The breathtaking fall day had turned into a more heart-wrenching experience than Mary Jo could have imagined.
“Mom, are you coming?” asked Al Jr. “Meg and Ethan are almost ready to leave, and you have to throw birdseed with us.” Her handsome teenaged son hesitated on the church’s threshold, brow furrowed, foot tapping a rapid beat.
“Don’t worry, I won’t miss it. I just need a few minutes.” She gave him a wan smile, which seemed to placate him for now.
A cool breeze and the sound of crackling leaves welcomed Mary Jo, causing chill bumps on her bare arms, as the heavy door groaned closed behind her. She strolled down the empty sanctuary’s long, stone aisle and gazed at each pew, which had minutes ago been full of family and friends. Her leather pumps caused a repeated echo that disturbed the otherwise tomb-like silence. The aged oak pews shone from recent polish, reflecting the light emanating from the intricate stained glass windows. She carefully sat on one of the benches, sliding her hand across the smooth surface. A deeply drawn breath was rewarded with a mixed scent of candle wax, extinguished matches, and roses.
If only they had planned a summer wedding instead of one in the fall, perhaps I wouldn’t be struggling so much today.
Vividly recalling similar sights and smells from twenty-five years earlier, she pictured herself again walking down the aisle in her stunning white gown with Albert, and then smiling at everyone during the reception until her cheeks hurt. She imagined savoring the five-layer wedding cake’s thick, sugary icing. The wedding had gone perfectly, as well as the twenty-four years she had lived with Albert. A solitary tear slid down Mary Jo’s cheek, partially in grief from the past months, and partially in happiness for her daughter Meg. She turned, jolted out of her reverie of memories, as the door behind her creaked open.
“Come on, Mom. It’s time,” Al Jr. said.
She wiped moisture from her face with a tissue. “Alright,” she managed, moving to join him.
“I miss Dad, too. But this is supposed to be a happy day. Meg’s day.”
“You’re right. I just want them to have a long life together, at least as long as your dad and I did.” Mary Jo spoke with more cheer than she felt. “Let’s go see her off.”
They stepped into the windy outdoors—cloudless sky overhead, browning grass beneath. All around her stood joyous onlookers, but all she saw was gray sorrow obscuring her view. Twenty-five years to the month she had been wed here, and a year almost to the day her beloved Albert had passed from this world into the next, leaving her lost and alone.
She found herself at the front of the throng, who cheered wildly for the newly married couple. Meg. Pasting on a smile, she reached out to hug Meg before she entered the limo. New tears formed in her eyes.
She whispered in Meg’s ear. “I love you, sweetie.”
“I know you’re worried, Mom. It’s okay.”
“It hurt so much, and I didn’t know it was coming. I don’t see how you can marry him knowing he only has a year or so left…” Her words fizzled to nothing.
Meg took her mom’s face in her hands. “Because I saw you and Dad show me what love is and I can’t miss out on that, even if it’s only for a year.” Her mouth widened into a huge, genuine smile.
“Then that’s enough for me.” Perhaps it would be a beautiful fall day after all.
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