What funeral planning taught me about wedding planning

August 12 | Guest post by RamblingHen
Day of the Dead Wedding
Photo by Mike Allebach

I've planned two funerals before planning my wedding. The first was my own funeral. My cancer came before we had a chance to speak of marriage, and preparing for the worst outcome took priority. As I eventually went into remission, we got engaged and started hoping for the best outcome — we still are. And then, out of the blue, my father died an early and sudden death. He left no wishes for his funeral, and that task fell to my sisters and me. It was not unlike planning a wedding (albeit in four days flat), and I've learned these lessons on how to celebrate life — whether this is a life that has gone or is about to start.

Details can distract from the real issues

Yes, there are decisions to make about fabric, colours, and flowers, even at a funeral. People would rather have arguments about the exact colour of personalized wine glass charms than admit that they are overwhelmed and are struggling to adjust to the new life situation. Take time to remind yourself why you are doing all this planning and only add details that are meaningful and do not cause additional stress.

Scrap "save the dates"

The people who can and want to be there will be there, because you are important to them. There will always be someone who won't be able to make it, but if they want to they can find ways of being part of the day in other ways — heartfelt cards, letters, emails, and thoughtful presents can mean as much as actually attending.

Be ruthless with your guest list

Funerals — like weddings — are intimate moments set in time, the ending and beginning of something new, and the laying bare of one's emotions publicly. The people who witness this moment will either enhance or tarnish your memories of a day that cannot be repeated. Only invite people you feel absolutely comfortable with, so you can be yourself and can cry your heart out if you need to.

Let guests be adults

There was no time to make cute signs to the toilet or make games to keep everyone amused. The kids played football in the garden of the venue. People talked, drank and ate, laughed and joked between tears. People who had not seen each other for years reconnected. It was calm and joyful, a celebration of life, and a wedding will be the same, even if we don't manage to make a single cute signpost for the day.

Delegate and ask for specific help

People who feel strongly about someone will want to get involved to help create a meaningful day for them. Be clear about what you need help with, and ask the right people and politely, but clearly, decline other offers of help. Being clear from the start prevents unwittingly offending and disappointing others in what is already an emotionally charged situation.

No matter what society expects, set the tone in keeping with the life of the person you are celebrating

My father was an informal person, so we had very few "formalities" on the day. My sisters and I wrote him the funny 70th birthday speech he will never get to hear, and people laughed and left the church smiling, even though it was a funeral.

Guests tend to stick to what they know

Unless you specify that everyone must turn up in fluorescent pink, guests will automatically choose to wear what they feel is appropriate for the occasion. We didn't really want black, but everyone else chose this in the absence of any specific instructions. Similarly, we asked for donations and no flowers, but some people still brought wreaths. It was just their way of showing their love and consideration, and it did not matter what they wore or brought.

Do it together as a team

Recognise what each other's strengths are and assign tasks accordingly. My sisters and I formed a stronger bond than before (despite the occasional argument) because we had a common goal and could each contribute in ways that we felt comfortable with.

It is only one day

That one day is not worth stressing over or ruining relationships over. That one day did not define my father's life, and our one wedding day will not define our marriage. What will define us is how we live after this day, how we redefine ourselves despite losing or gaining family members, and how we love each other and those around us. Which brings me neatly to the last point…

Sentimentality is very different from love

Sentimentality looks backwards, love looks forwards. My father was a sentimental and kind but very childish and dominant man, and it was challenging to have an adult relationship with him. When he died, he had not spoken to me for several months. He would not have come to our wedding. Even though my father had deep sentiments for me as "his little girl," it was not a love that accepted my independence, my divorce, my cancer, and a new man in my life. My father's life choices have served to show me what I have found in my husband-to-be — an unconditional love that is stronger than anything we have already faced together, a love that will carry us through all our days, come what may.

Yes, I will feel sentimental that my father will not be there at our wedding. I will smile to myself and thank him that I inherited my "offbeatness" from him. But most of all, I will remind myself that life is a very precious and fragile thing, and that all that matters on that day — and on every day — is loving someone truly for who they are, no matter what.

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  1. Beautiful write-up!
    It's wonderful you were able to draw so many good lessons from putting together your father's funeral.

    Best of luck in your new ventures in life.
    I sincerely hope you remain healthy and that love propels you forward into a new and brighter world 🙂

    9 agree
    • Thank you KiusLady. It was a difficult time when my father died, but when life gives you big things like this to work through, I find it helpful to re-evaluate and find the positives in every situation. I am grateful for my cancer, even- I ended up with a much more considered and simpler life full of good people who could cope with my illness, and I simply cannot wait to be married surrounded by the love of those people. Writing it all up helped me cope with my grief and my feelings towards a wedding despite my father not being there. I am glad you liked it. 🙂

      1 agrees
  2. I haven't commented here in months but your final point about sentimentality vs. love really hit home. I have struggled similarly in my relationships with immediate and extended family regarding my desire for independence, self-sufficiency, etc. I know they mean well but our perspectives regarding what it truly means to be independent are… very different. #somuchthis

    3 agree
    • Hi Indigo, that thought hit me during my father's funeral! His passing did not feel like the end of the world to me – it was just the end of the an era. He was a fantastic dad for us as kids, but never expected us to grow up into beings which would be independent from him. He still 'loved' me fiercely- and sentimentality was the best word I could find for that. I hope you find the strength to tackle the issue of independence with your family, it may take years and hurt everyone greatly, but the end result of an honest 'independent' relationship with family members (even if this is fewer family members) is worth it. Sending you best wishes as you follow your path! 🙂

  3. I have no words to express how stunning and beautifully this entire piece was written.

    Please write more and the best of luck to you and yours.

    10 agree
    • Thank you Kellie. I have every intention of writing more (hopefully not about any more funerals!). I am glad you liked my write-up. 🙂

  4. It has been 4 months since my 2 year old nephew died suddenly and everything you have written rings true. We wed next month. I'm finally getting excited again…not that I wasn't before but the finer detail is far less important than the meaning. Im very chilled out about the day and cannot wait to marry my partner. Nothing is worse than having to bury a child. I loved reading this. Thank you xx

    • Hi Saffy, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Weddings do take on a different slant when the couple has also had to deal with death, I am sure your wedding day will be a meaningful day full of love and life because you have lived through a nightmare and come out the other end. My thoughts are with you and your family x

  5. The same thing happened to us during our wedding planning. My now husbands mother had a heart attack just a few months after our engagement. He was very close to her so it was definitely a blow to him. She was then in the hospital for another month before passing away. During that month I really didn't want to do anything, it felt silly to be happy about a wedding when his mother was in the hospital. That whole time it was just chaotic and very stressful, and when she passed it was just a whole new round of planning and lawyers that we only just finished dealing with almost 2 years later. But despite all the insanity, we got through it and I became much closer to not only him but his entire family. It also gave me the strength to make our day something WE would love and not to let the little things stress me out too much. We still joke that the year before our marriage was way more difficult than our first year of marriage. It was probably the craziest year we'll have for a long time.

    2 agree
    • I am glad you made it through such a difficult time, and I am sure your marriage will be stronger for it! My fiance and I joke that by the time our wedding day arrives we will have got life's most difficult things already out of the way, so 'just' dealing with marriage should be a breeze after that… Wishing you much joy and happiness in your marriage.

      1 agrees
  6. Thank you for this beautifully written and thoughtful article. My father was my best friend and the cancer took him in May of 2013. I still miss him every day, but I am joyfully planning my wedding for October 2015 and I will marry the man who has stood by me and supported me in my darkest moments. "Sentimentality looks backwards, love looks forward" is the perfect way to describe this time in my life. Thank you again and I wish you a beautiful, healthy future!

    • Thank you for liking my write-up. I hope you have a wonderful wedding to the man who has helped you to look forwards despite losing your father, and that your marriage will be full of joy.

  7. this is beautiful. i just printed the article out to keep in my wedding binder to remind me of the real reason behind the marriage when i become stressed out over little things like colors and flowers and seating charts. thank you for this, it was a huge eye opener.

    2 agree
    • Thank you, I am really touched that my post will help to focus your wedding planning. I hope it all goes well!

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