The wedding party was underway. Dinner was over. Vows were exchanged. Soon it would time to cut the cake. A couple of great guys just made it official in front of family and friends.
The Italian restaurant was the perfect backdrop for an informal affair. The food was excellent. The space was perfect. The group represented those who embraced the union fully and those who had a bit harder time with understanding and accepting the new paradigm–but who were there nonetheless…wonderfully stretching the limits of their embrace.
A new beginning. A life together. A new start for two committed souls who pledged to become one. A beautiful expression of love and hope and joy as they officially started their lives together.
I picked up my vodka ‘ondaroks’ and weaved my way through the crowd, through the restaurant, past the bar and out onto the side patio. No one else was outside…it was a bit chilly. Lit my cigarette and sat down for a minute. I didn’t know many people at the wedding, so I settled in for my moment of quiet, thinking a bit about my friends’ commitment to each other. How proud I was of them. I thought about how hard it must have been for some of their family members to accept what just happened. I thought about how cool it was that these two friends found each other and wondered if I would ever be so lucky.
Sipped my drink and puffed away. Thinking. Looking at the shadows cast on the building next door by the barren branches of the trees moving ever so slightly from the breeze. It was quiet.
It was then that two young guys popped out on the patio. There were a lot of tables and chairs on the large empty space. But, one of the young men asked if I minded if he sat down at my table. I said sure. The two of them were sipping their Long Island Teas. A couple of handsome kids, clearly great friends. They seemed a bit quiet…almost whispering…pensive. The one sat down. The other, at first, stayed standing at the side. They both lit up as well.
We chatted for a moment. They weren’t from the wedding, but had just eaten dinner. I told them I had never been there before and was surprised I hadn’t since the restaurant had such a good reputation…and it was proven to me during the evening–a dimly lit, warm place just packed with revelers obviously enjoying the good food and atmosphere.
It was then the young man sitting said, “My wife died a few days ago.” I reacted in shock. My mood instantly changed. I was no longer “at the wedding” or at the restaurant or on the patio. I was now in a new place…a space that only existed right there where we were sitting. “I am so sorry,” I said ineptly.
The second guy explained that it was the first night out for his friend…that they needed to get out, eat dinner and try as they might to find some relief.
He was so young. 24 years old. Whatever happened, of course, simply had to be horrific. I was dumbfounded. That’s the only way I can describe it.
He answered every question I had with clarity and grace beyond his years. I asked if they had children and he said, yes, a boy. When I asked how old their boy was, he said, “Three days.” Three days? Wait. What?
I discovered that it was more tragic than anything I could fathom. They had been together since they were 13. They had been married for four years, I think. She was a nursing student, thrilled about her progress and impending graduation. They were expecting their first child together, thrilled at the prospect of their growing family. She was healthy. There were no problems during the pregnancy. They were planning for the future. Three days ago all was well and they eagerly awaited the birth of their son.
Then, the unimaginable happened. She died in childbirth. Something about the amniotic fluid leaking…I didn’t fully understand…still in shock that in this day and age such a thing could occur.
So, here was this young man…clearly in stress…sharing his story with me about his beautiful wife, their hopes and dreams fulfilled with the birth of their son. And she was gone. Just like that. And now he was a single father with a three-day-old son mourning the loss of his soulmate. A son who will never meet his mother. And, will only hear the stories of how his mother died after giving him life. And, this young man is now facing a future that he must embrace through the tears of his loss. At 24 they had shared eleven years together…almost half of their lives on earth.
All I could do was try to express my sorrow for him. I tried to understand but explained I couldn’t. I could only imagine the pain. The loss. The fear. The anger. The hurt in his heart. I started to choke up. It wasn’t a time to talk about fate or destiny or life’s blows. All I could muster was assuring him that “She is here. She loves you and your child and she hurts for you as well.” Without hesitation he said he knew that, too.
When asked, they both assured me he has a plethora of support and love from family and friends. I asked him to honor every single feeling he has now from misery to joy, from lethargy and withdrawal to lashing out. That no matter what he felt or experienced that it was okay. It’s all I could say. I had no other words of wisdom or understanding. I ached for the ability to share something meaningful with him…something, anything…to help him.
I told him that somehow I knew I would never forget him. And, that I would say a prayer for him. Through tears, I told him boldly…unabashedly…assuredly…that I loved him. I don’t know where that came from or why. I reached over and just said it. I felt it. I knew it. And he reached out with his hand to shake mine and he unequivocally looked me in my eyes and said, “I love you” back to me. And, then, thanked me.
He thanked me.
I still don’t understand.
I navigated my way back through the restaurant..through the din of conversation…dodging servers as if in a surreal world. I entered the reception hall where the music had been turned up, the cake had been cut and the guests were standing with each other talking, laughing, posing for pictures celebrating this new union of love…a couple embarking on a bright future together. A juxtaposition of life’s most incredulous moments of joy and pain merged together in my heart.
Soon, we all helped clear out the photo booth and the flower arrangements, gathering our cameras and belongings and saying goodbye. A group of us joyfully crowded into the enormous stretched limousine with music and flashing lights and began drinking the champagne in a roar of heartfelt laughter and joy for our two special friends.
I knowingly, willingly joined them in shots of Fireball between sips of champagne. Trying to forget…
…trying to numb myself to the experience of the two worlds that were revealed to me during the evening. All I really managed to do was numb myself even more during the rest of the night. Desperately trying to understand the beginning of love’s union and the loss of love’s union…as the music swirled around me and the shots kept coming at the dance club where we continued the celebration.
But, I will never forget. My heart aches even now. I will always remember him. I will always wonder how on earth he could cope or have to face such loss and pain in his life as he raises his son alone. I try to understand how his and his beloved wife’s souls merged only to be torn apart from each other so tragically. And, at the same time, I hope for a long love-filled and fulfilling partnership for my newly married friends as they embark on their journey together.
Two other souls came together in an unexpected way that evening…mine with his…a permanent prayer for him etched in my essence.