A Forever Engagement
By Rachel Reichblum, @thatgoodgrief on Instagram and Twitter
I can’t recommend a long engagement.
A long engagement means more time to discuss flowers and the exact shade of purple you’re looking for on the cocktail bar accent arrangement. A long engagement means more time to debate if you should add a 10th member to the band, or if settling for 9 pieces will suffice. A long engagement means more time to have uncomfortable conversations with your soon-to-be family on the most taboo of subjects, money. A long engagement means more time dreading the walk down the aisle because your parents are both dead.
Just me on that last one?
A little backstory: My dad was diagnosed with glioblastoma (a terminal form of brain cancer) in October 2015 and passed away 10 months later in August 2016. My mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma (yep, you read that right!) in October 2017 and passed away seven weeks later on December 7, 2017.
Another little backstory: I matched with my now-husband Dan on the dating app Hinge back in May 2014. We went on our first date in June 2014. He met my parents for the first time in June 2015. We got married in June 2018.
So, you could say I’ve had an eventful couple of years.
There’s nothing quite like death that can make you so easily understand life and what matters. The flowers will be. The band will be. The budget will be. The parents will not be. And when that deck is stacked, what difference do those details make?
Yes, I wanted a day to celebrate joining together with Dan to build our lives together and continuing the legacy of our families by creating our own. And, in the vein of my mother, of course I wanted it to be beautiful. But the people there (and those missing) are felt most acutely.
When I received our wedding photos back, I was struck by the rawness of this image. I felt myself sucked in – is THIS what grief looks like? Given that I tend to avoid mirrors for many minutes after any emotional breakdown for fear of what I might see, this was far closer than I had ever come. How others see grief appear on me, carried, weighing, clutching. Grief is as much an emotional experience as a physical one.
I linger on this photo because it legitimizes what I feel. It’s not in my head. It’s in my body, it’s in my being. I am stripped of my “child” status, thrust into orphanage, left trying to create attachment again in a new home, built together, over (hopefully) many years to come.
But let the building begin. I can’t recommend a long engagement.
Rachel Reichblum created the Instagram handle @thatgoodgrief following the death of both of her parents from brain cancer within 14 months of each other when she was in her late 20s. She currently lives in San Francisco and works in tech PR.