It’s been a very emotional year for me. On top of it being the 25th anniversary of my dad’s death, the 16th of my mom’s, it’s also the year I’m getting married. (The Big Day is August 15th!)
I was well into planning when it hit me, I should share my experiences over this year-long wedding planning process with our readers. Weddings are so steeped in family and it’s one of the many milestones where the loss of a loved one is deeply felt. From planning to wedding day, parents play an integral role and their absence can make the process even more emotionally charged than it already is. Given both my parents are dead, this year’s experience has been full of joy and sorrow and my wedding day will be bittersweet. I hope my story helps you in some way.
This is the first in a three-part series where I share what it’s been like for me to plan our wedding and ultimately marry the love of my life.
Part I: Daddy’s Little Girl
When dreaming of their wedding—something little girls are often conditioned to do from an early age—many brides look forward to walking down the aisle with their dad. What’s been painfully thrust to the forefront of my life since the day I got engaged is I won’t. Over 25 years ago, that opportunity died with my dad. This was among a litany of things I realized he’d never get to do, see, or share with me. Having been daddy’s little girl, it was heartbreaking to realize at this very special moment, I might have to walk alone.
Throughout the wedding planning process, there are many tasks on the road to the Big Day, one of which is meeting with professionals involved in the ceremony and celebration. Boy, are these conversations difficult. Every time, you’re asked or have to fill out a questionnaire about who’s in your wedding party, who’s walking you down the aisle, are you having the father-daughter dance (a question from the DJs), are there any deceased relatives you’d like to honor? Uh, yeah, just a few! For those who don’t know, both my parents died when I was in my 20′s. My birth mother died over 5 years ago, and I never knew my birth father. Every aspect of a wedding is about family, the new one you’re creating, and of course, the one you grew up with your entire life.
What do you do when your family as you knew it doesn’t exist anymore? You cry and then you get creative through the tears. You find ways to honor them and include them in this very special day even if only in spirit. For one, I am the lucky sister of a very loving brother who wouldn’t dream of me getting married without walking me down the aisle. Mind you I’m 46 years old and yes, I still wish my daddy could be there with me. But, my brother, who carries our dad’s name, will make a wonderful and handsome stand-in.
With the death of a loved one come all the missed opportunities we count up in our head. We face a future that will permanently have a hole punched through it. Between all the major milestones—graduations, marriage, babies—we get by, thrive even. But each time one of these milestones comes along, all bets are off. The reality of your loss slams you in the heart and quite literally at times takes your breath away. You really don’t get to have Daddy by your side to “give you away.” Your mom won’t be there to cry when she first sees you in a wedding dress. But the truth is they’re with you the entire way.
For instance, after trying on many a dress and having no more exciting a reaction than “It’s pretty.” I knew I found my dress when I instantly started crying. It’s not the dress I would have expected I’d pick. When reflecting on the moment I said “Yes to the Dress” I realized in that instant my mother’s face had flashed before me as I looked at myself in the mirror. It was the one and Mom had given it her seal of approval. (Thanks, Mom. You always have known best.)
Tears are an expected part of getting married. Many emotions toss around as you contemplate which color napkins, what types of flowers, and do I really need to be as super crafty as all those other brides out there? Tears of joy that is. But for those whose loved ones are no longer with us, the tears can also be full of sadness at their absence and all those missed opportunities. I knew, hoped, this day would come. Even though it’s later than I thought it’d be and many years separate this day from the days my parents died, all those emotions come roiling back up as though not a second has passed. My fiancé clearly marvels somewhat incredulously (and compassionately) at how emotional I have been throughout this process. I know he cares, but unless you’ve been in my shoes, you won’t totally “get it.” I know many of you reading this do. You know because like me you’ve lost someone very close to you. That’s why you’re on our website, reading this post.
I’ve faced this year and the exciting, yet daunting, process with as much determination and enthusiasm as it required and as much joy such an event brings. I’ve done so despite feeling something was missing. Thank goodness for dear friends who’ve helped fill the empty shoes my parents left behind. I know my experience hasn’t been what most brides dream of, but I’ve made the most of it and through it found my way—even without my dad holding my hand—to my new life.
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