Unprepared for Regret, Part VI: Our Anniversary

This series has been both a tribute to my late wife, Jill Rinehart, and a record of the grief I’ve struggled with since she died this past October. The last installment was on the semi-anniversary of her death (all the entries so far are linked below), and while today’s post commemorates a much better day, it still has not been easy to write.

Thirty-five years ago today, I married my high school sweetheart, Jill Marie Briggs. Here’s my favorite picture from that day — I’ve kept it in the same frame for the last 35 years, and proudly displayed it in every office I ever occupied:


(Jill Briggs, shortly before she officially became Jill Rinehart.)

When Jill died last year, we hadn’t made up our minds about how to celebrate this anniversary. We’d talked about traveling, possibly visiting friends in Maine and seeing eastern Canada, possibly finding another tropical island to explore — but no doubt whatever plans we might have made would have been thwarted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Of course, she didn’t make it this far.

We were married for thirty-four years, four months, and eighteen days. That sounds like a long time, and maybe it was, but to me it wasn’t long enough. Whether we measure it in years or some other way — 412-1/2 months; 1794 weeks; 12,558 days — it could never be enough.

I would like to be able to say that I remember our wedding day as if it were yesterday — Jill said so, in a Facebook comment just last year — but for me the cliché does not hold true. As I’ve noted in previous posts, I do not have very detailed memories of the events of my life. I have what I have come to think of as a “headline” memory, in which I remember that things happened but not necessarily very much about how they happened (or the conditions under which they happened).

And right now, today, I wish very strongly that my memory worked differently.

I have thumbed through our wedding book, as well as the additional photo album Jill put together of the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony and the reception, in hopes of stirring some fuller memories — but it hasn’t worked. When I was in Murrell’s Inlet a few weeks ago, I thought about stopping by the church to try to get an impression of what that Saturday afternoon was like. Perhaps I might then have been able to recall and recount more humorous details, or some sweet stories, but I’ve got next to nothing.

The night before, we rehearsed at the church and had supper at the Plantation House — one of my family’s favorite restaurants in Pawleys Island, that doesn’t even exist anymore. Afterward, Jill spent the rest of the evening with her friends — Evelyn Davis Booth, her matron of honor, and Mary Thompkins, who would sing a special song to open the ceremony — and I spent it with my friends: Jamie Brown, who would have been my best man except that I had asked my dad to do the honors, and Brad Rothell, who would also sing a favorite song. Neither Jill nor I wanted any kind of raucous bachelorette or bachelor parties; quiet evenings with friends were — and remained — more our style.

No wedding is without its problems, I guess, and I remember that Jill and my mom had a bit of a quarrel over how the flowers were going to be arranged at the front of the church. I don’t remember if Jill had already set them up and my mom moved some around, or if my mom took it upon herself to set them up without consulting Jill, but I know for sure that not long before the ceremony Jill came along behind my mom and moved the flowers the way she wanted them — which is as it should have been! It was a source of moderate friction, and something Jill brought up from time to time, but of course I sided with my wife-to-be in terms of making sure she got what she wanted.

Otherwise, the day — and especially the ceremony — is fuzzy in my memory. I know that I didn’t hear either Mary or Brad sing, because they were done before I entered the sanctuary. I wish I could call up a vision of Jill walking down the aisle, or standing by my side, but all I really remember is smiling a lot because I was marrying the girl of my dreams.


(Jill and Gray Rinehart.)

As with the ceremony, I don’t remember much about the reception, either. I have vague impressions of the room and the snacks and the people, but no clear recollections. I do know that Jill and I handed out the lyrics and played Michael W. Smith’s song, “Friends,” to thank everyone for coming. So much of that song is poignant to me now …

But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

… Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends

Hard to let go? That doesn’t even come close.

After we left the reception, I remember that Jill and I stopped at a car wash and cleaned the “Just Married” shaving cream and soap off the car. And I recall that some of our friends — some of my Air Force ROTC fellows and their significant others — saw us and stopped to yell at us (playfully) for doing so.

But what I remember most about the entire day is being very happy. Insanely happy.

And what I regret, on this anniversary day, is that I rarely — and possibly never, adequately — told Jill just how insanely happy I was to have her as my wife.

___

Previously in the series:
Unprepared for Regret
Unprepared for Regret, Part II: Valentine’s Day
Unprepared for Regret, Part III: Jill’s Last Day
Unprepared for Regret, Part IV: The Day Jill Died
Unprepared for Regret, Part V: Six Months Gone

P.S. If you’re interested, you can read Jill’s obituary here.

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4 Responses to Unprepared for Regret, Part VI: Our Anniversary

  1. AvatarStu Labovitz says:

    Gray, Jill is absolutely radiantly beautiful in those photos. (And you look SO young!)

    I continue to mourn your loss. I’ve never quite had your gift with writing (which I’ve always admired, since I first had the privilege to work with you), and wish I could give you more comfort through my comments. But your words are so filled with your love for Jill, that reading them continues to keep her alive in our thoughts.

  2. AvatarSharon Sypniewski says:

    Your wedding was beautiful. Your marriage was wonderful, through good and bad times. I am blessed to have witnessed your wedding and watched your life journey. You and Jill were, and still are, inspirational to me.