Your Stories

'First' Wedding Anniversary

How do we commemorate a wedding anniversary when the two people are no longer together? How do we mark a day that was once a joy-filled and loving commemoration and celebration? I suppose, like most things, we pause, we remember, and we allow our hearts to grieve for what once was and what now is.

You see, today, July 5, 2014 is my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary but my Dad is no longer alive. He died eight months ago. These eight months have been full of ‘firsts’ without my Dad: Christmas, the eleventh birthday of my son, Easter, birthdays of my five siblings, birthdays of my nieces and nephews, my 51st birthday, and now my parents 56th wedding anniversary. This feels like a big ‘first’ to me.

At this time last year, my parents proudly stood up in church when they heard the invitation, “Is there anyone celebrating a birthday or an anniversary this week?” With big smiles on their faces, they received an anniversary blessing from the priest. This only a few weeks before my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In church tomorrow my 83-year-old mother will not stand up when the invitation is made. She will sit alone and in silence, perhaps hoping that no one will notice or remember. I know that others will be remembering her and my Dad. And within the silence of my Mom’s heart, I’m certain that she will be remembering her husband and her wedding day, a date that has been etched in her memory since 1958, when she and my father were married in Aklavik, Northwest Territories.

On that day, my parents were surrounded by a handful of people from Aklavik who had recently become my Dad’s friends in the western Arctic, far from his homeland of Ontario. The logistics -  and costs - were too prohibitive for family members to come from Ontario to attend the wedding, so Mom and Dad embraced their wedding, witnessed by their newfound community of northern friends.

One year before their wedding, when my father proposed marriage, Mom was a nurse and Dad was an Anglican minister in Hay River, Northwest Territories. My mother accepted his proposal, on the condition that they wait one year so she could fulfill her commitment at the Hay River Nursing Station. My father had already accepted a ministerial post in the community of East Three (which would later become the town of Inuvik). Mom and Dad both joked that if they could survive living apart for a year, and still want to get married, then the marriage would probably be a success. Their only communication during that year-in-waiting was through letters.

After one year’s time, my Mom was finished her term, and Mom and Dad had communicated through letters that the marriage was still on.

Being an Anglican minister meant that Dad was able to perform marriage ceremonies, but of course he had to find someone else to perform his own wedding ceremony. Aklavik was the nearest community with an Anglican minister and became their wedding location.

Meanwhile, still in Hay River, my Mom set about the task of finding a wedding dress. There was nowhere to buy one in this community of only about five hundred. A nursing colleague was flying out to Edmonton and my mother gave her some money and asked if she would find her something ‘suitable’. Her friend agreed and came back with a perfect fitting wedding dress.

The next challenge was that, other than my Dad, my Mom wouldn’t know anybody at her wedding. Who would be her Maid of Honour? My pragmatic mother hatched a Cinderella-style plan. She mailed a special dress to the Aklavik Hospital, a dress she had worn as Maid of Honour at her sister’s wedding. The note attached to the dress read, “To whoever fits this dress - Would you please be my Maid of Honour?” A fitting woman was found and my Mom met her Maid of Honour when she arrived in Aklavik, just before her wedding.

Mom and Dad always tell the story of their wedding as a day filled with joy and celebration, as well as some anxiousness. Their early years were a time of getting to know one another and growing into a shared life. They had a rich, rewarding, and, at times, challenging, 55 years together, including being blessed with six children and many grandchildren.

Fifty-two years after their wedding ceremony, while attending a church service at St. Paul’s in Dawson City, my Mom was approached by a woman holding a photograph. The woman turned out to be a former nurse from the Aklavik Hospital. Much to my Mom’s surprise, the photograph was of my Mom and Dad on their wedding day. And, it was in colour, in fact the only colour photograph that either of my parents had ever seen of their wedding day!

When my Mom showed me the photograph, I was delighted by the story, and by the colour that had appeared in this very familiar visual. I immediately noticed that my Mom’s bouquet of flowers had transformed into a bright orange. For me these had always been flowers of black and white. Now their wedding was colourized, more vibrant, more alive. It was a thoughtful and precious gift.

Today, as I contemplate how I will commemorate the anniversary of my parents’ wedding, I reflect on their story. Mom and Dad lived and loved together for over 55 years and always had a tale to tell. In celebration, I will carry this one forward, with colour, and, along with the sadness in my heart, with joy and love.

By: Grace