About 4 years ago, I wrote a post about how my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On December 5th, 2019, she lost that battle after 15 months. I wrote that post with tears of sorrow. This post is with tears of joy. And loss. But mostly joy. So get your tissues out, and dig in.
I am writing this with minimal edits very quickly on a high of emotion, so breeze over any minor issues, if you will.
This past weekend, my brother was married to his longtime partner Tom in Vegas. I was there to participate in a lot of the events – and it was emotional on so many levels. Grief is a weird, weird thing. In that – you don’t really choose when things hit you. When my mother passed, I did not break down crying. I was saying goodbye to her over that 15 months – so it wasn’t like a band aid being ripped off. It was a long process where you are able to say your goodbyes with quality time, not words. I was there for her last week or so of her life every day – and saw the battle she was facing and almost felt a relief for her when she passed.
That being said, things I felt this past weekend boiled to the surface and I needed to express them somehow. I don’t have a $300 per hour therapist, so I’d like to do what I do best – which is get ideas to paper. My brother has the gift with words – and I prefer to put the pen to paper.
I had been fine up until the actual ceremony. Since my mother was not there, my brother chose my older cousin Kris to walk him down, along with my step father. When I first heard the idea, I didn’t really have any thoughts on it. This wasn’t a traditional type of wedding in a church. I was at a same-sex marriage in Vegas at a chapel that looks like you could do a drive-up window ceremony next to a giant space needle type of thing where they said people can bungee jump out of. So we were past the boundaries of what one would think of as a “traditional” wedding – but with this, it was also a very thoughtful and tasteful ceremony.
But when I saw my cousin Kris, I just immediately thought of my mom not being able to be there and see it. And as I’m writing, the emotion is now manifesting itself how it was then – but I had to try and keep my shit together there, and I don’t here lol. Then saw my step father, and more emotion of the two of them together. They had been together for nearly 20 years – and Joe had become more than a step-father to my brother and I. He is the grandfather of my children – and my oldest only knew him of “gramps” – not a “step” anything. But in that moment, I also felt grief for him. He had poured his soul into the marriage with my mother and took care of her so much the last 15 months of her life. My mother more or less despised my father my whole life – so it was so good to see her find her soulmate in Joe. And we can never repay him for how well he took care of my mother at the most scared and difficult time of her life. Gratitude and thanks are only words that cannot find the depth of understanding in the English language about how people can feel towards another.
But with the ceremony, I held it together, mostly – and had a few looks at my cousin sitting in front of me and had trouble keeping it together. It must have been hard for her as well, as they were super close when I was growing up. She would have been so thankful to Kris for doing it. And, she would have been sitting there with my step-dad so proud of my brother. A funny side note here – twenty some years ago near the time when my brother first came out, my mother had told me “I think he just hasn’t found the right woman yet”. I was like “Mom, that’s now how this works”. While my mother was liberal and a CNN fanboy for life, in the early years she had struggled with understanding it. No, there was no animosity or “hate” or anything like that – it was a lack of understanding.
Then, I was picturing her there watching the ceremony, crying, and happy for my brother. Tom came down the aisle then in this white suit with this blue decoration on it, with only the words “fabulous” that I could describe the jacket. I’d post pictures here of a bunch of this, but this blog is usually for my crazy health writings and financial/silver writings, so going to keep family photos out of this space. But – my mom had seen my brother in the early years of coming out and being alone. She had seen him on holidays alone – and it made her heart ache for him.
I know she was looking down and so happy that my brother met someone as wonderful as Tom to spend his life with. And that thought also hit me in the feels hard.
So I left the wedding super emotional. I was giving some speech for my brother that night, and was in desperate need of some booze to take the edge off. We took a limo to the Venetian, and there, we had to walk some maze through the casino/mall/hotel to get to this room up a few flights of stairs. I felt emotional – but also looking for that first beer to numb whatever was going on in my head.
The room was rather small for 60 of us, but still nice at the same time. It came time for speeches, and Tom’s mom delivered a wonderful speech that welcomed my brother to her family, and said, “you can call me mom” to him. And I was to speak in less than 10 seconds, and suddenly it triggered more thoughts of my mom.
“Keep your shit together Nate” – is all I kept saying in my head. I was 2 beers deep, but had craved about 6 before this moment. I hate speaking in front of people. Despise it. And there I am….
I had not known what to expect with the venue. I didn’t know what my exact role was with the speech. Remember, I said it was a non-traditional type of wedding. I didn’t have a label of “best man”, but I was in what my brother had called a “groom squad”. It was me and Mitch to give speeches, which were kind of like “co-best man” speeches. So I had looked up what types of things to say at this. The advice I saw was like “7-10 minutes. Ice breaker, stories, advice”. More or less. I had to be very careful in this speech. It has been 3 years since my mom passed – but I still have difficulties talking about her without my voice cracking. With my father, that passed after about a year of his passing. 3 years later with my mom, and I still have great struggles.
So with my speech, I read the room and adjusted for a 3 minute or so speech and cut out a ton of stuff. In my head. On 2 beers. With nothing written, except a couple of bullets on a stick it note. I wanted to speak from the heart and find the wording in the moment. But as I’m speaking – all I kept thinking about was my mom being there happy for the two of them, and it was extremely difficult to form words of any type. I was told I did very well, but I also had deliberately not gone sentimental or else I would have been a sobbing mess in front of people – and made my brother lose it as well.
“Keep your shit together Nate” – I did.
Until the dance. Uh oh. Problems.
I didn’t remember this as part of the structure of the wedding/reception. My brother is amazing with planning, and took care of every minute detail of this for 60 of us. Unbelievable. With this, were countless emails of thousands of words – and I absorbed as much as a human could. But I missed this one. Completely whiffed on it – if it was in email 26, paragraph 61, line 138 – I missed it.
My mom’s older sister was to step in for my mom for the dance with my brother.
I’m in trouble.
The entire dance I was holding back 3 years of grief and tears like the Hoover Dam just an hour from where I was. Great resources of water being held at bay by a stoic concrete structure nearly 100 years old. But – the cracks were forming, as if a once in 500 year storm had waters rising and putting pressures on the dam – and I was holding it back. Drips were forming in my eyes. I could not focus on anything other than not having a mental breakdown in that moment. Mind was racing. So thankful for my cousin, my aunt, my step father for being there for my brother. So emotional that my mom wasn’t there.
The woman next to me must have seen the trouble I was in and touched my arm. That settled me for a few seconds, but the pressure was unrelenting. 3 minutes of facial contortions to hold back everything. I mostly did it, but it was difficult. My greatest fear in that moment was taking any focus off of my brother for even a second with my weak ass emotions. I needed to….”be strong. Like Red Wood” I kept hearing in my head, as if some Native American chief was giving me advice.
But wow. Grief has a way of finding you and making you deal with that shit, whether you like it or not.
And that was about the end of the waterworks for me that night.
I just wanted to tell my mom how missed she was for that event, and let Tom and my brother know how proud she would have been of the two of you, and how much she would have loved Tom. God knows I could not say those words out loud without having lost my shit.
The new family
With this – I also wanted to express words to the Gasnick family via this method, as there’s no other way I could have expressed gratitude for accepting my brother into your family without also losing it. I’m a very, very, very introverted person that visits the land of socializing usually only when having a few drinks in me so I can come off in a lot of different ways that I can’t anticipate. It’s not one of my better qualities, and with this, I struggle to bring new people into my life. It’s also hard with this method of inadequate social skills to express gratitude and admiration for the newer people in life without coming off terribly – so I stay quiet.
I’m not exceptional with small talk. I like substance in conversations, and fumble in trying to get to know people initially. I am so grateful to your family and friends for welcoming my brother into your family. When my brother lost my mother, he lost his anchor to what kept him in Pennsylvania his whole life – and he seemed to be destined to be adrift. He had expressed to me years earlier that he had wanted to move to Florida. It just seemed like he was ready for new adventures not limited to the confines of a small Pennsylvania town upbringing. Being someone who inherited my mother’s need for exploration and travel – his cruise liner of life was able to find a new place to settle down with what I can only describe as the most decent and wonderful people I have ever met. They don’t make people like you on the East Coast, so there’s a whole lot of midwestern charm with your family that is endearing and will keep my brother safe. In my limited interactions with people like Rob, Joey, Jared – and your significant others (and the countless others that I have lost names with the booze this weekend) – you have been wonderful, inviting, and classy people all the way. I could not be more grateful to have in-laws and people like you in Tom and Justin’s life. To Tom’s mother – her and my mom would have been besties within minutes of meeting each other and she was so nice when she introduced herself to me. I’m sorry I’m terrible with meeting new people – I try my best to just not say the wrong things to nice people 🙂 My mother’s financial background working for one of the Big 5 out of NYC also would have had her and Tom’s father talking for hours about nuances of finance.
Everyone just seems like really nice people. If this is what the Midwest is like, consider me sold on you! In the northeast, we are a bit more guarded with people. Less open. More suspicious someone is trying to get a number over on us. But that damn Midwestern charm can completely disarm anyone!
One of the things I made mention of in my speech was that I was protective of my brother, but for sake of time, I cut out more to that – also for emotional preservation – that he now had a family to protect him there when my mother and I cannot do that now for him there. So the same emotion I had when I was tuning up some kids from the neighborhood trying to protect him to keep him from feeling sadness or loneliness – you seem to collectively as a family be that warm blanket of assurance and calm that can protect someone like my brother. Many of you do not know how deep he can feel. How sweet of a person he can really be – that was suppressed after years of mean kids doing what mean kids do. He buried himself in layers of protection over many years to prevent being hurt. And I feel like he’s going to be able to be his true self out there, and for that – I’m also ridiculously grateful to all of you. I don’t know how I come off – but words are difficult for me to find in person at times. Which is why I wanted to hit this medium while the emotion was fresh and raw.
When hugging brother and Tom leaving Margaritaville after one of the best weekends of my life, I had also waved goodbye to his new family and friends on the way out. He’s in great hands.
My mom would have been so proud. So grateful. So happy. And with this, I’ll leave this here before I lose my shit more at the keyboard.
With all of the emotion with the wedding, my mom, and the new family – I wanted to also express my gratitude towards my Templin/Ibach/Cremi family. 9 years ago I had a wedding in New York – about a 4 hour trip, and I was terrified no one would come. That fear I believe is in the hearts of anyone who has ever planned a party in their lives, let alone a wedding a good distance from where you live. My family doesn’t have the greatest of means, so that also adds layer – that you are putting up barriers that could prevent them from seeing you. You feel like you are putting a burden on them. You want them to be part of your big day, but at the same time you feel ashamed you are asking so much of them.
With my brother and Tom having a wedding which could accommodate everyone, Vegas was picked over Omaha, and with this, they were able to do 3 smaller engagement parties for many who could not make it. That being said – to those that were able to make it and participate – I know Justin is eternally grateful, but so is my mother. This is 2022, and not 1995 – and one thing that had to be on the back of my brother’s mind for 20 years would have been – “I wonder how much of my family would support me?” Knowing where we are from, and what life was like for a gay man in that area 20-30 years ago where we grew up – to where we are now. Wow. To have the outpouring of support – thank you for everyone who came and made my brother’s wedding special. Even those who could not make it – I was getting pinged on the backend they were watching it remotely through the video feed. These people did not seem “obligated”. These people were not forced by my mom at gun point (inside joke to those who knew the spine of my mom when she wanted her way) – these people were there for my brother because they love him. And with this, you are allowing him to live his true life – all he has ever wanted from the time he was playing with my cousin making mud pies to cook in the back yard of my grandmother’s house. Thank you so much for your outpouring of support and love. I know the participation has meant the world to Justin and I don’t think you will ever know how much it means to him. Thank you!!