the time leading up to the wedding looks like, that moment when a man and a woman look each other square in the eyes and promise for better or for worse is such a profound mystery. To stare back at a sinful person and vow to love him like Christ loves him is other-worldly. To vow to honor him above yourself, to die not only

Best friends. Without these women, there would have been no wedding.

Best friends. Without these women, there would have been no wedding.

to your sin but to your preferences, to choose grace instead of punishment, to agree to share every triumphant joy and every broken moment on the bathroom floor.  To be exhausted and frustrated, and still choose to do it all over again the next day. Marriage is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful picture of the gospel, and I have only scratched the surface. And as I savor this picture that I have been given,  I am grateful for the picture of the gospel that my wedding day was, too. Something breathtaking emerged out of something unspeakably ugly. Three days after there was death, there was something new. Something good. Something redemptive steeped in extravagant, undeserved love. March 2nd will always, always remind me of the cross in a thousand ways–and really, the cross is what weddings were designed to remind us of all along.

Comments

  1. Kristin says:

    “Cancer also stole a thousand dreams that I didn’t even know I had”

    Over the years of my short life, I’ve learned that unmet expectations I didn’t even know I had are the most crushing.
    Love this heart/gut post…. beautiful bride.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. I read your blog frequently, and I love your heart and your writing. In a much smaller way, I resonated with the phrase, “Cancer also stole a thousand dreams that I didn’t even know I had,” except if you replace the word cancer with “divorce.” My parents divorced just two months after I got married, and I think it was expected that it would not be a big deal, because I was an “adult” now. But it wasn’t just about those two people, my parents, ending a relationship. It was also about every Christmas celebration from then on that would not in any way resemble the traditions I remembered, and having to spread vacation days over three families now instead of two – which is also hard on my husband’s parents who get to see him less as a result of my parents’ choice, and never having children that know their grandparents together – I think the thoughts about our children someday are really the hardest. It’s not nearly what you have been through and are going through with your brother, and I do not at all mean to take away from your pain. I just felt that you had a way of verbalizing a thought I never could quite form into words, which is that loss can have repurcussions for years..

    • :) Thanks for your note–that was encouraging. And you’re not taking away from my pain at all–actually, when I wrote this, in addition to losing Ian I also had in mind a friend of mine that lost her unborn little girl. I found myself thinking about princess birthday parties that would never be thrown, little girl tea parties and father daughter dances…just all of the things that she’d never get. I can’t imagine how painful it is to watch your parents get divorced–and to lose all of those dreams you’d never realized that you had has got to just STING. That really sucks, and I’m sorry that it happened to you. The world is really broken–we weren’t created for hurt like this–and it all makes me ready for Jesus to come back and restore it.

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