How Do We Celebrate Our Wedding While Grieving?

Hard feelings and good feelings at the same time

Q:Dear Amy,

How do you reconcile wanting everything and nothing?

My significant other and I are heading towards marriage—we’ve had the deep conversations about life goals/where we’re heading together (all good), but we’re having trouble nailing down what we’d each want an actual wedding to look like (I’d prefer to nail down the big decisions/preferences before our families start asking and jumping ahead with their own ideas).

It’s complicated by the fact that we both lost our moms within the past couple of years. What we would’ve wanted while they were still alive isn’t necessarily what we want now. So I’m looking for advice from you and others who have navigated wanting competing things, both between you and your partner and within yourself.

For instance, I love feeling surrounded by family, and if you’d asked me before my mom got sick if I wanted a bridal shower, I would’ve said absolutely—surround me with womxn to celebrate together. Now, I don’t see anyone on my side who would even put it together, and the idea of being surrounded by all of his aunts and cousins and the maybe three womxn on my side within driving distance leaves me feeling sad.

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I think my boyfriend feels that way about the entire wedding ceremony—that the rest of the family doesn’t matter as much as his mom did, and he has no burning desire to have anyone there but us. While on my side I’m chomping at the bit to bring my far-flung-but-well-loved family together for something other than a funeral.

How do you recommend reconciling the opposite directions that grief and love can pull you in, to make decisions both people (and the people we care about) can be happy with?

—happy and sad

A:Dear H & S,

Well, you’ve certainly summed up the reality of grief very well. It’s knowing you need to go forward and truly being happy, but also being sad and not seeing the point of things without the person you lost all at once, with unpredictable variations.

I respect your desire to know all the answers now. That’s often a really good strategy for dealing with pushy families. But in your case, I think you need to let that go a bit. I don’t think you’ll know how you feel about wedding things this far in advance, and I don’t think your boyfriend can predict exactly what he will want to do right now either, and that’s okay! That’s part of grieving: It takes all the pieces of your life apart and it can be really confusing to put them back together.

What I do think you should get on the same page about is being comfortable talking about your grief and how it may impact this process. I’d love for you to get some couple’s counseling focused on grief if you haven’t already. But even if you don’t want to do that, start getting really comfortable talking about your grief and your needs. Have you been upfront with your boyfriend that you want a wedding that brings your whole family together for a happy occasion, and that you want that even more now that your mom is gone? Making these decisions together is going to require both of you to be really honest and vulnerable with each other, so start now and lead the way.

Have all of those talks and also accept that you won’t resolve everything and that is okay. To take your bridal shower example, I’m not sure you truly don’t want a bridal shower. I think you very much do, and you want your mom to plan it. And that’s not an option, and that is a terrible and heartbreaking thing, and there will be lots more of that heartbreak to come. But maybe, once you’re engaged, you’ll decide you would like an afternoon with your friends, and your family, and his family, and maybe you may as well call that a shower since that’s what someone is prepared to give you (and also presents are fun!) and you decide to do that, even though it won’t be at all what your mom would have done.

Do the work of figuring out how to talk to each other about your grief, and then come up with some strategies. Agree on a response to questions and preferences from family along the lines of: “That’s such an interesting thought, we will consider that” or “We are taking planning slowly, so we will let you know when we’re ready to talk about that.” And if people push beyond that, a round of crying at them whilst yelling “My mom is dead and I get to do what I want with my wedding leave me alone!” may not be the most emotionally healthy response, but grief is often messy (mine certainly is) and sometimes other people need a solid reminder that you are still in the middle of it.

I wish you joy and peace in this process.

—Amy March


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