Q: My fiancé and I are both grieving a loved one and also trying to plan our wedding. It's been really hard. We're lacking motivation and also really worried that there is no way we'll be able to enjoy our special day with all of the sadness. How did you do it? What can we do to make it through the planning process and also feel happiness the day of the wedding? Is it possible?
A: First, know that for as happy as I looked, and truly was, at the wedding, I too was completely miserable and drowning in fear of having a wedding without our parents for many months of the planning. So, happiness on the wedding day IS POSSIBLE!! YOU WILL BE ABLE TO FEEL THAT PURE JOY YOU IMAGINED.
I hope that simply knowing that can help to alleviate some of your fears.
The long story short here is that our engagement party in October was super hard for me. It was the most beautiful event I had ever seen filled with more love than I could have ever hoped for-- but I didn't feel present. I felt entirely overwhelmed. The next day, I had a melt down as I became consumed with the realization that my dad wasn’t there for the engagement party and he wouldn’t be there for my wedding. To make matters worse, I found out about another sudden death in my family that afternoon. (Another topic for another time, but it appears that any sudden death now throws me into a horrible bout of PTSD from his death. Awesome.)
I should have been covered in glitter from opening our beautiful gifts and toasting our champagne to the months ahead. Instead, the boxes lay lifeless in the corner of the room. And I, lifeless on the couch for days. I was convinced that the wedding was going to be a duplicate of that, and that happiness was going to be impossible to achieve.
It was not until my bridal shower at the end of March that I think things started to turn around. I recognized all of the hard work that my mom and bridesmaids were putting into the event for me, and for THEM, I really wanted to try to not have a repeat of the engagement party fallout (funny how you can do things for others that you can't do for yourself?!).
One of the biggest things I can tell you about this wedding planning journey without your parents: it's all about taking control of the narrative in your head.
So with that, I made a conscious effort to be as positive as I could on the day of my shower. I said, “Daddy would have nothing to do with this, so it's fine that he won't be there. My grandmother and my mother-in-law, well neither of them would miss a good party, so THEY WILL be there. I KNOW they will get to enjoy it and see it. Most importantly, I know THEY would want me to be happy.” I took steps all week to be positive and happy. I worked out, I got my rest, I played great music throughout the house. Basically anything I could to keep my spirits up. And it worked!
I felt great at my bridal shower and it was the first time I really felt that our wedding had a fighting chance of not feeling like a funeral all over again.
I took that positive attitude and effort to stay healthy and energized and tried to carry it through until the wedding. There were a few horrible days and total melt-downs along the way, of course. I'm human, after all!
Here are some other things I can point out:
1) I'm sure you've experienced this, but one of the hardest parts for me was having to tell each of our vendors about our loss. Not only do we have to go through this, but we have to TALK ABOUT GOING THROUGH IT with every vendor call. There is no magic cure for this, but by the end, I found myself turning the conversation from "eeeeeek" to "yeah, my dad passed away, so please know that and don't ask for him in pictures, but I'm sure he'll be there in his own way and he'd make it one hell of a party, for sure!" Take that conversation and control it. My advice would be to just expect that something is going to go wrong in this aspect. Prepare yourself for the mistake. It won't sting as bad when it happens. (Moments before we walked into our reception, our MC asked where in the lineup he should announce the Father of the Bride... I miiiiight have threatened physical harm. Not my proudest moment LOL)
2) My husband and I both had different ways that we wanted to honor our parents. I wanted my dad everywhere; he on the other hand, didn't want the day to become a memorial service. We had to come up with a happy medium and I spent a lot of time trying to understand what it was I really wanted. There were some things I quickly gave in to as I knew this was a sensitive time for my husband too, and I wanted him to be happy. But I reminded myself that I wanted to look back and be sure I did everything to ensure my own happiness, too. I'm really happy with where we ended up with everything. I wanted to put out pictures at the reception. He didn't. Instead, I put them around my bridal suite and took formal pictures with them in my dress. Our officiant mentioned them and we lit a candle in their memory at the ceremony. It was a brief but heartfelt moment. On the ceremony program we wrote "celebrating from heaven..." and listed each of their names. They were mentioned in speeches and there were special songs played in their memory throughout the night.
3) Rely on others!!! I'm sure I don't have to tell you, grief is f*cking exhausting. Outsource absolutely anything you can to anyone who is willing to help. I shamelessly asked friends to help with the most random things. And you know what: THEY WERE THRILLED. People want to feel like they can help you. Let them. This is easier said than done, I know. We also spent a lot of money in random areas just to go with the easier, faster, better option so to avoid as much stress and exhaustion as possible for ourselves. But as Marc's mom would say "you can't take it with you!" Having a little less money in our pocket was totally worth having SO much more energy and happiness in the process.
I don't expect you to read this and suddenly feel better about everything, so please don't put that pressure on yourself. I just hope you can feel solace in knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and not a concrete wall of grief. Your loved ones would want you to feel all of the happiness in the world on your special day, and with a little (okay, a lot of) effort, you can achieve it.