I returned to Maryland a few weeks ago for my brother’s wedding. Watching my younger brother get married was an emotional experience for which I was completely unprepared. Now that I’m sitting in an airport coffee shop munching on avocado toast, I figured instead of devouring another Washington Post article on the Trump madness, it is much more productive to unpack my emotional baggage before I head back to Shanghai.

A Wedding Brings Emotions of All Kinds

Amongst the waves of overwhelming joy, I also experienced sadness. Don’t get me wrong — I’m extremely happy for my brother and his new wife! The sadness comes from looking around the wedding venue and noticing the absence: relatives who’ve elected not to attend and those who are no longer with us.

Sometimes it is difficult to notice the missing pieces until the whole puzzle is on the table.

In addition to sadness, I also felt anxiety, frustration, anger, and a number of emotions I won’t even attempt to categorize. By definition, weddings are the initial merging of two families. It’s perfectly normal to have some friction. Just remember to breathe, dance as much as you can, and refrain from choking relatives until the big day is over.

Families Are Unbelievably Complicated

It isn’t often that we notice the years have marched on, but large family gatherings are an easy way to spot the carvings of time. Most of the sadness I experienced during this trip is derived from ancient wounds. One of which, has to do with my mother’s side of the family. Until I arrived, I hadn’t seen my aunt or grandmother in fifteen years. There wasn’t a misunderstanding, fight, or any animosity that caused communication to cease. We were just never close. Although it would be easy to blame them for not keeping in touch when I was a child, I also shoulder some responsibility for our lack of relationship. As an adult, I didn’t reach out. And of course, time went by.

However, now that my grandmother is ninety-three and doesn’t remember much, I’m struck by the realization that it never will be between us.

It’s over. Our relationship will always be stuck in the things that weren’t. And I will have to live with that.

Celebrate Whenever Possible

My parents weren’t enthused about a large wedding. Always practical, they were married at the courthouse for the cost of a marriage license. Growing up, we never spent money on “fluff”. Although I can understand my parent’s view — they grew up with nothing — I have to disagree.

Watching my brother pronounce his vows at the altar, dancing with my uncles, brothers, cousins, and parents surrounded by salty Chesapeake breeze, seeing my ninety-three year old grandma rock strappy silver stilettos, those are things I’m glad I didn’t live without. The time for celebrations is limited. Be sure to savor it.

This post is dedicated to my baby brother Stevie and his new bride Candis. Till death do you part. Love you forever.