I read out a piece I wrote for the meeting a few weeks ago on the theme of 'Secrets' which I unfortunately missed. Will be missing a few more sessions going forward due to a combination of business and pleasure (holidays are coming!), but will try to get some writing in if I can in between the travels.... Hopefully they might even provide some much wanted inspirational!
Weddings and funerals may represent somewhat different rites of passage but, unless you're one of the major players, the experience of attending them is often pretty similar.
The location, for a start. I know that plenty of couples don't do the whole church thing anymore, but it's still been the setting of choice for most of my acquaintances nuptials. The cliched script, the air of celebration, sometimes genuine perhaps, but frequently forced. "We are gathered here to celebrate the life of Mr X..." - bit bloody late now that he's shuffled off this mortal coil. It would have surely been better if the assembled group of family, friends and professional mourners had made the effort to visit him and show their appreciation before his ticker gave in.
Weddings are much the same. Everyone spouting congratulations and best wishes, pretending to be delighted and telling the happy couple that they're going to live happily ever after when half the time they're actually thinking quite the opposite.
Looking round the room today I can tell its definitely one of those days when it's what goes unsaid which really counts. I don't need to be a mind reader to know that probably pretty much every other mind in the room is whirring just like mine, turning over the same thoughts. "It'll never last"."Can't believe they're actually going to go through with this". "What the hell does she see in him?"
The blushing bride is my niece Kelly. Twenty four years old with a whole life of endless opportunities spread out before her and what does she choose to do? Marry an obese, thrice divorced man of fifty eight who has somehow persuaded, charmed, cajoled, or hypnotised her into becoming his next wife. I wonder how many of the other guests are similarly taking twisted comfort in the fact that with his vast weight and 40 a day habit she's unlikely to have to endure many years with him. In spite of it all, the smile on her face seems genuine. Maybe this really is love. What would I know anyhow, a thirty nine year old spinster? I can see why, given the opportunity, Henry, or any other man in his shoes, would pick a lovely young thing like our Kel above someone like me. Maybe I'm just jealous - actually no, scrap that, I'm definitely not jealous. The thought of seeing all 20+ stone of Henry naked frankly turns my stomach. I'd rather be resigned to a life of a celibacy than stoop quite that low.
Don't get me wrong, there have been men over the years, not many granted, but more than enough to use the plural. None of them were quite George Clooney, but at the time they were kind to me, and I in return to them, and surely that's more important than looks anyhow. Mutual kindness, and honesty, those are what make the difference between a mere arrangement (there have been a couple of them too, but I concluded long ago that i'm not cut out for such things) and a proper relationship.
Stood at the front of the church alongside the soon to be wed couple, my sister Sian looks outwardly very happy. Who knows, maybe she actually is, or the pride she feels at seeing her little girl stood there all grown up into a truly beautiful woman outweighs any reservations she has at the actual match. Sian is the oldest of us five, with a full fifteen years on me, although you'd struggle to tell given the lines on my face these days. She clearly got the better genes, not just in terms of appearance but in her general ability to succeed in life no matter what life threw at her. Growing up she always did things properly, didn't rock the boat. Decent grades at school led to a good job in the bank, a shiny car, a lovely house. Yes her marriage had failed, but you couldn't meet a better model example of single parenthood.
As Henry brushes sweat away from his furrowed brow Kel's loving fixation on his ruddy face doesn't waver for so much as a second. Again my mind begins to ponder with fascination what everyone else is making of this scene. Every guest will no doubt be aware that Kel's Dad has been absent throughout her entire life, and the cliched expression 'looking for a father figure' has no doubt been uttered by many of the lips that are now murdering that wedding staple 'Love Divine'. With Adrian having made it clear from the start that he didn't want kids, Sian had initially resigned herself to the fact that her family would not be expanding. He was everything to her, and if that sacrifice was what it would take to keep him then so be it. They had been married for almost ten years when circumstances forced Sian to reconsider her decision. Faced with the tangible reality of a swelling belly in front of her, she realised that she could not face the thought of spending the rest of her life without becoming a mother. True to his word, Adrian packed his bags, and other than some brusque correspondence via lawyers she never heard from him again.
"Lost in wonder, love and praise..."
The hymn draws to an end and the actual marriage business commences. I've heard these words plenty of times before but never have they made me feel quite this way.
"To have and to hold, from this day forward"
I'm not normally on speaking terms with God these days but as Henry repeats the vows back to Kelly I can't help but say a silent prayer hoping that this time Kelly, having grown up under the shadow of abandonment, has found a man who will genuinely be there for her no matter what. An anti-Adrian, you might say.
"For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer."
For all his faults it does seem heartfelt. I wish that I had had the chance to say the same thing, so many years ago. Every day passes with that void remaining unfilled, the consequences of those choices so long ago always weighing heavy.
It wasn't necessarily that I didn't want others to know, more that I was scared of what I would do, how I would feel, if I were to acknowledge the truth to myself. I sometimes worry that secrets are like bad smells, and that eventually they will seep out no matter how much you try to hide them. But today, today I'm just a bit player, the maiden aunt a shadow hanging around the periphery of everyone else's happiness. And as Kelly is officially declared Mrs Henry Griffiths, and receives that first awkward kiss to the forced whoops and hollers of the congregation, I will the daughter who has no idea of her true parentage to know that no matter what, she will always be my everything, and more.
"To love and to cherish, til death do us part." My girl, the girl I gave away, given away again.