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.