Q: Dear APW,
I got engaged this past spring, and and my fiancx and I are planning a wedding for this coming spring. When we started planning, we knew that his dad was in poor health, but it’s now looking like his dad is probably not going to make it till the wedding.
Obviously, this on its own is incredibly sad and already a lot to deal with, but it’s making planning the wedding feel all the more difficult (and frivolous, honestly). And then there are the logistical questions—do we still send his parents a save-the-date addressed to both of them? If we do a small courthouse ceremony before our wedding so his dad can be there, do we tell our guests about it? How can I still move forward with planning our original wedding (which my fiancx and I have decided we still want to have) in a way that is sensitive to his family?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated—thank you!
A: Dear Rachel,
I’m so sorry. This is one of those super heavy, hard things that feels like it complicates absolutely everything. But you are one step outside of the circle of grief (comfort in, dump out) so your next step is pretty simple: ask your partner what he wants. Ask his mom and dad what they want. If those wants are the same, great. If not, your fiancx may need to have the final word. This wedding is both of yours, but this sorrow is his, and you need to roll with his needs. But come back to this question: what really, really matters to you both here? This wedding can be a bright spot of togetherness during an otherwise difficult time.
I understand what you mean about a wedding feeling frivolous in light of some serious heartache. But the wedding isn’t frivolous. It’s about the future, and about hope, and that’s important especially in the darkest of times. Plus, a wedding involves very real logistics, which require thought and planning. It’s okay to think about them.
Regarding the details you mention, let your fiancx hand them a Save The Date, which doesn’t have to be addressed, if that issue is too painful. Tell your friends about the courthouse if you’d like; even the most stringently opposed to “two weddings” will allow for an exception in these circumstances. And with all the rest, just be ready to be flexible. Your partner may anticipate feeling one way, and then be surprised by what he wants. Your mother-in-law might have her heart set on something, and then realize it’s unexpectedly painful for her.
I asked Meg, who lost her dad just last year—and her father-in-law three years before that—for her thoughts, and she said this:
The best advice I can give you is to try to listen to your partner as much as possible. This can be tricky because some people want to talk about their grief, and some people don’t. When my father-in-law died, all I could get out of my husband was that he was, “Really really sad.” Beyond that, he didn’t have much to say about it. (Which isn’t to say it didn’t come out in other ways, like flashes-of-out-of-the-blue anger). The other problem with grief is that it’s unpredictable. And the first time you lose a parent, you have no idea what’s in store for you. You don’t know how you’re going to feel in a given minute, let alone months from now, after a death you haven’t experienced yet.
Follow your partner’s lead. The best you can do is provide support and care for him, so he can be there for his family. Let him decide if (and how) he wants to give a Save The Date to his parents. Let him decide if he wants to have a courthouse service while his dad can still be there. Realize things might shift moment by moment, and day by day.
But remember: you should not feel guilty having a wedding. Not ever, but particularly not now. The quote we read at our ten year anniversary party, after three huge deaths in our lives, was this: “There are days we live / as if death were nowhere / in the background; from joy / to joy to joy, from wing to wing, / from blossom to blossom to / impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.” —Li-Young Lee
There are few times we need the hope of wedding as much as when we come face to face with death.
Focus on creating a wedding that’s about togetherness, about light in darkness, and prepare yourself to flex the details to fit.