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Caught up in the wedding mill, thank God

The Baltimore Sun

During my anti-establishment youth, one of the establishments I was anti was the American funeral industry.

I read The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford's 1963 best-seller, and I was appalled at the way the grieving were manipulated to wring every last cent out of their broken hearts. I concluded that funerals had moved far beyond religious sacraments and had become pagan pageantry.

I thought funerals were an exploitation of the worst kind. Until I had to throw one.

My father was the first of the grown-ups around me to die, and I was grateful beyond words for all the things I had to do before my family could bury him, right down to choosing the stationery for the thank-you cards.

We were so busy, we didn't have time to let the sadness register. My father's funeral arrangements put two or three days between us and the devastation of this loss, and during that time his death lost some of its awful power.

I have disliked weddings for the same reasons. Even more than funerals, they have become an industry unto themselves, with layer upon layer of extravagance and expense.

Proof positive is the fact that couples now compete by making fools of themselves in order to win the opportunity to be married on the Today show. Then they allow anonymous strangers out there in TV land to choose the most personal elements of their wedding, such as the rings and the honeymoon.

Like I said, I was no fan of weddings. Until I had to throw one.

I am only the Mother of the Groom, and that makes me a virtual spectator to the detailed preparations for this wedding. But I am more grateful than I can say for all the little stuff I have had to do since he became engaged last Christmas.

It has given me time to get used to the idea. Not that I am, of course.

I have come to think of this time not as a long engagement, but as The Long Goodbye. I have spent this time attempting to come to terms with the fact that my son will leave my family to begin one of his own.

Say what you want about holiday visits and grandparenthood, when a child marries, he turns his face from the sun that his parents have always been and toward a new source of warmth and light.

He steps outside the magic circle of family and takes comfort from someone of his choosing. Together, he and his wife will learn to rely on each other instead of leaning on old Mom and Dad.

This is part of the natural order of things, and it is good.

But time is a funny thing when you are a parent, and the past and present cross back and forth of their own accord.

You can find yourself so clearly holding your toddler boy that it could not possibly be a simple memory. It is so real, you can feel his tiny fingers absently twisting a lock of your hair.

So I have been grateful for these wedding preparations and the way the chaos has intensified as the day grows closer. In that way, weddings are like funerals.

All the busyness has kept the sadness at bay, draining away some of its power.

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