Planning a wedding can be stressful on its own, but how do you get through it when a major life event is also going on?
This is what I had to figure out when, four months before our wedding, we found out that my three-year-old nephew received a very serious and potentially fatal diagnosis. The weeks and months that followed were a blur filled with hospitals, tests, and scary procedures. Even up to the day before the wedding. Even now, after the wedding, as we are planning our honeymoon.
When we first got the news, my initial knee-jerk reaction was “cancel the wedding!” But I instead just waited to send out the invitations until we knew more. Then we got the worst news possible. And then the doctors said “nevermind,” “maybe,” And finally settled on “we don't know.” And we didn't learn more.
To cancel or not to cancel?
When the time came that we absolutely had to make the call on the wedding, I agreed to send the invites out with it still in the back of my head that we would cancel later if anything went wrong.
I remember, especially during this time, I was searching for any sort of advice on what to do when a loved one receives a terminal diagnosis while you are planning a wedding. I was searching for anything to tell me how to feel. To tell me what to do. The guilt of planning a wedding while the worst imaginable thing was happening to my sweet, young nephew and my sister was overwhelming.
I found some great advice on Offbeat Bride about dealing with the loss of a parent, and those helped some. But what I couldn't find is how to deal with the ongoing nature of a serious illness in a loved one while planning a wedding. Or how to respectfully figure out if your sister will hate you forever if you plan a wedding while her son might be dying (she won't, by the way).
It was not an easy process (it still isn't), and there were a lot of tears and yelling, but we did make it through the wedding planning process. Here are some of the things I learned…
Make your own decisions
DO NOT make your loved one who is affected by the illness make your decisions for you. It was my husband's and my decision to cancel or not cancel the wedding. You can and should figure out what they want and what they need, but don't put the decision on them. Instead, be sure to tell them you won't resent them if they have to miss your wedding. Let them know that what they are going through is more important to you than your wedding and tell them to prioritize themselves first. Ask specific questions on things you can do to make the situation easier on them — but don't ask open-ended questions (which put it back on them). Try phrases like, “would it help if I did this?” or “I'm thinking of doing this, does that work for you?”
Embrace all your emotions
You can, actually, be extremely happy and extremely sad at the same time. And that is okay. You are allowed to be happy about your wedding! And you are allowed to be sad/upset/angry/fucking furious about bad things going on in your life. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Make time for yourself
Scream, cry, listed to some raging music, punch some pillows.
And on that note — make time for yourself to be sad/upset/angry/fucking furious about whatever it is you are dealing with. I'm still working (and struggling) on compartmentalization. But what I've learned about it is that it doesn't work unless you allow yourself the time to get those emotions that you are trying to compartmentalize out. Scream, cry, listed to some raging music, punch some pillows. Do what you need to do and make the time for it.
Reject guilt as much as you can
Do not let anyone make you feel guilty — or — you don't have to please everyone. I was so terrified in the weeks leading up to the wedding that we would have to cancel at the last minute. So many of our guests were flying in, renting cars, driving hours, and staying in hotels. I knew they had spent so much money just to celebrate with us, and the thought of causing so many people to lose out on that was hard to stomach. I just kept telling myself that people would understand. And the people who care about you and your family really will understand! My now-husband helped with this one by saying that if we did cancel, his family would probably all still fly in (they were all staying at the same hotel) and just turn it into a much needed family reunion.
And last, but not least: communicate. My now-husband and I did not do so well at this one in the beginning and it caused a ton of fights. Neither of us knew how to deal with this, we still don't. But once we started communicating things changed, and our relationship is so much stronger now.
A little clarification here: when I say communicate, I really mean TELL your partner how you are reacting to and dealing with what is going on. For example, he would initially get really mad when I would say things like “let's just cancel the wedding” or “let's not go on a honeymoon.” Because what he didn't know is that those phrases were just my gut reaction to a shitty situation. I didn't mean that I didn't want to marry him, or celebrate, or that I wanted to put our lives on hold. But I did need to say those things out loud and sit with them for a minute before I could even know what I wanted to do.
I hope this helps if you are wedding planning during crisis situations.
Resources for wedding planning during crisis situations: