There was a story in the news about a woman in California who battled cancer and passed away at the young age of 61 like my mom. She passed away just three days after her son’s wedding. After dancing with her son at her son’s wedding when she barely had the strength for anything else. She got out of her wheelchair to dance. To the same Hawaiian version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that my family danced to at my wedding.
That hits a little too close to home for me. It’s way too familiar.
I’ve been told by several people that I do not share much about myself upon first meeting others. I pick and choose the safe things to share. I wait until I really trust you. And then I spill. And you’re sworn to secrecy.
So here’s some truth. I loved Ray before we even went on our first official date. I think I actually fell in love with him on the airplane when we first met. I’ve never felt so giddy and calm, nervous and confident, scared and hopeful at the same time. I’m not talking about lust, although Ray is beyond handsome. I’m not talking about puppy love, although we were both kind of still kids at the time. We kind of still are. Regardless. I’m talking about real, down-to-the-core, feel-it-in-your-gut, crossing-your-fingers-and-toes-it-will-last, honest, and pure love. The first time we met we talked about the future, we learned we want the same exact things in life. And I’m talking very specific things like getting married, having a family, living on the water. Important stuff. And scary stuff. Within hours of meeting. The stuff you don’t typically spill upon first meeting someone. Looking back, I have never trusted someone so immediately and fully as I trusted Ray with my truths and secrets.
Anyway. Fast-forward about two years of dating, moving closer to each other, then basically living with each other. Sure, we talked about the future. I think we talked about getting married around our third date. Someday, we’d get married. But at the beginning of November 2012, we weren’t actively discussing marriage; it was just a truth for us.
And then my mom got diagnosed with her brain tumor. She got diagnosed November 6, 2012. Ray couldn’t have been more *there* for me. For my family. He brought refreshments. He tried to calm my mom down and explain things to her in a not-so-scary way. He had to work while she went in for surgery, but he got there just in time for the surgeon to deliver the news. That she couldn’t get all of the tumor, that some of it was touching a blood vessel, that it looked “diffuse” which was a term I remembered from school that actually meant “not well defined” which meant “very bad” as far as tumors go. He just held me as I had a visceral reaction of retching and puking into a trash can in a
library holding-cell where they keep families. He couldn’t have been more there for me.
A very wise friend once told me that tragedy makes us more of who we really are. At the time of my family’s tragedy, my boyfriend became my knight in shining armor. He became more him: more comforting, more assuring, more positive. When my mom had finally come home that month and I was sleeping at Ray’s apartment, I remember sobbing that one of my biggest fears was that I would never get to have my mom at my wedding someday. That I never really dreamed of my wedding as a little girl, but that the one thing I was certain of was that I needed my mom to walk me down the aisle. That I had one year left with her per statistics, and none of it would happen.
I don’t think Ray intended on making marriage a reality at that point in time. Okay, that statement is a weak version of the truth. Ray did not intend on making marriage a reality at that point in time. And I know that times are modern and I know that I could have proposed too, but I wanted to hear it from him. That night at the apartment, we talked, I felt like I was pressuring him into proposing, I felt like a pathetic and whining little girl, but my unprecedented and compassionate boyfriend said we would get married by the next fall. It was already the end of November. Spring would be too soon to plan a wedding, summer might be too, fall could work, winter would be too cold, and the following spring might be too late. We’d get married in fall of 2013. And that was that.
We picked out the engagement ring in December. Ray sat on it for a couple months to “surprise” me. And we got married in October, just under a year from the time of my mom’s diagnosis. We got married, as planned. With a full-on dream wedding as planned. Just sooner than planned. And my mom was there. She walked me down the aisle and we even danced together. And we never told her that we planned the wedding as quickly as possible so that she would be there. She asked why we were planning it so quickly, and we said we just really wanted to tie the knot as soon as possible. For no other reason than that.
The wedding day was perfect. Everything I ever could have asked for and more. I think Ray feels the same. But it was also incredibly bittersweet. Celebrating one of the happiest days of your life with the worst day of your life looming in the near future. A race against time, to be sure.
That was almost a year ago. My mom has passed since, as we kind of knew she would. Ray was even more supportive during her passing. He held her hand on car rides, helped with her activities of daily living, permanently invited her over our house for a vacation to the beach, and spent every single weekend with her with me. He even promised her that he’d take care of me before she left us. And Ray and I are approaching our first full year of being married. I’m married to the unprecedented, compassionate, comforting, assuring, positive, handsome, and wonderful man I met on the plane. I could not be more happy with him. My secrets and my truths are safe with him. Being able to marry him with my mom present was more than I ever could have hoped for, but especially when her diagnosis was a constant reminder of time ticking away. Ray fast-forwarded his life plan to help my dreams become reality. And I am forever grateful for him and his love.
If tragedy makes us more of who we really are, it just means I am more in love with my husband. And I’m talking about real, down-to-the-core, feel-it-in-every-fiber-of-your-being, uncrossing-your-fingers-and-toes-because-you-know-it-will-last, honest, and pure love.