Oh, this year.
The past 12 months literally began with the birth of my daughter and ended in a death, holding all that life could muster in between. Like fireworks, it was brilliant and loud and blinding at moments. And in the end, I was left clinging to the fading light that lingers with the smoke; the memory of it all.
This year, I would find myself creating two of the most important events of my life thus far. You might be surprised to learn that neither event was my own wedding (that happened some time ago). On top of that, neither involved a famous celebrity or seven figures. It will never be published in a magazine and, if I’m being completely honest, there was zero monetary profit. But despite the lack of notoriety, I’m the most proud I could ever be.
This year was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary; the first of those two important events. On February 8, I posted the following:
Months later, on July 5, my three sisters and I (along with our helpful, sweet husbands) threw our parents a surprise party. This was not just about celebrating a milestone of 50 years; we wanted to share our admiration for these two amazing people, having witnessed them as individuals, as husband and wife, and as parents. We were awestruck in their resilience, their humor in spite of pain, their “want” to be together, and the love. Oh, the love. It was going to be celebrated whether my father liked surprises or not. And there would be plenty of wine, beer and Croatian music, because nothing could be more appropriate.
In short, it was magical. My mother and father hugged and embraced long-time friends and distant relatives. They were literally able to see that the love for them extended well beyond their daughters and their grandchildren. That evening, they realized how admired and adored they were by many. And that night, I found myself soaking in every moment, every detail until I could hold no more. I realized in a simple but profound moment that these two people were the foundation of everything that was me, my sisters, and all of our children.
On July 12, after weeks of being with my family in Michigan, I flew back with my own little family to our home in Portland. Within hours, I would find myself settled back into a routine of planning weddings and raising kids. But as life is wont to do, the unexpected swooped in to steal me from my normalcy.
Less than a month after celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary, I found myself on a red eye back to Michigan — this time, to be with my dying father. A man who, only three weeks prior, was healthy and alive; vibrant and celebrating.
On August 8, my father died. Surrounded by his wife and his four daughters, we cradled his face and held his hand until that last breath was taken. We loved him as hard as we could for one last time. And then, he was gone.
My dad was a not a “funeral home” kind of guy. He was loud and gregarious and he befriended anyone he met. He told jokes and sometimes, the same one far too often. He loved a good party and, for that reason, it was how we intended to honor him. In one of my dad’s most favorite spots on earth, amongst the Queen Anne’s lace, we cleared a space and pitched a giant tent in my parents’ back field — a place where, nearly 40 years ago, they believed was the ideal place to raise their family. We had all of his favorite foods and music. We drank wine in one hand and toasted him with bourbon in the other. We hugged and laughed and cried at the insaneness of it all and acknowledged there was no better way to celebrate a life like his.
So this year, we celebrated again. But this time with many more tears.
When I sat down to share this with all of you, I was motionless at the keyboard. How could I even begin to explain the depth of this? My words are simple, yet the love for my parents is so complex and strong, it felt like an impossible task. Not to mention, the pressure. It all felt a little too great. So I thought long and hard about how I wanted to verbalize this and the direction I wanted to take. What I kept coming back to is fairly simple: this year has taught me that, regardless of the event or occasion, it’s about the celebration. That the love, the community created and the energy involved in celebrating lives well lived is well worth it.
In surprising my parents with an anniversary party, my sisters and I gave my parents one of the happiest moments of their lives. And I can’t help but think I may never be able to give a more deserving and exquisite gift.
Note: The photos you see were taken by a woman I admire dearly, Leah Verwey. While I extolled the virtues of hiring a professional for my parents’ party to just about anyone who would listen, I also realized it would alter our budget significantly. It would mean going from a lovely, intimate catered dinner with hors d'oeuvres and seated dining to the Markovich ladies making most of the food and asking friends to help serve. Little did I know how invaluable these images would prove to be. I’m extremely grateful to Leah, who expedited her editing, so that we could receive these while my dad was slowly slipping away. They were the last photos my father saw. May he hold onto them and keep them close throughout the rest of his journey.