I recently threw away the corsage from a wedding I was in. I always feel bad as I toss roses in the trash, no matter how wilted they are. These were given to me by my father too. For years, my father always gave his mother roses for every occasion. I grew to admire the act. I think it's so loving that it is my sincerest hope that every birthday, anniversary, celebration or holiday to come is marked with roses from someone who loves me enough to know it's the perfect gift.
I read on Facebook a few weeks ago that my dad sent his then fiancée flowers for Valentine's Day. And in early April they were married on what would have been his parent's wedding anniversary. It wasn't like other weddings I was in where you have the months of activities leading up to the main event. I didn't have to carry around a swatch with me of the wedding colors before buying accessories. There weren't the crazy bachelorette parties filled with alcohol and junk food. This wedding seemed to creep up on me. It snuck up behind me, and before I knew it I was strapping on a rose-filled corsage and walking my dad down the aisle.
In weddings, it is typically a very sweet gesture to see the father of the bride walk his daughter down the aisle and give her away to another man. I always wondered in the past what the dad must be thinking as he hands over the reins. But this time it was me. It was my sister and I giving our dad away. And all I could think about as I slowly, but not too slowly, put one high heel in front of the other down the carpeted aisle, was that I did not want to give my dad away.
I held his arm like I was still eight years old in the swimming pool. I used to feel that if I let go of him while in the middle of that body of chlorinated water I would drown. I remember leaning on my dad's arm in that same church 12 years prior, after losing a loved one for the first time. I cried and wore black, my father's hands against my black back with every heave.
And even though we had rehearsed this wedding four times the day before, it had still not quite sunk in. There are no rehearsals for life. When something hits you, it will always feel like the first time. And the moments immediately following will always leave a sting. And as we look back and remember and compare, we will always feel the freshness of that initial blow.
When we reached the altar, my father kissed my hand and I took my place after the best man. I watched his fiancée walk down the aisle with her father and wondered what memories were hitting him as he held her arm soaked in white satin. I could never be a parent. My dad had always been there to save me; to keep me from drowning, to hold my head above water. I always thought there was no stronger man. And yet as we had made our way down the aisle, he had needed both my sister and I on either side of him. It was our turn to hold him up. And in what seemed like a minute, through the chorus of "Going to the Chapel," I had grown up; our roles had reversed.
If you had told me 12 years ago that my father would be married before me, I would never have believed you. But there are no rehearsals in life, no forewarnings; only surprises. This was neither my dad nor his new wife's first marriage, but they deserved to have it feel like the first time. They deserved to learn from looking back, from remembering, from comparing. They deserved to have that sting fade away, to numb it with a fresh start. Just because I let go of my dad's arm in that instant didn't mean I had left him to drown in the deep end. I will always have those memories of my time with him. My hands have memorized how his hair feels and the softness of his skin. I can still feel the warmth of the summer sun and the weight of his hand on my back.
I tossed away the corsage sadly not because something had died, but because I knew there would be more roses in the future. My dad knew that I was old enough, strong enough, brave enough to stand on my own. He knew because he was the one who taught me how to swim and that sometimes it's OK to share your heart with another, because we will always be able to hold onto the people who mean the most.
I reached this insight a week after a wedding, having never had a child, nor been a bride: fathers walk their daughters down the aisle not to give them away, but to support them. To never walk alone is one of life's greatest blessings. To learn from our missteps is another.
My father always told me growing up that the best way to overcome the frigid pool of water was to jump right in. Though I had jumped and done cannonballs numerous times over many summers, it still to this day is hard to jump when first going in. I can wade in first, get used to it, and then jump. But those initial jumps before a drop hits the skin always gives me goosebumps.
So maybe it is best sometimes to walk someone down the aisle before you walk down it yourself. Sometimes it might be better to see a parent find happiness and love so that you can find the strength to go out and find your own. Every wedding and every marriage is different. Bachelorette parties and bridal showers don't always make jumping on the wedding bandwagon easier. But supporting our loved ones when they need us most is ultimately what warms us. And while it can be uneasy to think about a parent remarrying, or walking down an aisle in front of a lot of people, we can eventually get used to the idea. And that doesn't happen by way of rehearsal. It happens by moving forward; by putting one high-heeled shoe in front of the other and leaning on those you love.