Lila LeBlang, bottom left, was a member of the wedding party for her granddaughter Jenny Illes Wood. Eric Stephenson Photography, via nytimes.com
Like many good ideas, it started in jest.
When Lana Arthur and Michael Rohrmeier got engaged more than two years ago, they called everyone in their families to give them the news.
“Michael’s grandmother jokingly said, ‘Can I be the flower girl?’ and everyone laughed,” the bride, now Mrs. Rohrmeier, recalled.
Annie Rohrmeier, at left, a grandmother of the groom, and Joyce Arthur-Gunter, a grandmother of the bride, were the flower girls at their grandchildren’s wedding. Credit Genevieve Leiper Photography, via nytimes.com
But the seed was planted, and as the couple began to piece the wedding party together, they knew they wanted all their attendants to be family members. There were no little girls the right age to act as flower girls. They also knew they wanted to honor their grandmothers in a significant way.
“We looked at each other one night, and said, why don’t we?” Lana Rohrmeier said.
In September 2012, Joyce Arthur-Gunter, then 76, a grandmother of the bride, and Annie Rohrmeier, then 81, a grandmother of the groom (and the person who first made the suggestion), walked the aisle in Bluemont, Va., tossing petals and hops (a nod to the groom’s love of beer and the couple’s Cincinnati roots).
“It ended up being so perfect,” Lana Rohrmeier said. “They don’t mind being the center of attention. They’re both kind of hams.”
In the past, grandmothers received little more recognition on a grandchild’s wedding day than an escort down the aisle, a corsage and a front-row seat. But for some couples, that is not enough; they are asking their grandmothers to be their attendants.
For Jenny Illes Wood of Ann Arbor, Mich., choosing her grandmother as a bridesmaid for her wedding in January was a “no-brainer.” Like any bride, Ms. Wood chose her dearest friends to be her attendants; her 88-year-old maternal grandmother, Lila LeBlang, just happened to be one of them.
“She is truly one of my best friends,” Ms. Wood said. “I share my successes with her. I’ve cried on her shoulder during breakups. I seek her advice in everything. She’s been with me in every stage in my relationship with Jon.”
Jonathan Wood, Ms. Wood’s husband, even consulted with Ms. LeBlang on the selection of the engagement ring, which she kept hidden at her apartment until the day of the proposal.
When Sarah Manganaro married Danny Jamieson in August 2011 in Wilmette, Ill., with her 90-year-old grandmother and namesake, Sarah Elizabeth Gildea, as her matron of honor, she fulfilled a dream she had since she was a child.
“I always told her I would have her stand up with me at my wedding, and she laughed and agreed in a way all grandmothers do when their granddaughters share their childhood fantasies,” Ms. Jamieson wrote in an email.
In contrast to Ms. Jamieson, who had 11 attendants, Jamie Jacobs of Manhattan had just one: her 95-year old grandmother, Dorothy Shapiro, who was her matron of honor.
“I had so many friends, I couldn’t narrow it down,” she said. “I couldn’t have 15 bridesmaids, but my grandmother is on another level.”
Ariel Meadow Stallings, the founder of Offbeat Bride, a wedding blog that features nontraditional weddings, said that brides selecting grandmothers as attendants is part of a larger trend: couples wanting to include their family members in the wedding, but not in a traditional way.
“For a lot of couples and their families, there’s friction between the traditional role that families play in weddings and the couple’s concerns about where those traditions come from and the feeling that they don’t reflect their lives,” Ms. Stallings said.
Rather than eliminating those roles completely, which can cause family turmoil, she is seeing more couples incorporating family members in ways that highlight those individuals’ character traits or abilities. Ms. Stallings suggests asking, “How can we celebrate who this person is?”
Annie Rohrmeier, at left, a grandmother of the groom, and Joyce Arthur-Gunter, a grandmother of the bride, were the flower girls at their grandchildren’s wedding.CreditGenevieve Leiper Photography
For example, perhaps the bride’s father, an amateur violinist, could provide the music for the recessional, rather than give the bride away.
Jennifer Wallach asked her grandmother Sylvia Helfen, then 89, to be a bridesmaid in her July 2011 wedding. She knew the role would fit her grandmother’s personality perfectly.
“I knew she wouldn’t want to make a speech, conduct the ceremony or perform a reading,” Ms. Wallach, who lives in Brooklyn, wrote in an email. “Instead, she would need to do something — she’s a doer. Always has been. And then I thought, who would be better than Nana to stand by my side, to protect me as she has dutifully done my whole life? Isn’t that the historical-symbolic purpose of bridesmaids, to make sure the bride remains unscathed?”
And how did the grandmothers react when they were asked? Most were shocked, many cried and all said they felt honored.
Upon receiving the invitation from her granddaughter, Ms. LeBlang wrote a note to her that began, “I just found out where cloud ‘9’ is. I am on it.”
Ms. LeBlang said recently, “I thought it was such a wonderful message that she was sending out to people that it’s O.K. to deal with people who are a little older than the typical bridesmaids.”
Ms. Wallach’s grandmother was touched, but not surprised.
“She is a pretty even-keeled woman, so she didn’t fall out of her chair or anything,” Ms. Wallach said. “She always called me a ‘funny kid,’ so she wasn’t surprised I did something quirky.”
It does take a certain type of grandparent to assume a co-starring role in the big day. Twenty five years ago, C. Howell Ellerman, now 54, of Camino, Calif., asked his grandfather, Otto M. Ellerman, to be the best man at his wedding to Jana Stuart.
“He was the most important man in my life,” Mr. Ellerman said. “It was an honor to have him stand up for me, and even at 72 he could do the groomsman jump and get air!”
A shy grandparent may not be the best choice (and some turn down the offer). But a grandmother like Ms. LeBlang, who runs her own annuity sales firm and can do 40 push-ups, and Mrs. Rohrmeier’s flower girls, who took to their roles with gusto, calling themselves the “fairy grandmothers,” are just the right sort.
Finding the appropriate coordinating attire can prove challenging, as most bridesmaid gowns don’t suit most grandmothers’ style. But with a little creativity and flexibility, a solution can be found. Ms. Wood asked all of her bridesmaids to buy black chiffon dresses, Ms. Jamieson found a pantsuit in a shade that matched her other bridesmaids’ navy blue Ann Taylor shift dresses and Mrs. Rohrmeier let her grandmothers choose what they wanted to wear; she didn’t see their dresses until the day of the wedding. It all worked.
The only possible downside?
“She, like Pippa in the royal wedding, made heads turn,” Ms. Wallach said of her grandmother in an email. “Had I known how stunning she was going to be on the wedding day I might have thought twice about it ... Nah.”
New York Times