Wide Awake: Cousin Michael, Part II
The happily ever after to a personal story

Several years ago, I wrote this column about my cousin Michael, who in his early 20s lost both his parents and then struggled through addiction. When I wrote, he had been sober for six years and seemed to be on his way to something good. This past summer, I got to go see his something good.

I attended his wedding in a beautiful backyard garden in Pennsylvania. He married a lovely woman, Jennifer, with two daughters, and the four of them are now a new, happy family.

When the invitation arrived at our home, both my husband Joe and I were really excited. I knew this would be the happiest wedding I had ever attended. Possibly even happier than my own, and we were pretty happy.

To prove how excited we were to go: our daughter Klein studied abroad for both semesters last year, and she was due to arrive home from Ghana on May 16. We were all looking forward to greeting her at the airport. Then the invitation came, and the date of Michael’s wedding? May 16.

Our initial reaction was we would fulfill our parental obligation, miss the wedding and welcome home our daughter who had been gone for so long. But that was quickly replaced with thoughts of: “Well, we can see her on Sunday.” So we Skyped, and gently told her we had plans for the day of her arrival. I think she wasn’t sure how to take the message, because some of our wedding excitement was seeping out – and maybe that is a bit unsettling when you’re sitting in a remote African village looking forward to getting home.

For days leading up to the outdoor wedding, we watched the weather report, and it wasn’t good. Michael had chosen to have his ceremony at the home of his late uncle, now owned by Michael’s cousin. It is a house that even I consider special from the few times I visited as a kid. A creek runs through the home’s backyard (so imagine the setting for the wedding), and I remember as a kid thinking this was such an exotic house – a far cry from my Philadelphia row home with its cement backyard.

The day before, Michael sent out word to everyone that the wedding would still be held outdoors, so bring an umbrella.

But it didn’t rain. The sun couldn’t have been brighter, and the breeze couldn’t have been gentler. It’s hard not to think some greater force is involved when a glorious day gets glorious weather – even though the forecast is for rain.

Michael’s Irish heritage is an important part of his life. In fact, he spends most weekends playing guitar and singing Irish music at local bars and festivals. (His weekday job is as an addictions therapist in a men’s halfway house.) So it was fitting that Michael and his six groomsmen wore tan knickers, argyle socks, brown vests and Jeff caps. Jenn’s 12-year-old daughter sang “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie,” and right after the couple exchanged vows, Michael walked to each daughter, gave her a hug, and then a ring.

At the reception, the couple’s first dance was to a recording of my uncle, who passed away in 1994, singing “What a Wonderful World.” That was a little jolting. It’s one thing to remember people you’ve lost when you’re attending a major life event, but hearing their voice kind of stabs you a little. For Michael and Jennifer, it was their way of bringing Mike’s parents into this special day. For me, it was painful. My dad wasn’t there either, and I had been trying not to dwell on that – he would have been so incredibly happy too.

After a two-week honeymoon to Greece, Jennifer and Michael are now living a normal life at home with their daughters. Over the past 12 years, I’ve been lucky enough to watch Michael become someone brand new, which hardly ever happens. I celebrated that phenomenal accomplishment at his wedding. It was truly the happiest of days.

October 2015
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