When Darah was diagnosed with cancer, we all sprung into action. How could we be a part of her healing team? How could we support her through this journey? What could we do to help? We all took on our separate roles in her life, some as caregivers, others as comedic relief, a few of us became Wheatgrass pushers, but we all wanted to help make her feel immense amounts of love. It was only natural that our cousin Julie, an artist and environmentalist (amongst many other things) would create a piece of artwork to welcome Darah home from her first hospital stay. When Darah entered her bedroom, she was greeted by about 40 paper cranes suspended invisibly by fishing line from her bedroom ceiling. A symbol of hope and healing, the cranes danced above her bed creating a feeling peace and love that would become our motto as a family coping with such an illness.
Around the same time, my mom showed me a video of what I would eventually learn is called a murmuration, or a large flock of starlings. To see this miraculous act of nature, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k . I became quickly mesmerized by this airborne dance and was given an immense amount of peace when just moments after finding out about the passing of my sister, I saw a similar (but much smaller) act of beauty in the wintery skies of Chicago, Illinois. I knew that was the very first encounter that I would have with my sister on the other side.
It will come as no surprise to you that birds became a very important symbol for me in the quest to building this “new” relationship with my baby sis. So, when it came time to plan for the wedding, I went strait to Julie. Besides her grand idea of building a zip line into the barn for my debut as a bride, we discussed the possibility of folding a few paper cranes to represent Darah. We agreed that cranes would hang…we just had different ideas of how many. As the wedding grew closer and I got better at delegating, I asked Julie to manage the crane project. It took no time at all before she presented the idea of building a murmuration with paper cranes. This was a diversion from my idea of “a few cranes” hanging in the barn, but I was ecstatic. Julie and I quickly realized that we needed help, so we began having “folding parties” and teaching all of our friends how to fold cranes. In addition, Julie asked that before folding each crane, that the person write an intention or positive wish for our wedding. I could not believe the act of service that was happening before my eyes. So many people that I loved, writing love notes on each sheet of delicate origami paper and painstakingly folding it as a symbol of our beloved Darah. Through a series of events, and us learning about The Legend of 1,000 Cranes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_origami_cranes) Julie decided that we must have 1,000 cranes for the wedding. Cue more folding parties! Julie started hosting origami crane parties once a week and making signature cocktails and her famous hummus to lure people in. We sat in the sacred space that Darah used to call home, and while making tiny creases in paper, grew in love for each other. The result was a breathtaking display of time, effort, creativity, and love that none of our guests will quickly forget. Julie-my wish was granted long before we folded that thousandth crane-your labor of love touched me deeper than I know how to express in words. You brought Darah into the room, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
2. Memory Wall
The memory wall at our wedding was a way of remembering all the people that have touched Jeremiah and I in ways that have shaped the people that we are today. Without the love of those people, we may have never known how to love each other. We honor and cherish the people that attended our wedding in spirit and are thankful for the role that they played in our lives.
3. Gratitude Journals
As we have mentioned on this blog before, Darah’s last Christmas gift to all of us were “positivity jars” which were mason jars with slips of paper, a marker, and instructions to jot down notes about the positive things in your life. I was dead set on not spending money on favors, until we came up with the idea to spin off Darah’s positivity jars with gratitude journals for our guests. We bought Molskine journals and hand stamped each of them. Thanks to Darah and the joyful way that she lived her life, we were able to spread the message of gratitude to all of our wedding guests.
The day that Jeremiah proposed to me on the chair lift at Holiday Valley Ski Resort, he told me that he wanted to ask me to marry him on the top of a mountain so that we could be as close to Darah as possible. He went on to explain that he and his jeweler searched far and wide to find me a diamond with two very specific flaws: one called a feather and one called a cloud. Because of my strong connection to birds in flight, these slight imperfections in the diamond forever engraved my sisters spirit in the ring that symbolizes our love. To make my ring set even more special, my wedding band has 11 small diamonds and 1 sapphire, which was Darah’s birthstone. Additionally, Kristen and I wore pieces from Darah’s turquoise collection.
Our invitations also symbolized Darah by incorporating the murmuration into the background of the design. The simple beauty of these birds in flight was the first clue to our guests that the freedom and grace of birds would become a theme of our wedding. Our wedding programs contained the same graphics for cohesiveness. It was important to us that a traditional theme not take over our wedding, as to make it look scripted and overly uniform, but we wanted the grace and presence of Darah to shine through the use of birds and flow through the ceremony and into the party, as she would have wanted to be present for every moment of this day. Many thanks to Charlie Wagers for making our design ideas become a reality.
6. Ring Bearer and Flower Girl
The ring bearer, Karter, was Darah’s beloved godson. Words cannot express the relationship that these two had. She loved him deeply, as if her own, and he respected and cherished her beyond what most little toddlers are capable of. To this day, he recounts memories of her, referring to her as Big Darah. Darah has become “big Darah” because Karter now has a little sister named Darah, who was born just days before Big Darah’s birthday. Tara and Dre, parents of Baby Darah named their daughter in memory of our Darah because of the deep friendship that they shared. Jeremiah and I were honored to become Baby Darah’s God Parents, and our families have come together in a tight bond of sharing, togetherness, and love in tribute and in honor of Big Darah.
Darah, without a doubt, would have been the Maid of Honor at our wedding. Because of this, I saved the spot for her and did not name anyone else to that position. Kristen and Madeline, two of Darah’s closest friends carried a lantern down the aisle in honor of her presence in our wedding. The lantern was placed on the mantle, overlooking the whole ceremony. We did not need a candle to know that she was with us, but it was a physical representation of her presence and a reminder of her closeness. I am deeply thankful that Maddy and Kristen took part in this special ceremony.
8. The Best is Yet to Come
When dad spoke at Darah’s funeral, he read a letter that he wrote to Darah many years ago when she went to a retreat with her high school. He wrote about all the ways in which they are similar to each other and how, because of this, he knew that for her, the best was yet to come. This saying “the Best is Yet to Come” has become a theme in the way that my family celebrates Darah and it is engraved on the stone bench by her grave. Because of this, Dad and I danced to Tony Bennett’s version of “The Best is Yet to Come” at our wedding.
9. It snowed
Darah’s last post on Facebook was “I.WANT.SNOW”, so snow is another way in which we celebrate Darah. Like any bride having an outdoor wedding, I prayed, wished, and hoped for warm and beautiful weather. For those of you who were present, you know that that wish did not come true in the traditional sense, but what did happen was even better. It snowed. Even if for only a few minutes, it was the first reminder that Darah was there. Who knew that snow on my wedding day would be the best thing that could have happened?
10. Words in Ceremony
We made sure that Darah was included in the wedding ceremony. The following words were spoken to honor her: “Jeremiah and Maureen have also asked that we take a moment to honor those loved ones who are not with us today especially Maureen’s beloved sister, Darah. Her spot as Maid of Honor has been reserved as we know that her energy not only fills that role, but fills this room and overflows in our hearts.” This was read by our surrogate brother, Colin Morris.
Many thanks to our families that made this day possible, for our guests that brought the energy that cannot be planned, and to our photographer, Ms. Anna Zajac (http://anna-zajac.com/), who captured the story that we told on this day.