The reaction from my own kids ranged from sweetly perplexed to open defiance. Our youngest, 5-year-old Rosalie, was happy to have a new Grandma Barbara around but also knew that “real Grandma Barbara” had died. Our eldest, Josephine, bluntly announced, “I already have a Grandma Barbara.”
The situation was complicated for the new Barbara and her family, too. She had been a widow for eight years, and her children and grandchildren also struggled, understandably, to adjust to my dad’s sudden prominence in her life. Both halves of the couple were sensitive to these dynamics and did their best to avoid overstepping boundaries. They understood that the children saw their romance as a threat to cherished grandparental attention and that the adults viewed it as a relinquishing of the deceased spouses.
These feelings inevitably spiked when my dad announced, last year, that he and Barbara had gotten engaged.
My older brother, Dave, a Shakespeare buff, jokingly quoted a line from Hamlet: “The funeral bak’d-meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” The underlying issues were serious, though. How would this affect holidays and traditional family vacations? What about legal issues around end-of-life planning? And the comingling of finances?
I was concerned enough to send my dad a letter, gently observing that he and his fiancée were still living on opposite coasts. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for you crazy kids to move in together before you tie the knot?” I asked.
My dad, who is candid if nothing else, patiently laid out their thinking. First (and most important), they loved each other. Second, they didn’t want to waste time. Third, people of their generation believed in marriage. Fourth, he hoped the formal ceremony would speed the process of integrating their lives, and send the message to us semi-skeptical youngsters that they were, well, serious about this.
After many fraught familial consultations, the date (a Sunday in late July) and venue (the deck of the bride’s summer home in Maine, which overlooked a gorgeous lake) were set.