– during a long-awaited weekend that began March 14
– experienced pure joy, a flood of sentimentality, a long-dreaded
sorrow. A chaos of emotions.
My family – during a long-awaited weekend that began March 14 – experienced pure joy, a flood of sentimentality, a long-dreaded sorrow. A chaos of emotions.
Kory, the oldest of my two brothers, was to be married March 15. It was the first such occasion in the family during my lifetime.
A year of anticipation had nearly passed, when in early March my brother Kyle, a Military Police reservist, told the family he’d be deployed for the Middle East on the same day of the wedding, at the time a stinging coincidence.
In a turn of events, fortunately, a week before the wedding and Kyle’s deployment, the U.S. Army granted him a 24-hour leave of absence.
For me, that massive relief would only begin the bittersweet and surreal trip: I was flying home. A brother was getting married. Another brother was leaving for war. And I was temporarily in the presence of largely missed family and friends. I hadn’t felt such a heavy weight of sentiment since I moved from Milwaukee to Hollister, and left everything of familiarity behind, more than six months ago.
On the day of the wedding, I walked into church and greeted Kory, who seemed calm as always, at least for that moment. Kyle was released from his army base two hours before the ceremony and took the one-hour drive north of Milwaukee.
As I milled through the church, waiting, I walked into a back room where the groomsmen had met earlier. I looked down at the floor, where Kyle, who had apparently just arrived, placed his army duffel bag and boots. Seeing those things, as he hurriedly put on a tuxedo in a separate room, the reality hit home, and an appreciation for his previously unlikely presence set in.
As the ceremony began, I stood behind the altar with the rest of the wedding party and watched the bride make her walk. I glanced toward my parents in the front pew.
My 68-year-old father sat in a wheelchair, now battered by the physical detriments of diabetes, smiling. My mother, who has sacrificed herself more than anyone I have ever known, all for us brothers, who has recently been chastised with inner strife over Kyle’s deployment, stood there, weeping.
The wedding, overall, provoked a festive mood. The priest, at a later mass that day, told churchgoers the wedding was the most beautiful over which he had ever presided.
At moments, however, if only for an instant each time, like a momentary breeze, a reminder of the weekend’s two-sided tale would emerge.
Later in the ceremony, Kory walked to the podium and made a speech. It revolved around Kyle and me, along with his closest friends. He said – with Kyle’s immediate future in mind – if he were called to war, the two people he would most want fighting alongside him, “in the trenches,” would be his two brothers, along with his closest friends.
Minutes later, when the appropriate time came, Kory hugged the bride’s parents. After he hugged my mom and dad, Kyle and I walked to Kory for a handshake and hug, and to our parents for the same. When I returned to the altar, I looked back at my mom. She still wept. I could sense, out of empathy, she was crying for both pure joy and gloom.
My eyes watered, and heart half sunk, and not because of sadness for myself. It sunk for her, because she couldn’t feel a sheer happiness on the day of one son’s wedding. Another son’s fate would not be forgotten.