My brother-in-law Jeff got married last weekend in North Texas. We left 90-something degree temps in Portland and flew into thunderstorms in Dallas Thursday night. We woke Friday morning to clouds and a cool (for Texas at least), pleasant day. The kids swam in the hotel pool and we didn’t even bother with sunscreen.
Jeff arranged childcare for all the cousins Friday night, so the wedding rehearsal and dinner would be blessedly kid-free. As we drove from the chapel to the small Italian restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, the rain started again. I’d forgotten how Texas rain falls in sheets, how the water so gloriously pours from the heavens. Todd dropped me off at the front door and I dashed through the rain to the covered porch of a converted two-story house. As I waited for Todd to park, I watched Michelle, my sister-in-law from France, film several seconds of the downpour. I had forgotten to bring my camera.
“I am not going to ruin these,” said the wife of the brother of the bride, who arrived next, carrying her shoes. Her blonde hair was pulled back and she wiped raindrops from her forehead with a smile.
The rest of the wedding party arrived in singles and pairs, splashing through puddles, smiling, barefoot, beautiful.
Perhaps out on the Dallas freeways, rush-hour traffic was slowed by the summer storm, causing irritable drivers to lay on their horns or murmur harsh words. But here we all came in out of the rain, into an old house with pumpkin-colored walls and dark wood and wrought iron details: we had a marriage to celebrate.
We sat at long tables and the servers made their rounds. Red wine or white? Salmon or chicken? I looked across the room and saw one of the bridesmaids, wearing a strappy sundress and sitting with her back to me. So beautiful, the way the raindrops still glistened on her bare shoulders. Even if I’d had my camera, there’s no way I could have gotten the angle and focus right. I memorized the moment.
My new sister-in-law, Pam, came into Jeff’s life—into the life of our extended family—just months before my mother-in-law died. It was Pam who helped us negotiate our path into hospice care and Pam who sat around the family table with all of us when Jeanne told the grandkids that she would not live long and that she’d had a good life and was not afraid. Pam spent time with Jeanne those last weeks. I do not know all that was shared between them, but I do know that Jeanne told Pam, “You make Jeff happy. When Carolyn died I worried that he would never be happy again. I will be proud for you to be my daughter-in-law, even if I won’t be around for your wedding.”
Till death separates. This is the vow Pam and Jeff made on their wedding day, and they both have lived through enough hardship to know what the vow means. Just as I memorized the pearly raindrops and the wedding party laughing through a downpour, I memorized another holy moment, too. On their wedding day, when Pam and Jeff stood eye to eye, remembering the past and anticipating the future, I watched and listened and memorized their promise to one another: Till death separates.