November 27, 2007

First Dance, Final Goodbye

A lot goes into choosing a wedding song. For many couples, they know right away what to play for their first dance, for others they don’t make a big deal of it, and for my wife and I, we chose something we thought would be special. We both knew the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack and thought it was ideal for us. We imagined ourselves at our reception, embracing on the dance floor and gently swaying as the band played our song. Just talking about it made my then fiancé teary eyed with anticipation

During our long engagement of almost two years, my bride-to-be kept a loose leaf binder full of all the details, orders, plans, and receipts and the like for our giant, New York wedding. There were to be almost two hundred guests, a big band, bridesmaids and ushers, and everything you’d expect for such a festivity. However, we didn’t know that someone very close to us would not be there for our nuptials.

My fiancé’s Mom and Dad were invited over to my parent’s home for dinner so they could finally meet. My folks were much older, but my father and my fiancé’s Dad bonded right away. They shared blue collar values and had similar childhoods as they each grew up in New York City, and they were both in the military. My father told me later after they went home that he noticed something wasn’t right when talking my future father in law.

“Here’s a man who worked hard his entire life, and he told me he just didn’t want to go to work in the morning.” he said.

“Yeah, but Dad, you say the same thing.” I told him.

He shook his head and looked away from me. “No, this is different. He kept holding his stomach.” Then he got up and went into the kitchen. To tell you the truth, I never gave his comments much thought.

Days later, my fiancé called me from work.

“My dad has a doctor’s appointment.” She was worried, I could tell. Her voice lacked that certain confidence she always had. Sure, she had the right to be anxious when it came to her father and his health. But, she works in the medical field. Her job is to diagnose people with diseases; and her specialty is cancer.

I’ll never forget the day her father returned from the last battery of tests to diagnose his problem. For months, he’d been unable to eat or sleep, and he had a feeling of extreme “discomfort,” as he described it” My fiancé did her best to keep from bawling out loud when learning of his prognosis. Yet, it was difficult to hold back.

He had a very curable form of Lymphoma; but he went without symptoms for so long, it was too late to do anything. Because of his relative youth, he was only fifty two years old, they tried chemotherapy, but to no avail. Hope and constant care turned to grief and worry. Soon enough, we kept a vigil at his bedside. In September he lay dying, and we were to marry the next July. I asked my fiancé if we should marry in his hospital room and just have the reception which was already booked and paid for when the time came. She cried and hugged me and said she’s would run the idea past her Mom. The answer came the next day; and as only a father could put it “My daughter will have her day, and I will be there.”

On our last day on Earth, we all want something special to happen. Maybe we want to see angels in our final moments. Or, some look for loved ones who passed away earlier. My father in law quietly fell asleep with his family looking on. My fiancé hurried into the busy hallway just outside his door in tears. She held on to me and sobbed. It was at that moment I heard music.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.
She looked up, as the source of the song playing came from loudspeakers in the ceiling over our heads.
“Oh no,” she said. “Daddy, oh daddy…” Again, she fell into my arms and cried hard. I stood with my bride to be and listened to the last piece of music I never imagined would be playing at that moment; and that was “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, our wedding song.

We eventually chose a different song for our wedding day as neither of us could bear to listen to a tune which played at the exact moment my bride’s father passed away. After all of that, I like to believe something special did happen for my father in law at the moment of is death. As he arose from his body to his final place of rest, he looked down and saw his daughter embraced in the arms of the man she would marry, swaying back and forth to their wedding song.

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