Juggling wedding planning and grief

Guest post by Melissa

Stressful as wedding planning can be, doing so after the loss of loved ones brings up so many more painful questions and emotions. So, how DOES one juggle grief and wedding planning?

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I'm struggling with wedding planning. Normally I relish assembling a massive event since throwing elaborate parties is my THING. However, my parents died recently, and the planning is a rasping reminder of their absence. Reconciling grief and wedding is so difficult that I want to quit.

We were very close, in fact my mother was my best friend. We could talk candidly about anything, especially sex. (Word to the wise: don't freak if your parents get freaky. It makes them happy, and sometimes it means that you get to sleep in.) I don't know my extended family well, nor am I associated with any social groups. For these reasons, I'm slogging alone. However, being alone means I think too much. Fun parts, like aggressively interviewing venue candidates, are over, so I must do things that leave me wedding-blocked: invites, cute DIY, crap and the dress.

My mother made all my formals growing up: costumes, prom dresses, bridesmaid's dresses, and Renaissance Faire gowns. I tried making my gown; my mother's hands might not make it, but hands that my mother made would. Unfortunately, I designed the original dresses but never before made a 3D pattern.

So I acknowledged my skill-level, found a seamstress, then went fabric shopping. However, my thoughts spiral downward when I wander the stores. There's no one to offer personal advice to questions like “What color white looks best with my skin tone?” Who thought THAT would be an issue? So I leave sniveling “I want my mommy!” like a child. Favors and décor get a similar reaction: I visit craft supply shops and get fresh reminders that this was SO her thing.

My father is equally missed, though he was ill. I decided to walk down the aisle alone for his health. However, I desperately wish to consult with him on the logistical/financial aspects of the wedding and travel. He took me to Tahiti when I was eight for the most magical vacation ever, and I've wanted to go back all my life. Chris and I planned our Tahiti honeymoon before they died. I regret that now, because I'm scared of past memories making me miserable.

Finally, I broke down and asked Chris to consider eloping to Alaska and use the venue deposit for a nice party instead. I always wanted a big, fussy wedding, but if it makes my grief raw, what's the point? Ultimately, we decided against eloping for various reasons, so wedding planning it is. Now, I keep striking these blocks:

I'm trying my best to be mature, and remember that life isn't always easy, but I keep struggling… And I know I'm not alone; there are many brides who've wed with their ghosts in mind.

  • How many “lates” do I want in my invitations?
  • Will I mistreat my seamstress because she's not my mother?
  • What kick-ass ideas would my mother have had?
  • Where is my father's cosmopolitan advice?
  • Will childhood memories sour our honeymoon?
  • Should we say screw this whole mess?
  • Will I bawl at the altar?
  • Are my compromises healthy ways to handle grief?

I'm trying my best to be mature, and remember that life isn't always easy, but I keep struggling. I don't want to be a spoiled child, and I don't want my feelings to impact the experience for everyone involved. And I know I'm not alone; there are many brides who've wed with their ghosts in mind.

How do other brides (and grooms) handle similar feelings with loss and wedding planning? How do you get around them and still manage to make a happy event?

Comments on Juggling wedding planning and grief

  1. I was very lucky – as my mother was dying while I was planning our wedding, the hospice reached out to me and said that I should do anything I needed to, including having an earlier wedding at the hospice for my mom if I wanted.

    So we did just that – had one wedding at the hospice for my mom and a few of her closest friends, and then had another wedding as originally planned 3 months later.

    The hospice workers were amazing, they knew all the right things to say to me, they let a caterer come in and do a wedding supper for us in the family room, they made me not feel guilty for still wanting my original wedding to go off as planned. It’s certainly not how I would have wanted things to go, but I count myself and my mom fortunate to have been surrounded by such great health care workers.

    • First, I am very sorry for your loss.

      Your story was wonderful. I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to cancel the big day either. What a great hospice.

    • I too lost my mom. Now a little over three years later I am planning my wedding and I feel like there is a big huge gaping hole in my life. I had my daughter 2 months after my mom passed and I remember after my daughter was born I sat in my hospital room sobbing because she wasn’t there. I am pretty sure that I will have mixed emotions on my wedding day. Great Joy because I am marrying the man that I love, and a deep sadness because my mom will not be there. I can’t direct you on what to do. I can only say what people have told me in the monumental moments in my life. She might not be there in person, but she is there in spirit.

  2. I cannot answer most of the questions that you ask here, except for one. “Will I bawl at the altar?” The answer to this is most likely yes. Even if you don’t at the altar, you most certainly will while you are getting ready. And a few other times during the day. Wear waterproof mascara, and resign yourself to it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    I lost a very dear grandfather the week before my wedding (on my birthday as well, but that’s not all that relevant here.) This is the man who asked me if I was married yet, every single time he saw me from the time I began to walk. By the time I got married he was ill, and would not have made it to the ceremony. I consoled myself a little by saying after the ceremony “yes, Grandpa, I’m FINALLY married, and you had the best seat in the house” But ultimately it will weigh heavy on your heart. It doesn’t have to steal all your joy, though. Your parents loved you and wanted you to be happy, so be happy. Show your new husband all the wonders of Tahiti, and share your memories with him. That way your Dad lives on. Find ways to honor them, and share the gifts they gave you, and know they are smiling down upon you, even now.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    I think you’re extremely self aware in theses issues as they arise, and kudos to you for reaching out – not many are as brave.
    I also think that you’ve won half of your battle with the “will I…” because you’re aware of them. If you don’t want to mistreat your seamstress, you’re already aware that you may have that tendency and can check it, so to speak. Your emotions are real, raw, and completely valid – if it would help you to speak with your seamstress, just giving her a head’s up with something like, “I’m so happy that you’re able to help me with this, but I do want to let you know that my Mom recently passed and she was a wonderful seamstress…if I seem out of sorts when we meet, it’s no reflection on you or your work.”
    As for traveling to Tahiti….go, and make new memories. Take something with you that can be a momento of your father, and let it drift out to sea one night. There is no reason you should have to hide your grief, but you can create more closure for yourself by recognizing him in the place you both loved. It may help you recoup some more and then let you feel at peace with creating new memories with your partner.
    Your father’s advice and your mother’s creativity is still around. It lies within you…you don’t have to go far to know exactly what they’d say. Look at some of your mother’s past creations…photos of things she made…take inspiration from that by looking at color schemes, placement of fabirc/rouching/pleats/accents…and remember what your father told you about certain situations, as advice rarely applies to one thing alone.
    The best piece of advice I ever received was that “You are allowed to be in whatever space you need to be, at any given moment.” Tempering the need to grieve with respect to yourself, and others…I think it will be okay. I hope you feel that way too. Hugs and blessings to you.

  4. Not to Pollyanna out on you here (bc not everyone is a shining beacon of awesomeness), but sometimes, if you’re in a store and you feel yourself spiraling about things like whether a color will go with your skin, just ask someone. And you can say you miss your mom and her utterly brilliant perfect advice, and that you’re planning your wedding alone, and you miss her horribly. You may be surprised at who would respond, how they’d respond, and how many hugs and help you’ll get. If they don’t, then all you have to do is say thank you and walk out of the store.

    And I’d fucking go on your honeymoon as planned. Your partner knows what’s going on, and sometimes coping with grief happens in weird ways. Tahiti was beautiful and magical for you for one set of reasons when you were 8, and if it brings back memories of your father now, then I’d just let it happen. If you find yourself more drawn to beachside yoga at 6:30 AM than to the late night bar scene, go with it. It is what it is. I get the feeling that going someplace else isn’t going to be the thing that makes you stop grieving. This honeymoon may not be the most purely joyous occasion of your life, but whatever it is, it’ll be real. Your trip when you were 8 was eye-opening and it set you up for where you are now. There are other vacations in your future, so don’t stress about how you may or may not feel when on this one.

    You know that your mom and dad would have had a bajillion suggestions. But you are the product of their upbringing, so I doubt you’re as in the dark in reality as you may be feeling. In this case, I say trust yourself. You may bawl at the alter, but everyone knows what you’re going through. Again, I’d just do what it was I wanted and planned for. You are struggling, and it is harder than it should be, but your parents were clearly kickass. And you are their product.

    So, I’d buy myself some waterproof makeup and go hard to what it was you wanted to do. Maybe cut a few DIYs here and there to make your life easier, or outsource them. Talk to your partner’s people. Maybe use this as an excuse to get to know them better. You never know who’s out there. No one will ever “be” your mom other than your mom, but you might find someone or some people who can help you fill in a few holes, shore up your foundations, and just help you do whatever it is that’s in your head.

    • I just wanted to extol one of the last things you said:

      “Talk to your partner’s people.”

      Since I lost my dad three months ago, there’s all sorts of things that I now take to my partners parents, not necessarily in the same way I would ask my dad stuff, but it sometimes fills the basic need for parental support. I’ll go over to their house sometimes and they’ll have advice or suggestions for things we talked about weeks ago.

      Obviously, your in-laws are no substitute for your parents. And there’s a good chance they have an entirely different set of skills than you would expect from your parents, but they probably have your best interest in mind and want to see you marry their child and be as happy as you can possibly be.

      Maybe they can’t make your dress, but perhaps one of them is great with words and can help you word your invitations or maybe one of them has lost a parent and can help you through that grief at least a little bit.

  5. I’m terribly sorry for you loss. I think one important thing to keep in mind is that your parents loved you and they would want you to enjoy your wedding planning, wedding and honeymoon as much as possible. If you had an amazing time in Tahiti with your dad as a child, I imagine that he’d be dismayed to think that his death might keep you from having an equally amazing (but totally different, more grown up) time with the new main man in your life, your husband. Getting married won’t entirely erase your grief, but I’m sure that you and your new spouse will be so ecstatic to finally be married that you’ll enjoy the honeymoon plenty! (If you and your mom talked frankly about sex, I’m sure she shared with you how great THAT part of the honeymoon can be!)

    I lost my father when I was a teenager and I know how much it can hurt. But (and I know you’ve heard this before, so forgive me) your crippling grief will lessen in time. Eventually, you will be able to make it through each day without sadness. But you and your fiance will only get one shot at this wedding and honeymoon, and I would advise you to try to make it your dream wedding. You’ll be looking back on this day for the rest of your lives, and while your grief will always color it slightly in your memory, you probably won’t want it to be THE defining factor (i.e. “I always had dreamed of a big fancy wedding, but when we got married 25 years ago I was so devastated by the loss of my loved ones that we did x, y, and z instead, so I never got the big fancy wedding.”) Your parents would probably want you to have that big fancy wedding!

    At our wedding, we had a table set up in a corner with pictures of my father and my husband’s father (who passed away a little over a year before). At the end of our weeing program we had a who’s who type listing, with the names of our attendants and our immediate families, and then “In Memoriam” with both our fathers’ names. We avoided using “Lates” in wedding invitations and went with a simple, “The pleasure of your presence is requested at the marriage of Kisså and Todd…” I knew that my father and Todd’s father would be in the minds of our living guests without us needing to remind them, and we didn’t want to cast a pall on the joy of the day by making it too much about who was unable to be with us. I think we managed to strike a good balance, keeping out late loved ones close without making it too hot and heavy. I didn’t tell anyone but my mother, but I carried my father’s wedding band in the pocket of my dress all day, and that was enough for me.

  6. I so needed this. I am in the same boat. I lost my dad earlier this year and feel like there is no way I can enjoy my wedding because he won’t be there. I am so sorry for your loss and I think you are being very brave. Thanks for posting this.

    • I was going to pretty much mirror this comment. I too just lost my Dad almost 4 months ago. I hate just sitting here waiting for the next thing to come up that will set me off into a spiral of depression and sadness, even though I’m supposed to be ecstatic. The most dreaded question I get is “How is the wedding planning going? Aren’t you SO excited?!” Yes, to a point, I just am aware of how tough it’s going to be. Thank you Melissa for writing this, and thanks Erin for your comment. You are both brave and we will get through this, and WILL cry… but there will be tears of joy as well when our day comes.

      • I’m in a similar boat too, having lost my dad just a week ago. My fiance and I were supposed to get married in December but postponed it when my dad entered hospice care. Everyone’s still asking when the new wedding date is, and I have the heart neither to set one nor talk about weddings. Maybe that’ll change after the holidays.

  7. I am also in the same boat. As you might have heard: “Welcome to the club which no one wants to be in.” I am so sorry for your loss. 🙁

    If you don’t mind, can I add one more question to yours – “How am I going to respond to people on my wedding day who will bring up these tragedies?”
    I feel like I will SNAP if someone says “it’s sooooo sad that they can’t be here with you todayyyy…..” No $h!t it’s sad!!! Why would you bring that up to me?!?!

    *Ahem* So, as you can see I do not have any great advice but for better or worse, you are not alone. *Hugs*.

    • I am not in this position, but a way to avoid this conversation might be during the cerimony to have a brief pause for all those who could not make it. Everyone would know who was implied without having to out and our say how sad it all is. This could also be for other missing individuals who where just plain unable to make it out or for grandparents/aunts/uncles who also had passed. I would imagine that could end all conversations about it because you went ahead and did something about it. Or in my mind that is how it’d work.

    • On our wedding day, surprisingly few people mentioned my late father or the groom’s late father. I think most people know that it’s a happy occasion and they should try to keep it upbeat. My one cousin (who looks a lot like my dad did when he was in his 30s) did tell me that he wore seersucker specifically because that’s what my dad wore to his wedding 15 years ago, and we had a fond chuckle over that. I think only one other person brought up my dad (my aunt, his sister) and she said something like, “He would be so happy for you” and I just replied, “I know, and I think he’s here in spirit.” and left it at that. So it really wasn’t a huge issue. Also, I was so happy to have just gotten married that I don’t think anything could have burst my bubble! Everything will turn out lovely, you’ll see!

  8. I am not in the same boat particularly, but the support for other human beings I see posted here has restored my faith in humanity today.
    We are working on ways to honor my fiance’s mother who passed 10 years ago, how to make it clear yet not overbearingly heavy.
    I send you all hugs and best wishes.

  9. Trying to plan a happy occasion whilst grieving is difficult. And though many can offer their own snippets of advice/wisdom/experience, you are the only one who can really cope with it in a way that suits you. I used my wedding planning to get through my grief, but it sounds as though your planning is compounding your grief. How can you use that in a productive and constructive way, rather than a debilitating way? Can you pay homage in some facets rather than bringing it into every aspect?

    I don’t mean this to sound harsh if it does, but grief is difficult. And no two instances of grief are the same. The overwhelming feeling of isolation after losing a parent, especially when it occurs during the wedding planning process, can be crippling. The key is to find your own way of making it a positive process rather than one that destroys you from the inside out and makes what should be a joyous occasion a mournful one.

  10. I know absolutely how you feel as I’m in a similar position. I lost my mum 2 years ago and thought I’d be cool with the whole wedding without her thing – until we attended 2 weddings this year and I balled at the idea of the lack of her at my own :o(
    I also did the begging the fiance to elope and just have a party later but that means his family and my Dad missing out so we can’t do that to them.
    Instead, we’re marrying abroad next year, in Venice, Italy – a city my mum loved and so do I. My dad and I will light a candle at a church she had remembered her own parents at on the morning of the wedding and I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll bawl on the day.
    I guess in the end you are everything you are because of your parents and whether you believe they will be with you on the day spiritually or not – in the very fact of you – they will. So as others have said, make your own memories and if you can, bring little bits of them into the ceremony – I’ll be including a small photo of my mum in my bouquet.
    And as for responding to others who will bring it up on the day – I have my fiance and several others primed to warn anyone to leave it alone – I’m aware enough of her absence and will remember her in my way – with the flowers and in the speeches – others who miss her presence can do so without mentioning it to me!

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