Jesse & Warwick’s Celebration After Loss

Jesse, Theatre Props Master & Warwick, Writer *

Leading up to my wedding, I was already thinking about my wedding graduate post, composing it in my head day by day as I went through the process. (Note to self—if you find yourself doing this again for any other major life event, step away from the blogs!) I had already written the introduction when I wrote a post about coming to terms with my huge guest list and my less than unique church and reception hall venues. My graduate post was going to talk about learning to take help from my friends instead of doing the massive stack of invites by myself. I was going to talk about the awesome ways I saved money with my bouquets of handmade fabric flowers and thrifted colored glass centerpieces. I was going to talk about coming to grips with not having a massive batchelorette or shower because my friends were spread across the country and couldn’t afford more travel than coming in for the wedding. I was going to talk about how doing what we wanted and adding things we liked made the standard feel personal and unique.

Six months before our wedding, my little brother died, suddenly, without warning. He went into the hospital on a Friday, there were tests and surgeries, internal bleeding, more surgeries and doctors who couldn’t find the problem fast enough to solve it before it was too late. He passed away on Wednesday. Over the next week as we were planning a wake and visitation and funeral Mass I heard over and over again from friends and family, “I’m really excited for your wedding in the fall, we’re going to need a party by then.”

Adam’s death changed everything about my wedding, and changed nothing. All the plans that were in place stayed in place, all of the vendors were already booked, most of the people were already invited. Those blog posts I was planning to write could still be written, I still learned those lessons and loved my décor and was a money-saving diva. In many ways it was still our day, but in so many ways it became everyone’s. Thinking about not having Adam there on the wedding day was unbelievably sad. Warwick and I had already been engaged for over a year when Adam died. I was already planning on Adam being a part of the day, wearing a ridiculous suit, rolling his eyes and proclaiming he wouldn’t dance, and then spending all night on the dance floor, being the last one to leave the after-after party, sneaking off and having smoke breaks that he would attempt to hide from my mom, hitting on each and every one of my friends, and being the one to pull Warwick aside during the week to make sure he knows that he needs to treat me well or else. I cried on our wedding day or course, especially during the ceremony, but mostly there was so much joy there was no room to be sad.

All of our aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends, people who we were assuming would meet at our wedding, had already met, bonded, celebrated, and cried together. So many of these people had stood vigil with us for days at the hospital, or stood in line for four hours at the funeral home together just to give us a hug and tell us that they were sorry. All of these people needed a party, and all of these people, more than they ever had before, needed to be part of the love and joy of a wedding, so they brought the joy with them and heaped it on Warwick and me and my entire family.

There were torrential rains as Hurricane Isaac made its way north the weekend of the wedding. There were wardrobe malfunctions and scheduling nightmares. We almost forgot the rings and the wedding coordinator at the church was a bit of a bitch, but in the grand scheme of things, that all felt small, and everyone treated those problems as insignificant, which of course they were.

I was terribly worried before the wedding that I should find some public way to memorialize Adam on that day, but everything felt fake. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry and it was okay that I didn’t do anything. He was there and he wasn’t far at all from anyone’s mind, no one needed a picture or a memorial candle to remember him. I had my own private way to honor him; his thumbprint was on the inside of my wedding band (courtesy of Brent & Jess who are wonderful people and did amazing work). Other people found their own ways to honor him. I saw so many people wearing the green ribbon for organ donation, which Adam felt very strongly about, Warwick quietly pulled an empty chair up to the end of the head table during the reception, my dad briefly mentioned Adam in his toast, and we included a prayer for him and our other lost loved ones in the special intentions at the Mass, and even if none of that had happened, he was remembered by everyone there. And without anyone saying it, we all knew that what we needed most was to let loose and celebrate life moving forward.

I still miss my brother every day, and without wedding planning to distract me, the sadness is even harder to shake at times. The memories of that day, of the joy and love and support that surrounded us, remind me that, whenever I need them, I have a huge loving network of people ready to help. Our wedding taught me that it is okay for life to keep going after tragedy. It is okay to laugh and feel joy, to dance, to hug, to focus on insignificant details, and to worry over bigger ones. Adam’s memory will never be lost, but my life has to keep moving forward, and despite our sadness (or maybe because of it) it is so important for our community to celebrate the hell out of the good times whenever we get the chance.

The Info—Photographer: Megan Theile / Ceremony Venue: Old Cathedral of St Louis / Reception Venue: The Cedars Banquet Hall / Rings: Brent & Jess

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  • Class of 1980

    Wow. Amazing post. I hardly ever cry because of a post, but this was the exception.

    BTW, your dress looks like a celebration all by itself. ;)

  • Emilie

    Crying in a coffee shop. Can these posts please come with some sort of tear-jerker warning???

    Thank you for sharing your experience and these gorgeous photos.

    • fermi

      I totally almost cried at my desk also.

      • Catherine B

        I definitely just got caught crying at desk. Alas, not the first or last time.

        • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

          I was fine until the empty chair at the head table. LOST IT.

        • Also crying at my desk.

  • Life does go on- that was one of the hardest things for me to accept. Kudos to you for learning & living that lesson with such grace. Hugs to you &, of course, congratulations~

  • Another Meg

    Oh dear god I needed this. Beautiful post, great reminder of the larger purpose of weddings and what they can be. Just thank you!

  • Claire

    Oh wow. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. Your wedding pictures radiate joy and love, and I love the thumbprint in your wedding band – a great way to memorialize anyone. It sounds like your wedding day was as much about celebration as it was about memory. Congratulations on your marriage.

  • APW, your timing is perfect. The reminder that life goes on after loss, and how important it is to celebrate moments when you can is much appreciated.

  • The wedding looks beautiful Jesse. Thank you for sharing your story. Definitely something that needs to be remembered.

  • Sarah Liz

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I lost my little brother unexpectedly recently and found myself in the same position in the middle of planning my wedding for next month. Your descriptions of Adam actually sound a lot like my brother. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous wedding pictures and giving me some hope from “the other side”.

    • jessamarie

      Hi Sarah,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. I don’t know what sort of advice or help I could provide, but if you ever want to talk please don’t hesitate to get in touch. jesse dot gaffney at gmail dot com.

  • Kate

    I just started crying in Panera. This is so lovely and heartfelt. Your wedding looks beautiful. Thank you for this post!

  • In tears. Know that Adam is also thought of now, by all of us — and we’re all sending love and warmth to you and your family.

    My sister and her fiance are planning their wedding for this fall — and are dealing with very unexpected loss: Eric’s stepmother died very suddenly, with no warning, in early January . . . just two weeks after Christmas. Three weeks after they’d gotten engaged.

    In the immediate wake of her death, everyone asked questions — will the wedding go on? Should it go on? — but postponing never felt right. As you point out, everyone needs to celebrate joy and cut loose and be together now more than ever . . . especially after my grandmother very recently beat cancer, too. Life really, epically sucks sometimes, but we must try to swim in the happiness instead of the darkness.

    I know Heather will be with us in September. And we will celebrate her, too.

  • Samantha

    “. . . it is so important for our community to celebrate the hell out of the good times whenever we get the chance.” This is so true and so hard but necessary.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Prayers to you and yours, and warm wishes for your marriage.

  • Jashshea

    Oh girl. Wish I wasn’t responding on my phone. We lost my brother in law about six months before our wedding as well. I remember thinking it was horribly gauche that people at the wake wanted to talk about our wedding, but it helped my then fiancé and his parents to hear about something happy. Something happy in the future. Reminded them that the world wouldn’t always be so…bleak?

    I’m so glad you were able to write this post as I’ve tried and failed to put everything into words. Thank you.

  • Shout out from a fellow St. Louisan! Beautiful words, photos and sentiment. You’re right on.

  • Totally crying! I love my little brother, so this struck close to my heart. I couldn’t imagine my wedding day without him standing up there. This sounds like a beautiful, thoughtful, spiritual wedding. Best of luck to you both!

  • This is so well-written. I’m so sorry for your loss, and it is so evident from your tone and from these pictures that there was a very special kind of joy at your wedding. Thank you so much for sharing – and for reminding me of the things that really matter.

  • Senorita

    Most of my family has a chronic diease where idividuals usually die from sudden cardiac death, no warning. I spend so much of my life “pre-grieving” and constantly worrying if they will be there for the wedding, or if I can really afford to be putting off kids for my career.This post was a beautiful reminder that whatever happens, it’ll be okay. I don’t know if I’m ready to admit that the shower of love and joy that was your wedding is a possibility, but the chance for Okay is a huge step up.

  • I’m so sorry about your brother.

    Losing a loved one before a wedding is hard beyond words. There’s no one right way to do things. Some of the most beautiful weddings I’ve been to have been celebrations in the wake of a loss, but it’s not an easy decision.

    My father in law died this past May, just before either of his children got married. We handled it in different ways. My sister in law’s wedding was already planned and took place the week following his death, as planned. It was what he would have wanted, and it was the decision that felt best to the people involved. My husband and I had vaguely planned but not committed to a small wedding and we hemmed and hawed a lot. We wanted to throw the big wedding and give his family an event to celebrate at, and did a lot of research, but it didn’t feel authentic to either of us. In the end we followed his parent’s tradition and had a city hall elopement.

  • Oh chickie, I am so sorry your brother died. Ouch, just before your wedding. :(

    Having his fingerprint inside your ring? Fabulous idea! I thought from the teaser picture that it may be your husband’s print. Mega “awwwwww” when I read it was your brother’s. Blessings!

  • Liz

    I am so glad you wrote this wedding grad post. I’ve just finished weeping (who am i kidding, big ugly sobbing) over it, mostly because having been in a similar situation when we got married, I feel like I could just ‘exactly’ the whole thing. From the relatives who said that they couldn’t wait for the wedding to celebrate something good after my mother-in-law passed, to the absolute joy of the day that pushed out any sadness (but having the empty chair at the table and the small, quiet remembrances) your day looks and sounds a lot like mine. Our wedding dresses were even very similar!

    Anyway, just thanks. For making me feel not so alone, and for doing the heavy lifting of the post writing :)

    And yes, life does go on — two years later my husband and I are living in a foreign country and my sister-in-law and her new husband have bought a house. Am I still sad that my mother-in-law will never get to see these changes? Of course, but that doesn’t stop us from celebrating where and when we can.

  • Eep. Tears. I am so sorry for your loss, and this is so beautifully written. <3

  • Rachel

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest post. My younger brother passed away unexpectedly last month and we are in the midst of ironing out details for our wedding this May. While we know that many family and friends are excited and looking forward to our celebration, I have gotten tired of hearing “And this was supposed to be such a happy time for you.” I am trying very hard to make it still be a happy time. If anything, this is a reminder that we can’t control the cards that we are dealt.

    I just wanted to thank and congratulate you for sharing your story of so elegantly handling both the extremes of joy and sadness. Best wishes!

    • Jessamarie

      I am so so sorry to hear that others have had to feel the same pain. Please know that you are not alone, and please let yourself celebrate your own joy and love. The week of Adam’s funeral a very wise friend of the family pulled me aside and told me that many years ago she had also lost a relative a few months before her sister’s wedding. She watched her sister go through this pain. She told me that it was okay to feel whatever I was feeling, no one else was going to be experiencing such extreme happiness and grief at the same time and that whatever I was feeling was okay. I thought of her words so many times in the months between the funeral and the wedding and I think they made all the difference. She gave me permission to celebrate and to feel happy without feeling guilty. And, though it is totally not my place, I’d love to give you the same permission.

  • Christina

    Thank you. Just – thank you. I needed this post.

  • Late to this party (major reader backlog) but this was such a great post I wanted to pipe up.
    4 months before my wedding my great-grandmother passed away. Though it’s nothing like losing your brother so young, it was as unexpected as the death of a 95 year old woman could be- she was healthy and still had all her wits, she just passed in her sleep one night.
    After her funeral, my aunt said to me “I can’t wait for the wedding. We keep losing people and it’s about time we get someone new in the family.”
    She later apologized, saying it came out wrong, like she’d take anyone or something… but I had thought all along that it was really nice. It’s a shame when you only see your distant (geographically… and sometimes relationally) relatives at funerals, it’s good to have a happy event to celebrate together.

  • DavidJennifer

    What a Blog! I brought tears to my eyes and at the same time I understood well that though the pain of losing someone close is unbearable, yet one should flow with the time. The reasons to make others happy are less and we should not post pone them when we are in pain.