So, by some odd coincidence, both of our wedding graduates this week got married (once, at least) in Munich. Crazy, no? After Lynn wrote about being a motherless bride, Tina emailed me about planning her wedding(s) as her dad was dying. She was in the middle of the process, and I asked her to email me back when all was said and done, and she knew what she really wanted to say. So I’m honored to bring you Tina’s absolute bravery and wisdom today, in two parts. The first she wrote after her legal wedding at her fathers bedside, and the second she wrote after her more celebratory wedding, three months after his passing. Tina writes at Melbourne Vintage, and you can read more about her wedding there (also, she says if you want to get in touch, do!). And with that, here is Tina:
My husband is Australian and I am German – we got engaged last Christmas while on a break in Paris. We’ve been together for ten years. My dad loved my husband. My husband loved and respected my dad. When my parents picked us up from the train station in Munich when we got back from Paris, everything seemed perfect.
I remember so vividly and clearly how my dad’s eyes began to shine when I showed him my ring, and how he told me he had hoped we were going to get engaged in Paris, and how he took my arm and marched me off to the car, skipping, and how excited he was. It was pure joy. We almost instantly made plans for our weddings, we were going to get married in Australia in June, and in Munich in Oktober.
In May I got the phone call that changed my life – my dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I quit my job, and my husband and I temporarily relocated to Munich to be with him, in what turned out to be the last few months of his life. Since we knew how important it was to see us get married, and knowing it would be impossible for him to travel to Australiain June for our intended first wedding, we had to cancel my parents’ tickets to Australia, and, with completely broken hearts, cancelled the entire wedding.
Instead, we embarked on the horrible journey of trying to get past what seemed like mountains of German red tape to be able to get married in Germany, so my dad could witness our wedding. Since my partner isn’t German, it wasn’t easy, but we made it happen. We got married on the 2nd of June, a few weeks before my dad passed away. The most important thing about the day was, and is, that my dad got to see us get married. It is so special to me that we made this possible for him. But this means that for me, our wedding day wasn’t about me, or my husband, or celebrating our relationship.
When the day was over, I didn’t know how to cope with the fact, and I didn’t want to admit, that our wedding day was the saddest day of my entire life. And how, as we sat through the brief ceremony, I could think of nothing else than the fact that I was going to lose my dad. I was completely heartbroken and unable to feel anything but overpowering grief. I was wondering if there was something wrong with me, that I felt so unable to feel any joy that I was finally getting married to the love of my life.
Now, after my dad has passed, and we’ve rescheduled the wedding celebrations for later this year, I can’t stop thinking that my dad won’t be able to walk me down any aisle, or dance with me. He was a fantastic dancer. I can’t believe I won’t get to experience the utter joy of having him dance with me on my wedding day. It breaks my heart every single day. And I think that maybe we rescheduled the celebrations to soon, and that by the time they happen, I still won’t be able to feel how I “should” feel – overpowered by joy and pure happiness.
So how do you re-claim your wedding after an experience like this? How do cope with having the “wrong” emotional response to your wedding? And how do you make your wedding about your relationship in the face of grief and loss?
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realised that the answer lies in the relationship my husband and I had with my father – and thinking of his initial overjoyed response to our engagement. When I think of my wedding in the years to come, I don’t want to remember it as a sad and grief-stricken event. I want to remember joy and happiness – the same joy my dad felt when he learnt of our engagement.
Maybe I will never feel the same joy again, and maybe, when we have our celebrations in Oktober and November this year, 3 months after my dad’s passing, I won’t be able to feel joy either. But I think I will. Because my wedding is a celebration of my relationship, and ultimately also the relationship my husband and I had with my father. When we dance we will think of him dancing, and when we cut the cake we will think of him enjoying a piece of cake, and when we toast we will remember him and remember how much he loved and was able to feel and share the joy of celebrating the good things in life. So in his honour, I think it’s important to enjoy and celebrate my wedding, even in the face of grief. I think it’s important to realise that it is ok to have a wedding celebration for your relationship’s sake, and that it can be done even if you feel that everything in your life centres around grief for the time being.
Well, we just came back from our trip back home to Munich to celebrate with our friends. Against the odds I had an amazing time.
I was so nervous and anxious in the lead up and I couldn’t quite work out why – I’d made all the arrangements and planned everything and I was relaxed about my dress and all the other “bridal” stress factors. It was only after the wedding that I realised that I’d been terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy myself because of my dad’s absence and because his death has occupied all my my brain space for the past months. I somehow felt like I wouldn’t be able to let go of the grief and spend the night stone faced and in agony.
But as the day went ahead and I was getting ready, saw friends arriving and got excited phone calls from friends and family, I started feeling relaxed, and happy. This is what it was all about – celebrating with the people we love, against the odds. I had a bit of a quiet moment before I started to get ready and took the time to have a little mental chat with my dad to get the ok that we were going to celebrate without him. And then the magic happened – we had a fantastic dinner, our friends surprised us with gifts and a photo show, we had cake, we waltzed to “Rainbow Connection” sung by Kermit himself, and we rocked on the dance floor till 5:30 in the morning. It was an amazing party. We got to see all of our friends enjoy our wedding and have a complete blast – that was the biggest joy factor for me.
We incorporated memories of my dad, too: my mum set the tone for the evening by honouring him in her amazing speech, reminding me of how much my dad loved me, and how much he would have wanted us to have this celebration.
There was a photo of him, and when my husband gave his speech he spoke in the present tense, to both my parents, of how grateful he is to them. It was the most amazing thing – it made my dad’s presence in our lives felt. It was a wonderful way to commemorate him without killing the joy. I felt the entire night was just filled with friendship, laughter, happiness and love, love, love, and there wasn’t a second I didn’t feel overjoyed and ridiculously happy. I am so sure that my dad had something to do with that. He would have loved every minute of our wedding.
I’m so pleased to share this little story. As insignificant as it may seem to other readers to the ones who have lost a father or a mother or another loved one so close to their wedding I hope it can be a consolation. It’s ok to let go of grief for the time you are celebrating with your loved ones, just know that whoever you’ve lost is present. Lots of hugs from me!!!