My newly adopted daughter Jessica and I have seen a lot of changes already this year. She was graduated from University of Maine with a degree in social work; I legally adopted her through an adult adoption process; and on a recent Sunday, I walked her down the aisle, then watched her exchange marriage vows with the man of her dreams.
It was a beautiful wedding, if I say so myself. And it had lots of special nuances because Jessica and her new husband Ryan are both quite sentimental.
There was a moment of silence and reflection during the marriage ceremony in honor of those not present, and the playing of the Josh Groban song “To Where You Are” in memory of those same people during the reception — after the meal and before the merriment took over.
Jessica and Ryan had placed special memorial vases filled with black and white calla lilies at the head table: one for Ryan’s best friend Rocky who died unexpectedly in May 2015; and one for my husband Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010.
Jim was the most consistent father figure Jessica had after her great-grandfather died in 2005. Jim provided structure and rules, but he and Jess shared a similar sense of humor, a love of homemade food, a fondness for pranks, and other familial qualities.
Jess saw Jim, who actually was her great-great uncle, as trustworthy, consistent and protective. She could count on him to do what he said he would do, and to come to her aid if needed. And as someone of her own blood who loved her.
Jim would grill her boyfriends on their intentions, and try to give Jess guidance on living a true and honorable life, with honest hard work and integrity as her foundation. He was there for her prom and her high school graduation, and would have been there to see her get her college degree had he lived.
And he would have walked her down the aisle strewn with white rose petals and delivered her to her groom.
Jim never met Ryan, but I know he would have liked him once he was sure of the young man’s motives, and got to know him. He would have been impressed when Ryan asked me for Jessica’s hand before he proposed to her. And he definitely would have liked how happy Ryan and Jessica make each other.
He would be proud of what Jessica has done in her short time as an adult working to make the foster care system a better place, and taking a job in which she helps kids who are in a similar place as she was as a teen.
He would have told his “girls” — Cheryl (his daughter and now Jessica’s stepsister), Jessica and me — that we were beautiful in our finery, and meant it.
All of us wore black — except Jessica — and the girls all carried calla lilies. Cheryl was maid of honor. I wore a corsage of little white roses with one red rosebud in the middle of it, in Jim’s memory. Jim always gave me red roses.
Jessica carried a gold pendant that had belonged to her great-grandmother — Jim’s sister Patricia — close to her heart. Her “Nana” Patricia was mother and grandmother to her, and loved her unconditionally. Pat’s death from cancer the same year as her husband’s sent us all reeling, but especially Jessica.
Jim and I had promised Pat before she died that we would keep track of Jessica and her sister in the foster care system so they would not disappear into the system’s abyss. We kept that promise, and did much more. And after we had lost Jim too, I eventually made Jessica my own.
I was prepared to miss Jim on Jessica’s wedding day. He and I had been through a lot with this child, and it was such a hallmark day, distinguishing her bumpy teen years from her bright future.
It also is natural to remember our own weddings on someone else’s wedding day, and so many happy memories of that time in my life flooded over me.
But I was totally unprepared for the pervasiveness of Jim’s spirit and how strongly I felt him with me.
He was there. I could feel the joy of his spirit and took it into my heart where I held it close to me. Cheryl could feel it too. And the sadness for having lost such a special person was overridden by the love he had — and has — for us.
I wish Jessica’s great-grandparents and Jim could have been with us physically, whole and healthy and celebrating this special day with us in a more traditional way. I wish Jessica had not had to go through all of those painful years in foster care, and lost so many people she cherished at such a young age. And I wish Cheryl’s wedding day next year could include her parents, who both died from cancers, not just her stepmother.
But we cannot change some things, can we? We learn to accept them and live with them as they are, and sometimes they make us sad or at least color our joy.
Even with all of that going on in the background, in the end, Jessica said to me in a private moment before we all parted ways, “My wedding was perfect, Momma.”
Perfect may be a stretch. The outdoor ceremony had to be moved indoors; Jessica’s best friend could not be matron of honor as planned due to complications with her pregnancy (a beautiful and healthy baby girl has been born); and the wedding cake came to us with its decorations in a box. Thankfully Ryan’s mother used to make wedding cakes and was able to decorate the cake.
I could make a longer list of what didn’t go right, but in the end, none of that really mattered because so much DID go right. As I think about my daughter’s and my new son’s special day, I have a warm glow in my heart, for those who were there in person, those who were there in spirit, and everyone who made their day “perfect.”