Once upon a time and many miles away, I had a wedding every Sunday. With a bouquet of plastic flowers borrowed from one of my mother's vases, a makeshift veil on my head, and wearing a castoff dress many sizes too large, I insisted on having my cousin Bill, one year older, dragged into place as a very reluctant groom.

The first wedding I remember attending was beautiful. My mom's cousin Diane had a Nuptial Mass in the morning and I watched as she came down the aisle in her lovely gown and veil. That evening, there was a huge Old World style wedding reception where first we dined and then we danced. The food and drink flowed freely. I was nine but I danced. And I dreamed.

Over the years that followed, I attended many weddings as my friends and some family members took the plunge. There was one thing I knew - I wanted to someday marry and have a family. Some said I was too picky but I held out for what I wanted, with the right man although his identity remained unknown.

Still single when I turned thirty, I began to wonder if I would ever wed. One New Year's Eve, I threw out a prayer that basically said okay God, I haven't found anyone so if you want me to be married, send someone my way - I give it all up to you.

Three months later, I encountered Roy Murphy, an ROTC classmate from high school. I'd always been what was once called sweet on him but he had pursued other options in life. When we met again, he had been divorced for seven years and once we began dating, it wasn't long until we were engaged. Some of my nearest and dearest questioned that but when you know, you know and we did.

We were married on July 7, 1994 at 7 p.m. Since he was divorced, we weren't married in my faith but at small church where I spoke those vows each bride says with such innocent love, ending with "until death do we part." After Roy joined my Catholic faith, I said them again in a ceremony where we said our vows as a Sacrament.

When I spoke those words, I meant them with all my heart on both occasions but I never expected that parting would come so soon. I thought we would grow old together and one day be grandparents together. I didn't expect to be widowed.

We were married twenty-six years ago today and we celebrated 24 years of marriage. We marked what turned out to be our last anniversary with ice cream sundaes in Roy's room at Landmark Hospital in Joplin. In the past, we marked our anniversary in many places, usually far from home. Our first was spent in Elk City, Oklahoma as part of a trip that took us through several states. We celebrated our anniversary on mountains and on beaches, in Branson and in Shreveport. In 2018, we didn't know that anniversary would be our last.

We didn't get the silver 25th anniversary but we had twenty-four years of love, of marriage, of ups and downs, good times and sad ones. Our children are the legacy of that marriage.

As the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also an author.