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?


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?

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Comments on Juggling wedding planning and grief

  1. Melissa,

    First, may your parents’ memories be for a blessing.

    My mother died 2 months to the day before my wedding. My small advice from someone who faced a very similar situation is as follows: remember that your parents may be dead, but the thing they loved most in the world, YOU, are not.

    * Will I mistreat my seamstress because she’s not my mother? Of course not. You are a considerate woman, and you know full well how to treat other people. This woman is your partner in crime. Talk to her about the situation as well as what you want from your gown. She’ll work with you, and if she won’t, find another seamstress who will.

    What kick-ass ideas would my mother have had? The hard (so awfully hard) truth is: you don’t know, and you won’t. But you do know the things she loved, and the things she did in the past. You are your mother’s daughter, let the past be your guide.

    Where is my father’s cosmopolitan advice? In your head already. Listen closely, those words of wisdom are right there waiting for you. You are your father’s daughter.

    Will childhood memories sour our honeymoon? No. But grief is part of your new reality, and expecting it not to be present in such an emotionally charged placed is foolish. You are not a fool. Let the joy of those memories shine as brightly as the grief while you make new memories with your husband. Tell the stories. Re-visit the places. And then visit the ones you’ve never been to before, and make new stories to tell.

    Will I bawl at the altar? Probably. Wear waterproof mascara and carry a handkerchief or three. Let your officiant know about the emotionally charged nature of the day and ask him/her to pace the ceremony accordingly. PS. Don’t knock yourself for getting emotional and possibly crying. Getting married is a hugely emotional event without adding grief to the mix. Be present in your emotions and let them flow through you.

    Are my compromises healthy ways to handle grief? The only ‘right’ way to handle your grief is the way that works for you. If you’ve found a way to honor your parents the way you think they should be honored and at the same time not feel like you are leaving yourself out or making compromises that degrade you and their gifts to you, you’re done and no more obsessing is healthy.

    • “Remember that your parents may be dead, but the thing they loved most in the world, YOU, are not.”

      Thank you for that, Anna. You’ll never know how much that sentence really helped me.

  2. My mother-in-law died quite suddenly even though she had been unwell for a few months, just a few weeks before we got married. I can only hope I gave my husband the support and space he needed to grieve while we continued with the occasion. I know he spent many evenings sitting with my b-i-l (married to my sister) talking and letting it out in a ‘man way’. What will happen will happen, give yourself permission to eperience whatever you are going through. Your wedding is one day. Your marriage and this partnership you are in – that is forever.

    Peace be with you.

  3. I lost my Grandad this year and his birthday is Christmas Day, so I can appreciate how a joyous occassion can be marred.

    Like another commenter said, your wedding planning seems to be adding to your grief and I get the impression there’s a lot of guilt in your emotions.

    Tell yourself it’s ok to enjoy wedding things. And if perhaps you’re doing something wedding related and you’re getting upset, put it down and walk away. It’s almost like teaching yourself not to associate the sadness of bereavement with your wedding.

    I know it wont get things done as quickly, but if you can limit the wedding = grief thought processes, you open up opportunities to take pleasure in things. When you’re feeling low, try to rephrase in your head, so instead of “I wish Mum was here to help with flowers” think “Mum will love these flowers” and then go out and do the same kickass job your mother would have done. By using the wedding planning as opportunity to do your parents proud, they begin to show themselves in you and you’ve created.

  4. I’m getting married next month, and my dad passed away about a year and a half ago. I’ve had a pretty hard time with the grief, but for the five months or so that I’ve been engaged, I’ve tried not to think about it. I’ve also had more time to grieve and accept things, but every now and again it passes through my head that my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle or have the dance – something that he talked about my whole life and was always really excited for.

    My brother is going to walk me down the aisle and my uncle (pretty much my second dad) is going to dance with me. We’re dancing to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra – my dad was a big fan he even sang that song karaoke once at Thanksgiving dinner in his booming New York accent lol. We will also have a table with pictures commemorating him.

    As far as talking about it with people…I’m going to pass the word around that I would prefer anyone who wants to mention him in a speech just run it by me first as a courtesy. Apart from that and his memorial table I dont want to think about it much. Maybe that’s not the right way to handle grief but I don’t want to focus on the what could have beens and just focus on the day. I know my mom’s going to be a wreck.

    Anyways, that probably doesn’t help you, but thanks for providing the forum to vent. Even though it sucks I’m glad I’m not alone.

    • So sorry for you loss. Having your bro walk you down the aisle is a great idea. Since my dad wasn’t there to walk me, I used that as an opportunity to involve some of my other beloved male relatives in the ceremony (who probably wouldn’t have gotten to play a role if Dad were still alive). My maternal first cousin walked me down the aisle, and my two paternal first cousins (my closest living male relatives on Dad’s side) gave me away. We made the best of my father’s absence, I hope you can do the same!

  5. I’m so sorry. I lost my father quite suddenly three months after getting married, and it’s only now, a year later, that I can think about the wedding without feeling terribly sad. My husband’s mum died three years ago, and it was hard sometimes planning without her. The day before the wedding, things got complicated and emotional and we both got a lot of crying out of the way. I think that helped to keep the grief in check on the day itself, although of course we thought of her throughout the day.

  6. My situation is not quite the same but presents similar issues. My baby brother who was born when I was fifteen was taken away by social services and adopted by another family who does not allow me to have contact. For me what makes it hard is that he is not dead and I have hope of seeing him again someday. At the same time I would give anything to have him be part of my day and I know there is no way he will be. I am doing my best to remember the joy of the day without forgetting that someone I love dearly will not be there. I am thinking of ways to incorporate him into the wedding without making it so prevalent that it puts me in a grief tailspin. I know I will have a moment of tears over the fact that he won’t be there but I think that release will be necessary.

    I think you should let yourself grieve but not to let it overtake the joy that you deserve on your day. Just take a deep breath and remember that your mother and father are still with you but in a different way.

    • Jennifer:

      I am the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and I was able to find my half-sibling (brother) through a genetic testing site known as “23andMe.com.” You may try investigating those types of ways of finding your brother. It’s a long shot, but it’s all I had, and while I was looking for my father, I found a brother I didn’t know I had. He might be trying sites like that to find you? A lot of us don’t find people though, so please take it with a grain of salt. It can be emotionally disappointing and re-open the wound…I was waiting for about 2 years before the sibling showed up for me.

  7. I understand, I so understand. My mum passed almost 15 years ago…doesn’t change how much I miss her tho.

    My Advice: Warn folks. Whenever I feared someone may tear into that wound unintentionally…or intentionally: I let them know nicely ahead of time. It’s not carte blanche to be a monster, but it’s a fair warning for folks who might not know the inner workings of your family. My mum really pushed the feminist agenda on me as a kid (no Flintstones), so a nod of the hat between me & mom: ain’t nobody giving me away. Everyone except my hubby challenges me on it. Ok, Dad doesn’t challenge me either.

    So look deep into your relationship and know that the number one thing they wanted was your happiness.
    Thank you for your courage in posting, it truly helped.

  8. I just went through a similar experience. My mother-in-law was killed in a car accident 2 months before our wedding and a week before what was going to be our (pre)honeymoon (which had to be canceled). Planning in the midst of mourning is extremely exhausting; I never managed to find a way around it. I don’t believe there is one. It will hurt, you will cry, but don’t forget you are getting married. Don’t forget to reach out to your spouse when things are particularly tough (anytime for that matter). I know that our grief is still raw and we still cry but it hasn’t stopped us from cherishing the moments from our wedding. We’re very happy we continued to move forward and we know his mother would have wanted that. I can only wish the same for you.

  9. I too am sorry to read of your loss and impressed by your strength and self-awareness. Many commenters have given you amazing support and advice and I would echo them.
    I do however have one word of advice that they have not included: hemorrhoid cream. I know it sounds weird, but pat a bit around your eyes because it reduces the redness and puffiness from crying. Use waterproof makeup, pat with a tissue or handkerchief (don’t rub!) and have a makeup repair kit handy. Although none of this will assuage your grief, cry when you feel it and know that you can pull yourself together when you want to.
    Losing your parents would be difficult at any point in time, especially awesome parents like yours, but they want you to be happy – every day!
    Marriage is a joyous occasion and you may cry tears of happiness too!

  10. Thanks for posting this. I just lost my dad three months ago (a month or so before I got engaged) and I’m having a rough time of it.

    And I’m so, so tired of people’s suggestions of how I can “involve” my dad. Sure, a memorial table would be nice, but … I don’t want one. I’ll carry a locket or something, but he isn’t here, and I’m not going to pretend he’s here, hanging out at the table.

    And yes – it seems like every single person, the second I got engaged either mentioned my dad, or asked who was going to be walking me down the aisle since he’s dead.

    And now I feel sad that dad isn’t walking me down the aisle, even though I never intended him to do so when he was alive.

    • This is *exactly* why I wrote this post. Because I can’t pretend they’re hanging out at the party when they’re not, and because I don’t want to make it about them or my loss.

      • You don’t have to say anything, or do anything, if you don’t want to. And firmly tell those well meaning but painfully irritating people that something will present itself and change the subject. You do NOT need to explain your actions to other people, only your intended. You do not owe them a peek at your grief, your mourning process, how you’re coping, or anything else. A lot of that is emotional voyeurism disguised as concern, and your emotional state is your own business.

        For us, a memorial was important but we didn’t want to do a memorial table for exactly the reasons Erica stated. So my mother’s best friend served as our Flower Child and lead my mother’s horse down the aisle (we’re horsey and got married on horseback).

        Please forgive my vehemence on this subject – it is a raw nerve of mine.

        Much respect to you both.

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