It has been almost a week since Sarah and Jeff’s wedding. I have not written much, at least not much that’s serious, about that subject, because I still don’t quite know how to put everything that has happened into words. I think the single word that I can hang my thoughts on is: surprise!
We have had a lot of time to get to know Jeff and his family. He and Sarah dated for almost six years before this wedding. We had a big multi-family graduation party when the whole gang finished at JMU. Sarah lived with David and Caroline for a while when she first moved to Richmond, and Jeff has spent vacations, holidays, weekends with us, not to mention a couple of moves that tested more than his physical strength.
So I thought, going into this experience, that it would be a kind of formal celebration of Jeff and Sarah’s commitment to each other, but we already had a relationship. Why would that change? Then the first surprise I got is that those relationships did indeed change. They’re closer. Tighter. More real. Marriage creates not just a new nuclear family, Jeff and Sarah, but a new extended family – Campbells, Hankses, Murphys, Lindseys. Suddenly I thought of everyone in a new way and was profoundly relieved by David’s Elvis impersonation at the rehearsal dinner. We may be more of a stew than a melting pot, but at least we’re compatible flavors.
Even our relationship with Jeff has changed. He is our son-in-law, or as my friend Fran says, “son-in-love,” a phrase I like better. We have four kids now! But even more surprising than that is the way we now think of Sarah and Jeff as a self-contained unit, one where they are responsible primarily to each other. We have moved back a step in Sarah’s life. That’s really important, too, even though it’s one of the painful things. She has grown up, grown wings, and she and Jeff have flown away into their future, where we shouldn’t follow, even if we could.
This awareness expresses itself in both joy and tears, I think. Hank and I are happy . . . deliriously so . . . but we are also aware of a letting-go of our daughter , as David and Caroline let go of their son. We’re still a family—a new, improved family—but Jeff and Sarah are an autonomous unit within it. Our job is the delicate one of supporting that unit while giving it the space and freedom to grow on its own.
That’s going to be interesting terrain to negotiate in the months and years ahead. It’s a bright new world, this side of the wedding, and that’s the biggest surprise of all