I often say, jokingly, that we shouldn't have gotten engaged. Because after we got engaged everything went wrong. Only a month after we got engaged my Dad had a serious stroke. For a week or two we weren't sure if he was going to wake up, and when he did he couldn't move half of his body (although, thank God, he was always himself). Only the amazing doctors and nurses and the fact that he's so damn stubborn meant that he was able to learn how to walk again. He spent four months in the hospital before they let him go home and even now he can't do too much at once and gets tired very easily.
One of the many thoughts that troubled me, when we didn't know if my father was going to wake up, was that I didn't think I could walk down the aisle without him there without bursting into tears. I talked to my fiancé and we agreed that if the worst happened we would walk in together.
To every cloud there is a silver lining — and the silver lining to my father's stroke and the fear that we were going to lose him was that when, five months later (six months until the wedding), my fiancé's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was much better equipped to understand what he was going through. And I was better able to support him.
In those first few days after she died we talked about many things, some trivial and some very important.
I asked my fiancé if he wanted to postpone the wedding. No, he said, he didn't want to. Maybe if it had been a month away then the answer would have been yes. But we still had six months, and it was important to move forward. His mother had been so excited about the wedding, and heavily involved in the planning — she would have been very cross with us if we postponed it.
Up until that point, the biggest point of contention in wedding planning had been the guest list. I had always imagined having a fairly intimate wedding full of people I knew well, where I had time to talk properly with everyone who came. My husband's family is large and scattered and when he made the list of family members he wanted to invite we were already over seventy people. There's nothing like a death to put things in perspective. We went back to the drawing board, and I saw that it was important to him — in terms of recognizing our marriage and our new place in his extended family — that he had them surrounding and supporting us. We agreed that for our tenth anniversary he'll throw me the party I would have thrown as a wedding reception, inviting our nearest and dearest to celebrate with us.
My father's medical concerns impacted on the wedding plans in a logistical fashion. We made sure that all venues were wheelchair-friendly as we weren't sure if my father would be able to manage on his own for the whole day. Right up until the day before the wedding he was warning me that he might not be well enough to walk me down the aisle, and that by the time we got to the dinner portion of the day he might not have enough energy left to make a speech. On the first point, I told him I'd push him in a wheelchair if necessary, and on the second my sister, chief bridesmaid and keeper-of-my-sanity — prepared a backup speech to give if he couldn't. But my dad had enough strength to give his speech, and he delivered it excellently — skirting the line like a pro between funny and embarrassing, proud and sickening.
My mother-in-law's absence, however, couldn't be managed by careful logistical planning. There was always going to be a huge gap where she should have been. It was the first time the extended family had been gathered since her death, and I think that on the day many of our guests felt her absence more keenly than we did. For us our wedding was mostly joy with a hint of sadness.
We remembered her between ourselves in a few quiet ways. My “something borrowed” came from her jewelry box. Rather than hiring a fancy car and driver, my husband drove the two of us from the ceremony to the reception in his mother's car, all polished up for the occasion. His speech, which we wrote together, started with the toast to absent friends and thanked all those who had helped to raise us.
At the end of the day, that, for me, is what makes it bearable. That no matter what else happens to our parents, they have left behind us — my beautiful, flawed, perfect husband and me. They've given us the tools we need to look after each other, and I think that's what they would have thought was important.