A lesson from my parents: other's nuptials are not about you

By the time the bride finally appeared on Saturday night, I had already had a good bawl.

Weddings. They so easily move us to tears. Who really knows why? Are they happy tears? Do they mourn something lost - innocence perhaps? Are they tears of trepidation, wanting the best but fearing the worst? Like many tears, they remain a mystery.

Maybe that's just as well.

But in this case, my eyes weren't leaking because Harry was marrying Meghan and she was beautiful and he was handsome and I was a bit tired and emotional after one too many gins and a long wait. I'd been soberly studying one of the few snapshots of my parents on their wedding day.

It's only 5.5cm by 8cm so it is hard to make out much detail.

There is no white frock and the only flowers are a large corsage on my mother's lapel.

She is wearing a swirling hat worthy of something you might see at a royal wedding.

I have no idea what colour it is. The photo is black and white.

She's clad in a fitting suit, with a long jacket accentuating her slim waist. I'm told the outfit was blue. She is laughing at something, her head inclined towards Dad. Looking at her stance in that moment, I can understand why people see her in me.

Dad, with Mum's gloved fingers entwined in his, gently smiling back at her, looks like the cat who's got the cream.

It is such a happy photo, so full of promise and hope.

What it doesn't tell the onlooker is that her family was not at the wedding. Her father did not walk her down the aisle. I am not sure who did. Maybe one of Dad's brothers-in-law.

Her family was not there because her father did not approve of her marrying a Catholic. He was not a churchgoer himself, although he had been brought up as an Anglican. His Italian mother had a Catholic upbringing.

My mother was brought up in the Presbyterian faith and did not change her church affiliations after marriage, although she agreed her children would be raised Catholic.

I do not know what my grandfather thought his absence would achieve.

He must have known by then that his 25-year-old elder daughter was a determined person. Once she had decided Dad was the love of her life, he was not likely to be able to change that.

The happy couple did travel to my grandparents for tea on the evening of their wedding day. They were joined by my mother's maternal grandmother, who I imagine played a peacemaker role.

Seven and a-half years and three children later my mother would be dead, struck down while she was being treated in a private hospital for the asthma which had afflicted her since childhood.

The account of my parents' wedding day has made me intolerant of those who want to interfere in other people's nuptials.

If you don't like what is being planned, too bad. It's not about you. Suck it up.

As part of a small church congregation which split over gay ministry in the 1990s, I find myself increasingly impatient with those calling themselves Christian who continue to preach bile over homosexuality. The churches which are still dithering about gay marriage, with some of their leaders not able to even give a straight answer (no pun intended) about where they personally stand on the issue, render me speechless (and believe me, that's no small achievement).

There is a postscript to my parents' wedding story which they might learn from.

Less than a month after my mother died, my father wrote to her parents.

He told them that one of his last conversations with my mother, Marion, disturbed him. She'd worried Dad bore a grudge towards her parents. She'd asked about this before and not been convinced by his assurances that he didn't. His letter said there was no justification for her misgivings and he apologised if he'd caused any anguish. ''You should have had no doubts really because at the offset - on our wedding day I mean - we did come though and greet you. That was the beginning and I was determined that there should not be any breach - not only because Marion was a strong Family person and it would have hurt her, but because I realised you were Family people too and would have been hurt but didn't know it just then.''

He then added ''I shed no tears over Marion's life with me - call it conceit if you like - but for all our brave plans''.

Waiting for Harry and Meghan to get on with it, I read that and wept.

-Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

 

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