Monday, October 11, 2010

Happiness - The Real Thing

Marilyn is an artist, writer and advertising executive. Marty, a world-class brain researcher and expert on ADHD. If they had to identify a single wedding theme, it would have to be Gratitude.

"First and foremost, we wanted a celebration of love and of life, something that would allow us to express our deep appreciation for our friends and for our families," said Marilyn. 

In the shadow of Marilyn’s stage IV breast cancer, everyone in attendance at this bucolic backyard wedding was happy to see this couple come together and a new family formed. Marty and Marilyn were by far the most grateful of the bunch.

Three years prior, with less than two years dating under their belt, Marilyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. A nightmare moment, but Marty never flinched. He rose to the occasion like a storybook Prince Charming and through treatments and tears stood by Marilyn and her 6 year old daughter, Frannie.

"It was hard to imagine life without him. Both Frannie and I welcomed Marty’s quiet calm and his skill as a human alarm clock. Were it not for his shakes, pokes and morning announcements, we’d be sleeping through lunch and certainly the second grade."

False positives, tense times and the fears associated with cancer took it's toll - and then, on a dark January day in 2010, Marty made a suggestion - "let’s have a party."

"My head was sore from surgery, my neck immobile and my speech slurred from a combination of meds and exhaustion."

"I had no idea what he was talking about," Marilyn said with a laugh.

“Let’s have a huge celebration," said Marty. “Let’s get married!”

They had known each other for five years and over the course of those 60 months, they had discussed marriage a handful of times. Marilyn had always been dismissive. They had each been married before and current circumstances were far from ideal. Was this the right time to plan a wedding? 

The answer was, yes. “Marty was always there for me. He was a shoulder to lean on, a tender heart to call on, a best friend, a brilliant advisor and most importantly, he adored my daughter, and she adored him.”

Sixty days before the wedding, a questionable test result led doctors to conclude the possibility of advancing disease. A tumor in a rare and deadly position was threatening to impinge on Marilyn's brain stem.

That week while Marilyn's attorneys finalized her will, and Marty spearheaded the effort on second opinions, the DJ asked for their playlist and song choice for the first dance.

"Blunt and bizarre, it could have passed as soap opera or satire. Instead it read like Shakespeare, tragic, twisted and hard to believe."

"I started to imagine my wedding day as a great goodbye and combed through my list of friends insuring all were invited. Marty did the same. A treasured necklace from my mom was transformed into so many pairs of earrings and necklaces for my sisters, nieces and Marty’s daughter-in-law. I just wanted to give. Give away anything precious and share what I had while I could."

"I tried to convince myself that 10 year old Frannie would be OK even as I used every muscle to avoid thinking about it." Marilyn moved forward with wedding plans and decided nothing should be taken for granted.

"If a hint of the routine crept in I searched for an alternative. The thought of the first dance flummoxed me. A full year of private Salsa lessons and Marty and I still couldn’t master a move. So, we made the first dance a Contra Dance and would just call everyone to join us on the dance floor."

"I continued to throw out the standard wedding conventions, opting instead for things we loved. Marty had gone gluten free six months prior and I had had never been to a wedding without piles of leftover wedding cake. Disliking waste, and with Marty and Frannie partial to vanilla ice cream and hot fudge, we agreed to pass on the iconic cake and ask our friend Steve to make his amazing fudge sauce. Our delicious caterer added grilled peaches and bananas."

"I visualized our guests; family, friends and colleagues. I thought about prayer, and chants and the power of a large group in sync and in harmony. I imagined us as unified higher beings radiating rhythmic healing energies. I believed in miracles and medicine and anything that offered hope."

Instead of ending with a traditional send off Marilyn and Marty hosted a drum circle. "I didn’t know what a Healing Drum Circle was, but I knew we needed one and Julie ran them all the time for cancer survivor groups as well as anyone else seeking healing, wholeness or a good time jamming. My nephew Jonas newly christened, as a Shaman would be on hand to keep the fire and call the directions."

Four weeks before the wedding day "life moved in molasses," said Marilyn describing her slow pace. Then she got an email.  "My inbox pinged with the last of the medical opinions, the most important one as it reflected an exhaustive examination of current and previous scans by the specialists. I wondered where they would net out, on the side of surgical intervention, or in the leaving it alone camp. I read the email."

Reviewed all your films, treatment records etc. Bottom line there is no evidence of tumor progression.

The tumor was not growing.

"I called Marty over and had him read the email. We laughed and looked stunned and sat motionless for a moment."

"I could never have planned for the incredible celebration, the joy, the gratitude and the love. Contrast is a powerful thing and our lives were full of it. The day was a triumph, not a solemn tribute."

"We signed our Ketubah while a circle of our closet friends and family sang and hummed and filled the room with harmonies.  We moved outside to the traditional Chuppah where guests had gathered around bountiful bars with a roaring fire in the fire pit to soften the chill of a brisk autumn day. The reception under the tent was delicious and joyous. From Contra Dance to Hora our friends raised us up high on wobbly chairs and played out a scene so familiar from previous generations of Jewish weddings."

"I know it’s cliché, but it was one of the happiest days of my life. I was so happy to be alive, happy to be marrying Marty, happy to be making our family official and happy to have our dearest friends and family within close reach of an instant embrace. Together we celebrated life and love."

Last week Marilyn went to see her Oncologist, the tumor in the back of her skull was actually shrinking, the questionable spots onher spine were no longer there and with the exception of an area on her pelvis, the cancer was retreating. 

"My Doctor attributed it to the oral chemotherapy I was taking and the high dose –radiation from earlier in the year. I attributed it to all the love, and to the prayers, and to the drumming, and dancing, and my friends, and my family, and to hope and to happiness...

Invitations: Wedding Paper Divas “Enchanting Forest”
 Caterer: The White Apron – Julie Dunfey
 Flowers: Julie Destefano
 Event Planner/Props: That Event Company – Karyn Warnick
 Rentals: Special Events of New England
 Band: High Range through Cuzin Richards Entertainment
 DJ: Stephen Carrigan through Cuzin Richards Entertainment
 Drum Circle Facilitator: The Village Drum - Julie Corey
 Hot Fudge: Steve Leiker
 Pies: Pie In The Sky
 Rabbi: Andrew Vogel Temple Sinai Brookline


Nate said...

Great work Amanda. The combination of your gifts and talents of writing and photography are evidenced at times like this. I think you were the perfect person to document Marylin and Marty's wedding, no one else could have done better.

Rick Beyer said...

A wonderful job capturing an amazing occasion!

@seth said...

Wow, what an amazing, beautiful, personal, joyous photo narrative. Thank you for taking the time to turn what would be an otherwise bland portfolio of smiling heads into something so much more. xoxo.

Sarah said...

The tears clouding my vision made it difficult to get through this in one sitting. Love of friends and family, ear to ear smiles, and stunning color contrasts. What a celebration. I am tickled and happy to see what a beautiful day it was. Congratulations.

Love Sarah & Xavier

MargaretJ said...

Powerful Powerful Powerfully amazing

Love, Margaret

PalchaPal said...

Red shoes, cowboy Marilyn. What a beautifully touching love story.


iknewiwassmart said...

Dear Marty, Marilyn and Frannie,
Words alone cannot express my joy in seeing how happy you all look.

Warmly, Sydney

Lynda said...

What a gift to your whole Village this was. The healing flowed like wine; and the effect has lingered with me. And your contribution to the New Hampshire economy is much appreciated!

Thank you so much, M & M & F for an unforgettable experience, a weekend with your extended families, and mine. Much love always, Lynda

Tina said...

Your wedding day was magical...truly spectacular. You were radiant and your partnership with Marty was like a flower in full bloom. We love you and the weekend was one of the most memorable in our family's life to date. The healing was there for everyone to drink from. Delicious.

Glenn and Wendy said...

Marilyn, Marty and Frannie,
We feel gifted that we were able to see the splendor and joy of your lives through this beautiful and idyllic essay. Many congratulations and much love to you all ...
Glenn and Wendy

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