brett wedding

From left, James Sullivan, Gabrielle Brett, Regina Brett, Bruce Hennes, bride Sarah Grace, groom Joe Hennes, Lonnie Kritzler, Ben Hennes, Beverly Kritzler. Children: River, Ainsley and Asher Sullivan. 

The wedding reminded me what it truly means to be family.

When we first tried to blend our families, it was bumpy and clunky and messy and sometimes painful for everyone.

I was Catholic; Bruce was Jewish.

I was an unwed single mother with a daughter I had raised alone, so I was both her partner and her parent.

He was a newly-divorced father of two sons who was trying to figure out how to be a dad who no longer lived full time with his kids.

My daughter was 15; his sons were 14 and 12. All three children were so very different from each other.

My daughter’s father had vanished from her life; his sons’ mother was fully present, a Jewish mother who loves fiercely and forcefully and raises the bar so high you can’t imagine touching it.

“Stepmother” wasn’t a word that ever sounded pleasing or inviting or anything I wanted to be. Fairy tales pretty much ruined that word forever.

I simply wanted to love those two boys like my own without hurting anyone in the process. At first, I felt kind of like an understudy, waiting to play the part of mom if I was ever needed, which was pretty much never. Then I figured out just be an extra adult in their life who loves them.

Loves finds a way. Love figures it out. You can never have too much love in your life.

Still, there’s no guidebook on how to blend families. How do you celebrate holidays without stepping on each other’s faith? How do you honor each other’s traditions without watering down your own?

Over the past 20 years of our marriage, we figured out what it means to be family. It’s messy and magical, all at once. Usually the magic is tucked into the mess and you don’t discover it until hours later or days later when you’re laughing over what you once cried or fought about.

There are so many ways to be family. My husband once saw his as a broken family. I once saw mine has half a family. Then one day, like the day your son marries and merges you with yet another family, you are reminded that family is simply family.

After years of dating a lovely actress in New York City, our youngest son, Joe, proposed to the love of his life, a Catholic woman named Sarah Grace. Is that a great name? Grace describes her and her family perfectly.

When they planned a February wedding in New York, we cringed. Would we have to fly or drive through snowstorms to get there? What if people wouldn’t be able to make it through a blizzard?

It was 65 degrees last weekend. We could have worn shorts.

The day before the wedding, all the families gathered for lunch. The mother of the bride spoke, then the mother of the groom, then me. The room pulsated with joy. We were all moms who loved Joe and Sarah. We were all moms excited to share them in new ways, big and small. We were all one family with even more love among us to figure it out.  

Because love isn’t just a feeling. It’s a choice you make. A choice you keep making, day after day, sometimes hour by hour.

My, oops, our daughter, Gabrielle, made the bouquets and boutonnières for the wedding. Our grandchildren, Ainsley and River, were the flower girls; our grandson Asher was the ring bearer. For grandchildren, there are no “step” anything. They just have grandparents and uncles and now a new aunt.

A rabbi performed the wedding, which my cousin Marci described as part theater, vaudeville and creativity all wrapped in pure love. The friends of the bride and groom broke out into song and poetry. The vows the bride and groom shared made us all laugh, cry and want to love each other and life even more.

At the reception, we danced, all three moms, all in love with the newlyweds, all wanting the best for our daughter and our son.

The next day at the farewell brunch, Joe’s mom, Lonnie, taught my grandson a new card game. She wove her love into his heart and I hope it stays there.

There’s always room in a heart, and in a family, for more love.

Read Regina Brett online at Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans.


Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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