Planning a wedding as a fatherless bride

Guest post by Kelsey Munger

I was practically dancing, I was so excited when I told my sister that I was engaged. But just two days later, I was hit hard by the reality that I couldn't tell my dad my happy news. I sobbed like I'd only just been informed of someone's passing. And it hurt just as much.

I was thrilled about being able to inject “when” instead of “if” into sentences related to our future, excited to upgrade my relationship status on Facebook, but I was grieving, too. Life's messy. Sometimes weddings are messy.

I'm sure it's always heartbreaking to feel like there's going to be a major hole in the guest list, but it's awkward when you're a fatherless bride because so many wedding-related traditions involve dads…

I can't even begin to tell you how many people told me about dad-related wedding stuff that ripped me to shreds, as I politely smiled and nodded. I heard about the touching speeches their proud fathers made, how their dad is ordained and will not only be present at the wedding but will even perform it, their special father/daughter dance, and so on. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

There were also the awkwardly painful but well-meaning questions: “Are your parents excited about the wedding?” or, “Does he get along with your dad?” or, “Will your dad be walking you down the aisle?”

And sometimes the grief just sort of snuck up on me. While checking out possible wedding locations, my now-husband Ian and I had gone to a park with a view of the water that I went to regularly with my family. Ian and I stood there, holding hands, pretending to be in the middle of our vows, when I suddenly burst into ugly crying (the kind of crying where you lose every sense of propriety as you wipe your smeared eyeliner, tears, and probably a few boogers on your significant other's favorite shirt). I felt like a wreck. The grief was so bad my chest physically ached.

Some people suggested doing something to honor my dad at the wedding — lighting a candle, taking a moment of silence, or displaying his picture — but I knew that stuff would just bust that hole where my dad's supposed to be wide open. And that spot was already pretty raw.

I also knew my dad would have wanted the wedding day focus to be on the fact I was getting married to a man I was madly in love with, and not the fact that he wasn't able to be there. Dad wouldn't have wanted to steal the show. So I felt like keeping the focus on Ian and myself was actually my way of honoring and remembering my dad.

However, acknowledging the fact that I did miss my dad tremendously was also important.

A friend of mine, whose dad died when she was young, said she made it through all of the wedding planning without a single tear. But, after she'd put on her dress, the fact her dad wasn't going to be there punched her in the gut. (She said her maid of honor encouraged her with: “Once the ceremony's over, there's alcohol.”)

Ian was extremely helpful. He reminded me that, whatever happened, it was okay. And that if I cried during the reception, that was alright, and it didn't mean the wedding would be ruined.

I cried some, the day before the wedding, but then the rest of the day zoomed by as I was busy finishing last-minute things. The day of the wedding I felt like I was walking on air; it went by like one big predominately happy blur.

Yes, there were still some ouch-moments. Like when we were taking pictures with our families and Ian had just taken one with his parents, and then I took one with my mom — just my mom. And later that evening, as we were trying to relax by watching TV on the couch, I did cry. I cried that my dad hadn't been there that day. I cried because I missed him.

Despite the joy and enthusiasm I felt about getting married, not having my dad there meant there was a shadow, which for me made wedding planning — especially some of the emotions and complexities — as if I were planning both a wedding and a funeral. Death and life. Beginnings and endings. Joy and grief. It was all wound up together in a giant ball of messy emotions.

As a result, I learned throughout the wedding process that, despite what the movies and glamorous wedding photo shoots suggest, normal life in all its messy, beautiful, sometimes-heart-wrenching glory doesn't take a break for weddings. Things aren't always picture perfect and sometimes you'll need to cry when you'd rather just be happy, but that's okay. It's okay to cry because you miss your dad… even on your wedding day.

For those of you choosing to honor a family member who has passed, you may want to browse our wedding memorial archive.

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Comments on Planning a wedding as a fatherless bride

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I’m in the middle of planning my wedding without my dad. My dad who loved weddings, loved me, and would have wanted to walk me in, have a first dance, and would have tried to give a toast but probably ended up crying too hard to finish. Not having him here is agonizing, just as not being able to pick up the phone and call him when I get a job rejection, or need advice about my taxes, or want to talk about my future hopes and goals is agonizing. I also lost my grandmother a year ago (who was a big part of my life) and even though I am as nontraditional as it gets, not having her around to fuss over the napkins matching the tablecloths is very hard.
    I’m glad to know I am not the only one who feels that all the father/daughter traditions surrounding weddings make it even harder.

    • “I’m in the middle of planning my wedding without my dad. My dad who loved weddings, loved me, and would have wanted to walk me in, have a first dance, and would have tried to give a toast but probably ended up crying too hard to finish.”

      Jade, that’s how I imagined my dad being if he’d been able to be at my wedding, too. Although, he also would’ve been terribly when it came to the father / daughter dance because dancing was not his strong suit. I found myself missing everything when I was wedding planning. Not just the things he would’ve been good at or been able to help with (like listening when I was feeling overwhelmed) but also the funny, quirky, sometimes embarrassing things he did that made him him.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post. It’s nice (but also horrible) to know other woman out there can related. But I’m so sorry you can relate. ((HUGS))

  2. As someone who’s lost her mom and has had her dad abandon her, I really appreciated this article today. Thank you for being so honest about your feelings. hugs

  3. This was beautiful and spot on. I wish I had been able to read this before my own wedding. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. My dad never got to meet my wonderful husband. I knew I had to honor him in some way so I carried my favorite pictures of him as lockets on my bouquet and I made sure that we still got our “dance”. He had always said he would dance with me at my wedding but only to the song “You talk too much” by Joe Jones so it was on the playlist twice.

    • Thank you for reading my article. That is so beautiful. I love that you carried a small picture of him as a way to remember and played the song he wanted to dance to at your wedding. I started getting teary eyed just reading over your comment. ((HUGS))

  4. Thank you for this article! It’s so hard to hear about all the father daughter things for weddings. My dad has been gone for almost 9 years and it still just hurts to think he won’t be there. My brother and my mom will be walking me down the aisle which means a lot to me but still hurts that my dad won’t be there.

    • Amanda, thank you for taking the time to read my article. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with the heartache, grief, and messiness of being a fatherless bride. It’s soooo hard to hear about all the father / daughter wedding things! I found the questions from well-meaning people I didn’t know well — “What do your parents think of him?” — to be painful. That painful little “s.”

      Even though my own wedding was almost a year ago, it’s still helpful to hear other brides share their experiences. But I’m so sorry that you can relate. ((HUGS))

  5. beautifully written and will make me appreciate my parents being there just a little bit more, I treasure every day with them as they grow older and ache at the thought that one day they won’t be.

    • Lowri, thank you for this. Thank you for commenting, but I love hearing you say it’ll make you appreciate your parents a little bit more. 🙂

  6. Thank you! I just lost my dad in March (roughly a month after getting engaged) and this is something that comes up for me constantly- how to honor and remember my dad without making our wedding a memorial service. Luckily it’s still two years our so we have some time to reconsider any choices if we decide they were made out of grief instead of celebration.

    I will cry that day, just like I’ve cried at the 3 weddings I’ve attended since March, whenever the bride gets walked down the aisle or gets that dance with her dad that I had all planned out for myself. I have gotten on the habit of “checking out the patio” after the first couple dance so I can try to mitigate it, but just end up sobbing on a patio with a cup of whatever free beer this wedding had and the handkerchief I’ve acquired since I’ve started crying all the time.

    But my fiance stands on that patio with me, so things will probably work out.

    • This is exactly how I feel! My dad passed 4 years ago this December- we weren’t on the best of terms as he had an addiction problem, but he was still my dad.

      Luckily he met my fiancĂ©, but we’d only just started going out and he didn’t get to know him (I tried my best to keep them apart).

      I’ve been to so many weddings since he passed, and every single one has made me sob uncontrollably. Some where the dad was so proud that set me off, others where the bride was so thoughtless towards her parents, but they all ended up with me disappearing somewhere. And shortly after my fiancĂ© would find me with a big glass of wine and a tissue.

      I don’t know how I’m going to get through my wedding – there’s a lot of guilt (I feel I shouldn’t be upset because we weren’t close at the end), but he was still my dad.

      I don’t want a memorial of any kind as it feels hypocritical. Plus there would be so many people I’d have there that there would probably be more people’s memorials than live guests (wow that’s an awful thought).

      Reading this (and your comment Kristin) has made me realise it’s ok to feel like that, and that I’ll get through it. Thanks so much for being honest and giving me hope

      • “I’ve been to so many weddings since he passed, and every single one has made me sob uncontrollably. Some where the dad was so proud that set me off, others where the bride was so thoughtless towards her parents, but they all ended up with me disappearing somewhere. And shortly after my fiancĂ© would find me with a big glass of wine and a tissue.”

        Thank you for reading my article. I can relate so well with what you said here. So so well. Wedding are so painful, sometime gut-wrenching when you’re missing a parent. And there’s so much emphasis on the father of the bride at weddings, which draws even more attention to the already very painful hole where he’s supposed to be.

        I had a very small elopement-style wedding (10 people, including the hubby and me). So I didn’t what a memorial of any kind either because if I’d done it for my dad and my grandparents and his grandparents, there probably would’ve been more photos than actual guests. And I felt like I’d remember all of them, especially my dad, without something specifically there to help me remember (remembering really wasn’t the issue).

        Part of why I wanted such a small wedding was actually because I didn’t want to look into the crowd and see the hole where my dad was supposed to be; I knew that I’d know he was supposed to be there. I felt more like I needed to not have visual reminders because it all felt so fresh and raw if I was going to get through the day. Just do what’s best for you.


      • Helen,

        I just got engaged almost two months ago and will be getting married in September 2017. I just found out that my dad took his own life on Sunday and it is so heartbreaking. He was an alcoholic and had even gone through rehab just a year ago. His alcoholism was at its worst in the past three years and that’s when we lost touch for a bit and didn’t get the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. But like you said, he’s still my dad. It’s going to be so hard to get through my wedding day and the rest of my life knowing I won’t be able to see or talk to him again. I hope you’re getting through the planning process and feel a bit more at peace. I know it will take some time, but it really really sucks right now.

    • “I just lost my dad in March (roughly a month after getting engaged) and this is something that comes up for me constantly- how to honor and remember my dad without making our wedding a memorial service.”

      Thank you for reading my article, Kristin. I can relate so well with what you said — trying to honor and remember your dad without making the wedding a memorial service. I found being engaged to be an exciting but also heartbreaking and very awkward season of life. People acted as if I was walking on a cloud, but I was also grieving. Sometimes the fact that I was also grieving made being engaged feel isolating.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. That would be so painful to lose him so close to getting engaged; I’m sure it makes wedding planning even messier and the father / daughter stuff even more agonizing. ((HUGS)) =(

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I’m having a really rough time with wedding planning at the moment. I lost my mother when I was young, and my stepmother and father have made a decision to not be involved with my wedding, (although still expect to be invited and honored as the parents of the bride). My mother’s siblings and parents are also deceased, so I’ve been feeling like a bit of an orphan lately. And so much of wedding stuff is the relationship between you and your mom or your dad. It’s really hard. I don’t know what to do. I miss my mom and her family, and I hate that my dad won’t be involved, and reading this post made me feel less alone, so thank you.

    • Thank you for reading my post. I’m glad it made you feel at least a little less alone. You’re so right, so much wedding stuff is between the bride and her mom or the bride and her dad. I’m so sorry that all of the parent-related wedding stuff is painful and awkward and messy. ((HUGS))

      • I’m with you too. I’ve lost both my parents and my grandmother who I was very close with. I’m also an only child, and so while I have great friends and my fiance’s family is wonderful, it’s painful and lonely. I still haven’t figured out how best to honor his family at the reception while not drawing so much attention to the fact that mine aren’t there (which will set me to that ugly crying I’m sure). I’m excited about being family with my fiance (officially) but it’s hard without him ever knowing my parents or having their support through the whole wedding process.
        Sending all the good energy and love I can at the moment (though i’m crying, of course) to you. Stay strong.

  8. Thank you for writing this. My mom passed away a couple of years ago and planning this wedding has been very bittersweet. There are things that I want to call her up about or things I want to plan to do with her. Not being able to do that is heart breaking and steals some of the joy from the event. I know I have ways in which I’m honoring her during the ceremony but I’m afraid that if it’s too much, I’ll just break down crying. From the sounds of it, there’s no easy answer but it’s good to know that when the day comes, life will go on and nothing will be ruined, no matter what tears may be shed.

    Hugs to everyone!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. =(

      Bittersweet is the perfect way to describe it — that’s exactly how I felt about wedding planning, too. It makes things messy. Sometimes I felt kind of isolated by it because people who didn’t know me well assumed that wedding planning was just happy but it was so much else, too.

      I decided not to do something to remember my dad because I was afraid I’d completely break down. It sounds like you’ve found way to remember your mom without calling too much attention to it either — that’s so person-specific, so it’s good you’re doing what’s best for you.

      And, yes, tears don’t mean the wedding is ruined. I did cry the day of but I also had a great, happy wedding.

  9. My Dad died when I was 5 and this article particularly home hard. I did the ugly cry thing when we found our wedding location and I’ll do a couple things in the ceremony to represent him. I don’t want people to think he isn’t there because of a feud or divorce or he doesn’t like my FH. I want people to know there is hole in my life and to see how strong my Mum and I are for carrying on.

    We’d both taken our parents along to see all the different places we were interested in. It was all lovely and fine when we were out. But after we got home that night he was complaining about his parents and how annoying they are because they had bickered a little (they split up, but fortunately get along better now) and I just feel apart, he was complaining about something I’d love to see because it would mean I’d still have my Dad. I just feel apart, while he was complaining, I ugly snotty puffy faced cried and sobbed until I fell asleep that night.

    I’ve decided I’m going to have an empty seat at the start of the parents side for Dad and my Poppy with a rally car and rally bunting to represent Dad and a glass buoy and sailing boat for my Pop. I’ll also walk down on my own to a song my Dad loved if I can manage on the day and have my Mum standing at the end to give me away because it’s what she wants. I haven’t decided what to do about the father daughter dance though but I do like the idea of just not having one.

    The article was great and I know on the day it’s ok to cry. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has fallen apart in planning for the day our Dad’s don’t get to see and be a part off.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my article. You’re not alone! I did the ugly crying thing several times throughout the wedding planning process (the first time it hit was a few days after getting engaged, when I realized I’d told everyone — but couldn’t tel Dad).

      Having someone complain about parents would be so hard! I would’ve cried, too. Honestly, even though my wedding was almost a year ago, I’d likely still cry if someone was complaining about parents.

      I did cry some on the Bid Day, but not a lot. And the tears certainly didn’t ruin the wedding. I still had a lovely day, even though I did really miss my dad. I hope that’s true for you as well. ((HUGS))

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