She entered the world when I was seven and a half years old. People often marveled at our ability to stay close, even with such an age difference. But we did. She was my baby sister. To this day I still accidentally slip up when calling after my son, using her name instead of his. She was the first little life I helped to care for.
I wrapped florist tape, snipped stems and wire, poked and rubbed and chaffed my fingertips till they felt more like sandpaper than skin while I made the corsages and boutonnieres for my sister’s wedding. Little bouquets of seeded eucalyptus, baby’s breath, burgundy ribbon, and a small pink tulle flower with a jeweled center.
My sister designed her gown with her mother-in-law. She was covered in hundreds of these tiny pink cloth flowers. She was covered in smiles and tears and prayers. Her husband cried as she came down the aisle. I always count tears from the groom as a good sign.
This was my first time watching another sibling get married. I had my own wedding to initiate the Saba Kids Get Hitched, and of course that morning in September eight years ago was awash in the excitement and emotions of joining lives with the man I loved.
But now I watched my sister make those same decisions and felt the fibers of my family and those of her husband’s beginning to knit together. I gained a new brother. I embraced a new sister. I felt the deep need for unity and teamwork to make the day’s event come together smoothly.
When my sister and her husband exchanged vows, I saw their heartfelt earnestness. They used no microphone so the vows were audible only to them and those who stood in the first row of wedding guests. Luckily for me, family sat in the first row. I listened especially close to the groom–that protective older sister thing never really goes away–and I saw a man ready love, serve, and be honest and true.
Their first dance was a tango. She inherited her wonderful hips from my family line. It was the father-daughter dance that made me break down and weep. I saw a little girl and her daddy together in a parent-child relationship for its final time. Afterward, she would be a married woman, learning new skills, shouldering new responsibilities and priorities, no longer a child in her parents’ home. A definitive legal adult age is a nice thing, but it seems to me that these huge life milestones are what force the change upon us.
The day after the wedding a bunch of family gathered to celebrate the wedding couple, eat leftover wedding food, and pray for the newlyweds. After hearing us pray for a supportive community to look after my sister and her husband, for forgiveness and grace that the couple would need to have for each other, and for overall help with the trials and tribulations of married life, my grandfather commented that we weren’t being happy enough. We should be celebrating! This was a wedding, for crying out loud!
Funny thing is, I disagree with him almost entirely. Of course a wedding is a joyous time. We danced our hearts out, threw golden balloons into the air, ate doughnuts, and waved glow sticks wildly into the night (my son’s favorite part) as we felt out hearts swell with joy.
But to say a wedding is just a happy celebration without recognizing it as a sober life decision is just crazy. I don’t pray on behalf of my sister’s married future because I fear for the worst. I pray because I know how hard it is to merge lives and dreams and goals and I want her to have all the help and resources she can get! Isn’t it easier to party with someone than it is to help them pick up the pieces of a hot, broken mess?
Again, I’m not predicting doom, I just feel that being realistic is of tantamount importance. Two people just decided to share everything and they happen to be imperfect, flawed, and prone to selfishness (of course, I include myself in all those adjectives, too).
My son knows that the wedding was a huge celebration. He grasps his multi-colored bouquet of glow sticks that I keep saving for him by putting them in the freezer and shouts “Hooray!” as he remembers the send-off of the newlyweds at the end of the night. He’s happy for the prospect of another uncle to spoil him.
Yet even my three-year-old knows the deep importance of the people who are present during the hard times. I might not take him on the most enthralling outings every single day (thank God for grandparents with the energy to escort him to Seattle’s outdoor fountains on sunny summer days), but my son runs to me when his heart or body hurts, when he’s frightened or too tired to self-regulate his emotions anymore.
I braided my hair along one side of my head, a tribute to the beautiful braided hair that ran across my sister’s head. She and I both tucked baby’s breath into our braids–we’ve liked to match each other for most of our lives. I want to still be there for her, to help her, hold her, advise her, and I also know I have to let her go. When I visit my parents’ house, she won’t be in her room downstairs, sitting on her bed under a dozen glowing paper stars while her fingers work at some creative project. That room downstairs isn’t hers anymore.
I grieve for that change even as I hope for the new future with happy expectation.
A thousand blessings on you, my sweet sister.
*Thank you to Orion Ifland for these wonderful photos!*