"Will we need a corsage for your grandmother?" Grief and wedding planning

September 2 2016 | Guest post by Lauren Boyle
"Will we need a corsage for your grandmother?" Grief and wedding planning
Wedding Memorial Bouquet Charm

Those who have lost someone — and that is nearly all of us — can tell you that grief, rather than subsiding, simply assumes the traits of water molecules. Over an amount of time, never predictable, it changes shape from a solid pain to a fluid, familiar ache, an ache which leaves room for joy, for the ability to page through love-worn photo albums, for gratitude at ever having known and loved the person at all.

My fiance, Peter, told me later that he had planned on proposing on the first Friday of last June, but quietly tucked my engagement ring away in a box in our basement when I called him from the car, voice caught in my throat, on my way to my grandmother's nursing home. Teresa, my grandmother, died on that first Friday evening of June at the age of eighty-five, still knowing our names despite living with dementia for over half a decade.

Peter did propose six days after he had held me close at Trese's burial, and this time, after sliding the ring we'd chosen on my finger, I hugged him and cried in elation rather than the rush of acute grief I'd felt in days prior. We began wedding planning and the subsequent barrage of questions: which linens? Which flowers? Which music? I tried to answer each question with confidence – I am a naturally indecisive person — but at times I grew overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices to make. As I write this, we still have not yet definitively chosen a song for our first dance as husband and wife, and I have changed my mind about my wedding dress at least six times.

"Will we need a corsage for your grandmother?"

Our florist's simple question months after Trese's death, whether she needed to prepare a corsage for our grandmothers, was the first to give me pause, to cause the molecules of my grief to solidify as they had on the day Trese died.

Her question, though it had caused my and my mom's eyes to blur with tears, also clarified the significance of all other wedding choices for me.

Trese was just twenty-one years old when she married her Joe, my grandfather, in 1951. At the time, he could not afford an engagement ring, instead promising her a ring on a later anniversary to make up for it (a promise upon which he delivered). His prior divorce prevented them from marrying in a Catholic church, as Trese had always thought she would. They married at City Hall and had a home-cooked dinner with their families to celebrate, and they never did take a honeymoon in the forty-three years they were married thereafter.

Although I am sure Trese recalled her wedding day with fondness, she rarely talked of it. Instead, up to the last days of her life, the memories she spoke were of the days and years when my grandfather was her husband and the father of her children, not her groom. Her most cherished memories, the memories she hung onto when Alzheimer's had taken all else from her, were of her marriage, not her wedding day.

As a soon-to-be bride nearing the final weeks before our October wedding, my sadness at her loss has crystallized, in the way that only milestones can heighten grief. I will carry her wedding photo with me on my bouquet, and her name is on our programs in remembrance.

Yet the memory of her extraordinary life, and her example of marriage and motherhood, have proved the most significant wedding gift we could receive. The enormity of grief still has not eradicated the capacity I have for gratitude, the gratitude that I have known her and been shaped by her love. Even in death, she remains just as much a part of my engagement as she would have been in life, to remind me that the minutiae of wedding plans will hopefully be lost when I myself am an elderly woman, sharing the memories of my marriage, not my wedding, with my grandchildren.

  1. My grandmother (who wasn't very mobile in her final years) died the fall before our wedding and I'll always remember what my aunt said after — that now she'll just have an easier time being at our wedding.

    "the memory of her extraordinary life, and her example of marriage and motherhood, have proved the most significant wedding gift we could receive" — spot on.

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  2. My Nana died on July 18. I got married on July 23. I knew she was too sick to make the journey when my husband and I started planning our wedding last year, but I made other arrangements so she could still celebrate with us including a planned time call after our ceremony to talk with her. Her death completely rocked my world. How was I supposed to focus on being happy (or anything else for that matter) when I was grieving? I finally decided it was OK to be both a grieving bride and a happy bride. I didn't have to be one or the other, and the people who flew into town to be there for my wedding understood. They just wanted to support me and my future husband no matter what that looked like. In a way, her death helped me focus on what was important that week instead of worrying about that last minute craft project or flowers. We were supposed to order and make our own bouquets. l focused on family and friends instead. And though this may sound strange, there was something absolutely beautiful about marrying the man I loved so much when I needed him the most.

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  3. This is beautifully written and so touching to read. I still had two living grandparents at the time of my wedding but my thoughts on that day were about the two who were not there with us. They passed when I was a young teenager and it still makes me sad that they'll never meet my husband. However, they were a wonderful, fun, loving couple who had a 53 year marriage that I envy and hope my husband and I can emulate.

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  4. I am getting married in a month, and am using my late Grandma's wedding ring as my own. It's a beautiful and daily reminder of the love my family shares despite having lost so many of them in the last few years: my Dad, my Papa (maternal grandfather), and my Grandpa. To boot, my soon-to-be husband's Dad is in the final stages of cancer. Grief is an inextricable part of our wedding, but I find that, as the author says, it really expands my capacity for gratitude. Yes, my dad is gone, but I'm so happy my fiance's dad is going to be there, and while I grieve for the people who cannot be there, I am so grateful for the many who can. It doesn't have to be either/or!

    1 agrees
  5. My grandma died a few years ago without ever knowing my partner which makes me really sad, and with our wedding two years away I'm facing the awful fact that my remaining grandparents won't make it that long.

    I feel so conflicted, because they've had such long, fruitful lives, and I'm happy for them to finally be able to move on – my grandfather has only been hanging on for my grandma who has just gone into palliative care. But I haven't even seen them since I've gotten engaged and it's going to be super painful.

    My partner has also lost her Pa, her Nanny hasn't got long left, and her mum died when she was little – not having her mum at her wedding is something that makes her feel really sad. She loves her stepmum, and so do I, but there will always be something missing.

    We've decided to have all our loved ones who are no longer here there is some way – thinking about having their photos hanging from a little tree or something.

  6. I'm dealing with this now. My dad just passed away from Alzheimer's (he was only 62 and had been diagnosed 10 years prior) and I've been struggling with the parts of weddings that would involve him. He would have loved to give me away, he would have loved to have that first dance with me. But now they're memories I'll never have with him. When I was a piss and vinegar teenager, I always insisted that no one but myself would give me away if I ever got married. Now I don't have that choice. I have to walk down the aisle without him. I have to think about how I wish he could be there all day. I don't get to dance with him and giggle about how neither of us are very good at dancing. It's just depressing.

    1 agrees

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