Monday, July 26, 2010

I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll

The bride wore a non-traditional black and white floral print dress. The groom, sans jacket, wore black dress slacks, a blue shirt, and a multicolored silk tie bought by the bride in Italy. Almost 19 years after they were first married on a typically overcast San Francisco summer day in 1991, they renewed their vows before 60 family and friends this past Saturday.

There were already tears in my eyes when Verna’s father guided her, gripping her cane, along the sidewalk outside our home. “Now that you really know me,” I said to her father as they arrived in front of me, “are you sure you want to let her go?”

He sort of smiled, and I clasped Verna’s hand in mine as we walked closer to Marie, our dear friend who also officiated at our wedding ceremony in Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden on July 28, 1991. Trailing just behind Verna and her dad were our daughter, Maya, clad in a green chiffon dress and holding a bouquet of roses, and our son, Miguel, who was one of my best men, the ring bearer, and the DJ, ‘DJ Miggy’.

The weekend had been a whirlwind for all of us, as family streamed in from Arizona, Central California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. I was concerned that all the activity would adversely affect Verna, who tires easily because of all the medication she’s taking from hospice. So, prior to the ceremony, I spoke to the crowd before Verna and her father walked to the strains of “Here Comes the Bride”:

“First, I’d like to thank all of you for being here and sharing this special day with us. Also, since we want to preserve Verna’s health, I ask most of you to use the bathrooms in the park,” about 300 yards away, “or go like Gigi (our dog)”, who was at that point sniffing around the bushes.

As it turned out, Verna and our sister-in-law Donna (wife of Verna’s eldest brother, Marty) sequestered themselves upstairs during the day prior to the ceremony at 4:15 pm. Verna took two naps, got a pedicure and manicure from Donna, and more or less relaxed without anyone bothering her. Maya occasionally squeaked through to be with her mommy, but we’d ordered everyone else to stay away. And they listened.

Marie briefly introduced the ceremony and then shared a story that, she said, aptly demonstrated our strength as a couple. Several years ago, residents in Bernal Heights (a neighborhood in San Francisco) claimed that the stone relief of the Virgin Mary, outside a Church, was crying. Verna, Marie, and I went to investigate, and, sure enough, both Verna and Marie saw tears gently streaming down her eyes. I said, though, “No, it’s the light hitting the wall.”

Marie said that even though Verna and I often had two ways of seeing the world, we were of one mind and heart in terms of our love and commitment and willingness to accept our varying perspectives.

Then in a nod to something we included in our original wedding ceremony, Marie shared some humorous vows I’d written earlier in the week. “Steve, do you promise not to swill any more of Verna’s liquid morphine?” And, “Verna, do you promise to let Steve hop on the back of your wheelchair with you in it and coast downhill in the park?”

While both Verna and I acknowledged her cancer in our renewal vows, we also said almost defiantly that we wouldn’t let it define our relationship or family. Love and our bond are stronger than Verna’s life threatening illness. So the humor was our attempt to accept reality and also playfully attack the incurable enemy that is ravaging her body.

Next we jointly lit a candle our dear, dear friend Amanda recently sent us from Lourdes, a Catholic shrine in France, where many believe the waters are healing and Bernadette saw a vision of Mary, that Verna and her mother visited in 1993 as part of holiness tour sponsored by a local church. She and her mom also toured holy sites in Portugal and Italy, which is where she purchased my tie.

We shared our renewal vows next, with Verna going first, and, unlike 19 years ago when she was nervous and no one could hear her, confidently pronounced how I was still the one for her and how our love has grown stronger amid the past four often horrendous years.

With tears brimming in my eyes and, surprisingly, words catching in my throat, I said, “It took your cancer for me to be able to surpass you on a bike.” I also said, “I am forever yours through all eternity and beyond”, which was similar to Verna’s vows.

Miguel then handed me Verna’s wedding ring and I moved to place it on her finger. But suddenly Maya grabbed the ring and slipped it on Verna’s finger. People giggled at Maya’s gesture. I then gave my ring to Miguel and he imitated his younger sister and put it on my finger.

Marie said, “Then by the power vested in me by this community of love I pronounce you still married.” I leaned over and Verna and I kissed twice as our family and friends clapped. I felt a mixed wave of sadness and profound joy. There was nothing better than renewing vows with my soul partner and the mother of our children while our Miguel and Maya had such active roles in the ceremony. But I also wondered if Verna and I would celebrate together our 20th wedding anniversary next summer.

Verna and I admitted to each other in 1991, weeks before our ceremony, that there are no guarantees in life. We wholeheartedly pledged ourselves to each other, but knew that love ebbs and flows and only time would tell if we’d survive the journey of love and life. We acknowledged, though didn’t really expect, that our love might someday cease. Yes, we said over and over, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to try, try, try and work, work, work.

We just didn’t know then that cancer would prove us right in a way we never expected.

To love and life. And to eternity and beyond.


  1. Steven and Verna.... I'm supposed to be working, but when this came over I just had to read it.
    I was one of the lucky ones to be at their wedding in 1991 and remember what a beautiful bride Verna was. She still is.

    Cousin Beth

  2. 獨居時,要反省自己的過錯;在社會大眾之間,則要忘卻別人的過失。..................................................

  3. Steve and Verna, what a beautiful entry covering such a meaningful event. My heart-felt wishes are with you, and may every day bring only smiles, laughter, and love!

  4. 卡爾.桑得柏:「除非先有夢,否則一切皆不成。」共勉!.. .. ............................................................

  5. 生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。..................................................