My husband Sheldon Good and I, both widowed fairly young, have a great big beautiful blended family. We have four children between us (one son passed away) and 24 grandchildren. Eighteen are the offspring of our children, and six we welcomed into the family as spouses.  And we expect to reach 36 “grands” in the not too distant future…and more once great-grandchildren start arriving!

Needless to say, with such a large family, our experiences during our 26-year and counting marriage have been full of many wonderful and poignant moments—from the usual joys of everyday life to those that are downright surprising and unexpected. But we’ve made sure to find those silver linings in life, and enjoy all of the unanticipated occurrences that come our way to their fullest.  As an adaptable and thoughtful mother, mother-in-law and new age grandmother, I would not have it any other way.

I constantly tell Shelly that every important life experience is an adventure.  And we, as parents and grandparents (and perhaps someday great-grandparents), are here to participate in these events to the fullest extent possible, and give our offspring our blessings and support.

This all comes to mind because of the most recent wedding in the Good clan, a non-traditional affair we never could have imagined had we tried.

For starters, you must understand that Shelly is “Mr. Traditional.”  And while I respect tradition, I believe that we must change with the times, and embrace the new with the old.  So now, when our family life throws Shelly a curve ball, he shakes his head in wonderment, smiles and gets with the program.  I like to think it’s because I’ve helped him embrace adaptability for the good of our clan, no pun intended.

THE WEDDING STORY

And this brings me to the wedding. I remember every word of a recent and very unexpected phone call I had with our daughter-in-law Jami, the widow of Shelly’s deceased son.

It started out normally enough, but quickly progressed to the unexpected when she said, “Dale and I have decided to have a commitment ceremony. It won’t be a legal wedding, but instead reflect our commitment to each other. So I’m calling to ask Papa to officiate at our ceremony.”

Shelly told Jami he would be honored. He felt she was entitled to his public endorsement. He appreciated Jami’s efforts to maintain a good marriage with his son. And he wanted his son’s children, our grandchildren, to know that Jami had every right to go on with her life.

Jami and Dale were elated, and I remember thinking to myself OMG, another first for Shelly.  Now he’s going to play the role of a rabbi. My husband, the rabbi! What next?

Writing their vows was our “what next!”  Together over the next few months we wrote the text that Shelly practiced as though it was the biggest real estate deal of his life!

When the commitment ceremony arrived, we flew off to Jami and Dale’s home in Garden Valley, Idaho, a tiny rural community nestled in the state’s breathtaking mountains.  We arrived a few days before the wedding to spend time with family and meet Jami and Dale’s friends. And what an amazing time we had.

From the moment we walked into their charming Western style home, until we left, our time in Garden Valley was a love-in. Our group of family and friends were of different ages, religions and nationalities and from all walks of life. It mattered not because we had two things in common: we were all happy to share in Jami and Dale’s happiness and had an instant and engaging camaraderie.

The start of the festivities

The first evening we sat around the dining room table sharing food and conversation and wedding plans. The next day, several of us went to soak in the hot mineral springs, then to meet some of Jami and Dale’s Garden Valley community made up of artists, writers, woodsmen and retired professionals.

Jami and Dale decided there would be no wedding planners, no florists, no caterers and no official rabbi or minister. So family and friends, 23 in all, took on all roles—from building and decorating the Jewish chuppah to arranging flowers on tables.  And of course, my husband, Sheldon Good, acted as the rabbi at their commitment ceremony.

The only “pros” were the fabulous guitarist and photographer. After the beautiful sunset ceremony, we drove into Crouch, a tiny town of 162 with one grocery store, one hardware store and a gas station with one pump, where we dined at the only restaurant in town.  The owner-chef took a break from his kitchen duties to come sing a beautiful love song for Jami.

Now as I reflect back on this unexpected but incredibly touching experience, I realize that Jami and Dale’s wedding was a “gala” in the truest sense of the word. It was an exceptional and festive celebration, in the most extraordinary setting possible—the epic backdrop of nature with the epic company of the people in the world who truly love this couple the most.

But most significantly, I know their lives will continue to be a “gala,” fueled by spending time with, and finding meaning in, family and friends.  And that, dear readers, is the kind of gala I wish on all of us and will strive to incorporate into all of our celebrations in the future.

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