Last April, my sister got married. I was the maid of honor, pregnant, constantly worried that I would lose the baby, as I lost Nelle and Iris in the two pregnancies before. I did the absolute best I could to be present, participate, while carrying fears that something would happen and ruin her special day. Her day came, and everything was fine. I used the portable heart-rate monitor to listen for the baby’s heartbeat in the morning, tracked movements throughout the day, and smiled through well wishes in the evening. The day following her wedding was the 24-week mark: medically significant because it was a marker of “viability” should something happen.
Yesterday, my brother got married, to a woman he has known for ten years and has been a regular part of our lives for most of that time. I thought about how different the day would feel, holding and 8-month-old baby in my arms, seeing some of the same guests from the prior year. My big kids repeated their performance from their previous wedding experience as ring bearers, and Autumn was a flower girl. Suspenders, now ties, a pink dress with layers of tulle, and soft baby shoes were all tucked into a “wedding supplies” box in the months leading up to the big day.
I let my brother’s fiancée know as each item arrived safely. Her text response on the shoes were “I chose butterflies, so that Nelle and Iris could be included as well.” I immediately went back to the box – Autumn had wrapped her chubby hands around them so quickly that I hadn’t looked at them closely, but the shoes indeed were covered in tiny gold butterflies. So meaningful and perfect.
The ceremony was a traditional Catholic mass, with intercessions – prayers – before communion. There were the traditional prayers “for the bride and groom” “for those who are suffering” and at the end there were three prayers that I know had been chosen with so much careful intention: For all those who have died of cancer, especially Sara. For all the parents who have experienced having children in the NICU. And for all parents who have experienced pregnancy loss.
The bride lost her sister, Sara, to cancer as a teenager. Her brother’s son was born at 30 weeks and spent 9 weeks in the NICU. And then us. The Bride’s face, my sister-in-law’s face, standing in front of a church full of people, was wet with tears. She had no maid of honor and her program stated that the role was in loving memory of her sister. She and I have talked about loss before, how grief and loss are ongoing. I cried too and had a hard time composing myself. My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, tapped my shoulder and handed me a tissue.
Later, at the reception, I waited for my turn to sign the guest book. There was a photo of the Bride and her sister, along with the names of other family members who had died, such as grandparents. Nelle and Iris were also listed. Beside it were the words:
Your life was a blessing
Your memory a treasure
You’re loved beyond words
And missed beyond measure.
Into the guest book I wrote: “Thank you for including all of us in your wonderful day. Love, Ger, Anna, Theodore, Quentin, Autumn, Nelle, and Iris.”
As a special way to capture Autumn’s butterfly shoes, I wanted to get a photo of all of our shoes lined up. It was to replicate a photo I had done to announce our pregnancy with Nelle: shoes lined up with a tiny pair of infant baby shoes at the end. I thought having the photo again, with Autumn’s rainbow baby shoes, could heal a bit the pain that I feel every time I think about that other photo.
Taking off our shoes and lining them up at the reception proved to be a bad idea. Instead, I’m the cool of this morning that finally promises spring, I gathered all five pairs of shoes. Our Airbnb had a dock directly to the river. I lined up all of the shoes, with a stubborn patch of snow on the ground, and the mighty Mississippi that I grew up admiring as a backdrop.