We have a rash of weddings coming up this fall: two co-workers, a close friend’s little sister, and my husband’s cousin. I love weddings, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a bride’s blushing procession down the aisle without getting flush and weepy myself. Like the champagne of the toast, they are occasions imbued with the sparkling, golden light of new, idealistic love; they’re rites built around some of the best stuff we do as human beings: sacrifice, generosity, affection, compromise, devotion, union. My co-worker was married for much of her twenties to the wrong guy – a husband who took her for granted and abused her inherent gentleness – and now she has been swept off her feet by a man so charmingly schmaltzy and deeply good that he almost seems to have walked off the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel. They are getting married at Christmastime in a historic village where women in floor-length frocks churn butter for New England school children on field trips by day, and the whole thing is so darling that I’m smiling from ear to ear alone here in my living room as I write this.
My friend’s little sister has found her quirky match, cementing a love borne by hardcore shows, black concert Ts, and adventure sports. Their wedding reflects the idiosyncrasies of their personalities, a save-the-date in the form of a ticket stub, a zip-lining bachelorette party. My other co-worker is marrying her college sweetheart, which marks the merger of two big, loud, warm Italian families. She beams when she talks about it, and that leaves me swimming in delight.
The first wedding in the line-up is my husband’s cousin, and the approach of this one leaves me vacant of all my usual joy. It doesn’t help that she’s having it at 5:30 P.M. on a Thursday night; it doesn’t help that my mother-in-law presumptuously questioned me, incredulous that I wasn’t taking the next day off from work during the second week of school in order to stay through the whole reception; it doesn’t help that every guest is being strained and inconvenienced to stand in as extras for her princess-wedding-on-the-cheap at the waterfront venue she can’t afford, but that’s not the real root of my surly attitude. I am angry that she never acknowledged our loss. The self-professed empath who is a social worker by trade and advertises herself as a hero for abused and marginalized children, with her stream of Facebook posts about the emotional core of the big controversies that rumble through the news, someone we see for birthdays, all the holidays, and Sunday dinners: this person failed to send so much as a card or a text message and has yet, a year after the fact, to even breathe a word of acknowledgement that this happened to us.
She is not alone. My husband’s family was shockingly bad at dealing with our tragedy. We warred with my mother-in-law for a year over self-righteous boundary-crossing and me-me-me entitlement to bad behavior while we were grieving, though I’m relieved to say that we at long last reconciled and our relationships are on the mend. His sister attacked us in a group text thread for refusing to back down from his mother’s stubbornness and abuse during the period that we were not on speaking terms, employing her typically wormy drop-the-bomb-and-flee attack strategy, which has left plenty of emotional shrapnel lodged, gangrenous. This was perhaps an even greater loss than the child himself, the way this crisis scratched away the rosy patina on a family I once idealized, exposing apathy and rot as they abandoned us while we were suffering, while I was craving the proverbial casserole on the doorstop, a loving embrace in a time of grief.
I haven’t written about this before because I was too deep in it. I write about it now because I had imagined that a new pregnancy would alleviate these feelings, assuming that I was projecting much of my anger at the stark injustice of what happened to my baby and then my poor scarred uterus at the nearest and most convenient target. Sadly, with the approaching wedding forcing a lot of contact and expectation and expense, I am angrier at them than ever, despite the prospect of a healthy child. I hate it, this toxic rage holding me hostage. I want to exorcise the demon, but the disconnect between what the brain intellectually thinks and what we viscerally feel has made that easier said than done.
About a month ago, I was having dinner to reconnect with an old friend. We had drifted apart because she bore children that corresponded uncannily with my more painful losses. We were sitting at the bar, and she was confessing her survivor’s guilt and her remorse for saying clumsy, hurtful things when I was at my most raw. I apologized for some of my absence, which I admitted was based more in self-preservation than in resentment at anything she’d said or done, and I filled in the gaps of my story to help her understand why. There was a man seated next to her at the bar, who seemed to be looking over my shoulder throughout to watch the baseball game, and I remember feeling slightly defensive that he was staring. After he left, the bartender told us, quite touched and astonished herself, that he had paid our entire check, saying,
“No one should have to go through that.”
Since that day, I have wanted to pay it forward, passing his compassion and generosity of spirit along to someone in need. Retiring this choking bitterness against my in-laws seems like as good a place as any to invest that energy, but, truthfully, forgiving someone who isn’t sorry might be one of the most challenging feats of the heart.