On the sun splashed afternoon in late September. They parked and climbed into the van for a short drive. Up the hill they wound toward an old mansion positioned to overlook the bay. In the distance, downtown Seattle could be seen, with its majestic skyscrapers perched on the hill overlooking Elliot Bay. Off to their right, the Olympic mountains stood in the distance. It was a beautiful scene, as ferry boats crossed The Puget Sound, carrying passengers from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. Two huge cruise ships were docked just down from the venue. They were loading guests for their voyage to Alaska. It was the Admiral House, sitting up on the hill overlooking the water. An amazing place for two people to get married and throw a party. There were tables set up for dinner and white chairs lined up in neatly organized rows off in the side yard. An inviting aisle ran through the center of chairs, up a few steps, to the archway where vows would be exchanged. Unique sensations filled the senses everywhere you looked. It was their long-awaited wedding day.
Guests began unloading from vans and moving onto the grounds for the wedding. They were greeted by a large event tent covering the dance floor. Surrounding the dance floor, were round tables for dinner with white table cloths draped over them. Most walked around to the bar for drinks before the ceremony. Similar to the previous evening there was an assortment of options to drink. He looked over the bar and weighed his options. Cerebral palsy can cause difficulty balancing on uneven surfaces. However, watching his steps onto the lawn, he found a relatively level surface. Footing didn’t seem to be a problem, as he walked around the yard taking in the picturesque views. He tended to move around unfamiliar surfaces before attempting to walk on them with anything in his hands. There appeared to be some taller tables around the bar to set drinks down if trouble with balance occurred. With mild confidence that he could manage, he strolled to the bar and grabbed a bottle of beer.
His family was gathered in small pockets. Similar to the rehearsal dinner, everyone was greeted with handshakes and hugs. More relatives had arrived who weren’t able to make the rehearsal dinner. Second cousins were embraced and small chatter was struck. Conversations from the previous night seemed to pick up where they were left. While becoming comfortable mingling, he turned to greet his father, who had arrived. Along with dad came his half-sister, whom had limited exposer to the family. The atmosphere between father and son seemed to have changed overnight. He greeted his sister from another marriage with a warm embrace. Then the awkwardness seemed to take form. His father asked to be lead over for introductions to his own family. They were his aunts and uncles, but his father’s brothers. His son politely declines, as father and daughter walked toward the gathering of family. He felt the inquisition didn’t make sense, watching his father and half-sister walk away.
With the sun splashing down to provide the ideal evening. Sunglasses were still required, while mingling continued. Still people hovered with those most familiar to them. The energy was palpable, as time for the ceremony neared. We continued standing and chatting in stilted conversation, waiting to move toward the gathering of white chairs. Then, it was time to begin our short walk toward the wedding scene. Unsure of where to sit, taking a place near his father and sister seemed logical. It didn’t seem likely for his father to be seated with the rest of the family, and he felt the sense of obligation. This sense of obligation also struck him during the rehearsal dinner the previous night. However, sitting with his father wasn’t his obligation. It was pointed out to him, that his assigned seat was in front. So, he walked down front and took his seat.
The sun shined on an ideal setting. It was a warm evening in late September, just a stone’s throw from downtown Seattle. The wedding party made its way down the center aisle two at a time. Then, we stood to watch the bride move toward her future husband with her father at her side. The bride was given away and the couple took their places with the minister. After being together for almost a decade, this wedding seemed more of a formality. However, when the exchanging of vows began, it was anything but a formality. There was emotion from the couple not often seen. It felt more of a revealing look into their relationship and the love they shared. They recited their vows and exchanged rings through moist eyes. The ceremony soon came to a close and the new couple walked back through the center of chairs, followed by their closest friends. Once they had reached their destination, we followed in our process of vacating the beautiful scene. With the sun slowly drifting down in the sky, we began enjoying more time in conversation before dinner.
He grabbed another drink heading into the cocktail hour before dinner. This time just coke in a glass of ice. The bar tender reached for the standard shorter glass for the coke. He kindly interrupted, knowing the smaller glass would be too difficult to manage. Asking for one of the taller glasses within view, the bar tender kindly obliged, filled the glass with ice and poured coke over the ice. Cerebral palsy can force people into thinking about minute details, like the glass being drunk from. The taller glass would be easier to balance and have more ice inside to help stabilize the liquid. He knew from years of experience that these were important factors. His arm trembled slightly walking away from the bar on uneven ground, but nothing fell from the glass. Engaging in conversation while holding his glass worked for a short time. But, soon it was requiring too much concentration to balance the glass and his forearm was beginning to fatigue. He quietly excused himself from the conversation and went to set the coke down on the table. Returning to the social hour, he reengaged in catching up with family. Conversations felt easier after releasing the challenge of holding the glass.
Once dinner had commenced, he found himself eating dinner with new faces. Luckily his brother was with him, which eased discomfort. But, just like any new situation, reaction to cerebral palsy can be interesting. However, at this table conversations seemed to begin with ease. The people surrounding our tabled seemed friends of the bride. Many of them working with her in the hospital setting or having attended school with the bride at some point. They seemed to have known each other for years, but welcomed us into their conversations. We continued small talk introduction, while waiting for our table to be called upon to retrieve dinner. We were situated just next to the end of the buffet line. So, we waved hello to familiar faces carrying their dinners back to their tables. There looked to be a great variety of food to choose from, as anticipation grew for dinner.
As the table waited its turn, one of the passersby was his father. They shared eye contact and a warm smile. In his mind, he planned to see his father later on in the evening. As his mother walked past, she was greeted with a warm hello, followed by aunts, uncles, and cousins. Their tables number was soon called and they all popped up for dinner. As many times before, he would require some help in the buffet line. His brother was there to lend his helping hand similar to the previous night. This time though he challenged himself. His brother had always been patient when he wanted to try something more challenging. So, he decided to balance his own plate, as his brother filled it with whatever seemed appetizing. The idea to hold his own plate worked, as they moved through the buffet successfully. With cerebral palsy, it seems good to challenge oneself whenever feeling up to the task. On that evening, his balance and strength felt steady enough to accept the task. He carried the plate of food back to their table with steady hands and sat feeling accomplished. Once everyone had returned comfortably to their seat, dinner for the table began.
Dinner for the table seemed an enjoyable experience. The sun continued to sink behind the Olympic Mountains and by the time their feast had finished, hanging lights were illuminating the evening. Speeches were given by the maid of honor and best man with incredible ease. Each speech brought the group together with humorous and entertaining stories. Then, responsibility fell to the live band, who took us into the fall night. We spent time dancing and visiting while the night continued. He shared a dance with his mother, which was the only time his feet found the dance floor. Soon, he was looking around for his father. In all the commotion of dinner, speeches, and dancing, his dad hadn’t been seen. Looking around gave him a sense of disappointment upon realizing his father had vanished. He and their half-sister had left the wedding without any goodbye. It was a simple reminder of how little their relationship had truly changed. The connection seemed to vanish again into thin air, with little that could be done. So, he accepted the unfortunate reality and continued his enjoyment of the night.
There aren’t many times we get a post card evening with family. A time when everyone gathers to celebrate with each other. This was one of those occasions where everything seemed to come together. Often, we can learn from these unique experiences and positive growth comes out of them. For him, the relationship with his father became clearer. It probably won’t ever be what it once was, but peace and functionality within it remains possible. Relationships with other relatives also grow deeper. While others remain, unchanged and settle further into their functional places. It was a day where someone new was welcomed into the family, changing dynamics as they all move into the future. The weekend was memorable and life changing for many. They enjoyed two nights of family and friends, as reconnections added to the joy. Cerebral palsy was challenged and overcome, without hampering the excitement of the situation. CP often adds a little something extra to each situation, but growth with the disability often seems to occur. Cerebral palsy didn’t get in the way of enjoying two people beginning their journey together.