A few months ago, my husband, Charles, called me from work and said, “Listen to this text.”
I heard the excitement in his voice as he read: “Can you meet me for coffee or lunch one day next week? I want to ask you a question.”
Puzzled by his excitement, I asked, “Who’s it from?”
Lorin is my daughter’s boyfriend. They had been dating for three and a half years and we adored him. This text could only mean one thing, right? He was planning to propose.
“So, when are you seeing him?” I said, now not able to contain my own excitement.
“We’re having lunch on Tuesday. Don’t say a word to anyone, we have to keep this a secret.”
I knew he was right and with more will power than it took not to steal a French fry from my grandson’s plate—I kept quiet and waited.
On Tuesday, as agreed, Charles and Lorin had lunch. Later, Charles filled me in on the details and said that Lorin was going to propose the following Wednesday at a restaurant near their home in D.C. His eyes welled up as he muttered, “I bet he can’t read Berenstain Bears to her in as good a voice as me.”
The night of the planned proposal, Charles and I were too anxious to do anything but wait for Jackie’s call. Their dinner reservation was for 7:30. By 8, I was pacing, cell phone in hand. At 8:30, Charles mumbled, “Obviously, he’s not doing it before dessert.” At 9:15 he said, “I don’t get it; what’s taking him so long?” Finally, at 9:30 I got a text from Jackie. It was a picture of her hand donning a diamond rind. The message read, “I’ll call you after dinner.”
Incredulous, I called her and cried, “After dinner! Are you kidding me!” She laughed; but, took control. “Mom, he just this second proposed, let me call you when we’re done.” Helplessly I muttered, “Did you say “yes?”
My only daughter, my youngest child was getting married—I needed to share the news with my mother. I yearned to hear her say, “Oh, honey, I can’t believe it! Jackie! Jackie’s getting married! I love you! I’m so happy!” But when I called her, I got nothing. While it seemed that she understood her granddaughter was getting married, she could not hold onto the thought. It hit me hard: My mother has Parkinson’s disease and its cohort, dementia. She lives with round-the-clock caregivers in South Florida. She would never share my dreams of long lacy veils and white rose bouquets. She wouldn’t even ask about the ring. (Two years ago, she would have insisted on pictures and a copy of the appraisal.)
In her prime, my mother set the ultimate standard for celebrations. Elegance, lavishness, and perfection were her trademarks. My father loved telling the story of him and my mother shopping for my wedding cake. They drove a couple of hours for an appointment with the wedding cake king of South Florida. My mother interviewed him, “Show me a picture of the best cake you ever made.” The king’s eyes sparkled. He climbed upon a step-stool and reached for the photo album lying on the top row of his bookshelves. Filled with pride, he sat down beside my mother, turned to a bookmarked page and said, “Look, my finest.” My mother leaned over the page and examined the cake, like she would have examined Jackie’s diamond for flaws, and said, “Is there anything better?”
Without my mother to steer me, I turned to bridal magazines and surfed wedding websites. I didn’t want to nudge Jackie, it was too soon—she deserved to savor her moment. However, a few days later, the words thrust out from my mouth like a sneeze, “Have you given any thought to where and when you want to get married?” I was gently chastised. “Mom, please. I will get there but give me some time.”
From then on, I rationed my inquiries. And in that space, tucked inside my mattress of joy was a painful tick—loneliness. I was determined to fill it by diving deep into wedding fantasies. Alone with my magazine layouts, I envisioned Jackie descending a circular mahogany staircase. Her guests, outfitted in tuxedos and gowns, watch as she gracefully steps into a gold-leaf paneled hall, adorned with massive Baccarat crystal chandeliers. Eager to realize my visions, I called several Willard-type hotels and checked for available dates.
A couple of weeks later, Jackie was ready to look at venues. Proud of my early surveillance efforts, I emailed her the links to my favorite ballrooms. She gave me the courtesy of perusing them before letting me know, “Mom, we don’t want anything formal, no hotels. We’re thinking more barn or warehouse.”
I swallowed my disappointment and let it digest for a few days. Then, to my surprise, relief moved into its place. I remembered how I had felt like an imposter at my own wedding. I was embarrassed at the Versailles-worthy wedding cake and the gaggles of waitstaff garbed in black-tie and white gloves. The orchestra was better suited for Carnegie Hall and the flowers for Butchart Gardens. As the lead player in mom’s grandiosity, I felt self-conscious and out of place.
I did not want this for my daughter. I wanted Jackie to realize her own dreams. But, at the same time, I felt traitorous disregarding my mother’s taste. Jackie understood. Like me, she wasn’t willing to extricate her grandma’s touch from her special day. Together, we found the sweet spot. The wedding will take place not at a fancy ballroom nor a rustic warehouse but at a reception hall on the Chesapeake Bay with walls of glass that allow sunlight to flood the room.
My mother cannot attend the wedding, but we will feel her presence. When I talked to the caterer, it was mom who asked, “What is your best cut of meat?” Likewise, it was mom’s voice that whispered, “Make sure you have enough bartenders so that your guests won’t have to wait in line.” And, mom shook her head “no” to the standard tablecloths.
My mother would be so proud of her granddaughter. Jackie knows what she wants and is not afraid to ask for it. She is comfortable setting boundaries and doesn’t allow the generations before her to steamroll over her wishes. I look at this confident woman, my daughter, and, I’m certain—“there isn’t anything better.”