A Few Hours of Happy Amid the Sadness

One of the things that’s proven to be profoundly important about the APW community over the last four years—profoundly and rather unexpectedly important, given where we started—is the ability of this community to share wedding stories that are not being told elsewhere. For those of you planning a wedding while grappling with grief, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. And for the rest of us, it’s important to remind ourselves why a wedding matters in the first place and what a life together means. So today I’m honored to introduce Sara, telling a story that’s hard to tell.

After more than a year of planning, and with only a month to go before the big day, I had managed to remain pretty calm about the wedding planning process. We followed some sage APW advice early on and decided to spend our money and efforts on the things that matter most to us. We wanted a secular ceremony that was intimate and personal, so we decided to get married in our living room, surrounded by a small group of our closest family and friends, and we asked my brother to serve as our unofficial officiant (Note: if you live in PA or another state that provides self-uniting marriage licenses, this is totally doable! And legal!). We wanted to celebrate with a great party with amazing food and booze, so we hired a kick-ass caterer and bartender. We didn’t hire any other vendors (I made all of the flower arrangements with my best friend, photos were taken by family and friends with polariods and disposable cameras, and lots of other DIT action was going on behind the scenes). All of which is to say that by focusing on the important things, and minimizing (and in some cases, eliminating entirely) the less important things, I had been able to focus and enjoy the planning process with very little stress. I thought I had hit my Wedding Zen. And then, on February 24th, I had my first major wedding related meltdown.

On that fateful day, for no discernible reason, I suddenly freaked out and convinced myself that I had not ordered nearly enough food from the caterer. We needed to order enough to cover forty-three people, even though our final headcount was only thirty-three, and we needed to add a ham to the carved meat station. HAM! WE MUST HAVE HAM! AND ENOUGH FOOD TO FEED TEN ADDITIONAL, IMAGINARY GUESTS! HOW COULD I NOT HAVE REALIZED THIS SOONER! I spent a solid half hour that evening shouting such things at my partner, who I’m certain thought I had completely lost my damn mind, but instead he simply said “I think that if ordering more food will make you calm down, you should do it.”

And then, a few hours later, we found out that my brother is terminally ill. And suddenly, I didn’t give a f*ck about the ham anymore.

The news of my brother’s declining health was not entirely surprisingly. He was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, underwent grueling treatments and came through it, his cancer in remission. But a host of complications arose as a result of the cancer treatments he received, and now he is terminally ill. His doctors are considering alternative treatments options, all of which are quite scary and none of which provide a guarantee of long term survival. At this point, the doctors say he has about a year to live. Although my family was well aware of my brother’s serious health problems, none of us saw this coming, at least not yet.

I repeat: f*ck the ham.

As I write this, I have known for about three weeks that my brother is most likely going to die in the near future. I have sobbed and screamed and pounded my fists. I have wanted to set the world on fire. And at times, I have for a few moments forgotten about this horrible news and found myself caught up in moments of happiness and excitement about my wedding, only to catch myself and then feel like the most horrible and selfish person in the world for feeling happy and excited.

My wedding is five days away as I write this, and I don’t claim to have my thoughts straight at this point about what all of this means. I know that I am grieving, and I will continue to grieve, and then I will grieve some more. I know that feeling horrible and selfish when I find myself in happy moments is a normal part of that process, but it still feels rotten. I know that I am forever grateful for the time I have had with my brother and for whatever time we have left together, and that he will be by my side when T and I marry each other. I know that on my wedding day my brother will be very sick, and we’ll all look at him and think about the fact that this will likely be the last significant, joyful family event that he will be a part of. I know that the last three weeks have reinforced something I already knew—that I am incredibly lucky to have found a partner who can pick me up and put me back together when I fall apart, who will support me and my family through whatever we may face, and who tells me that I am beautiful even when I’ve been ugly crying for an hour and have snot all over my shirt. I know that I will be both happy and sad on my wedding day, and that the line between those feelings is not always clearly defined.

Last week, I was texting with my brother’s partner, a wonderful woman who has been by his side through this latest battle and has taken amazing care of him. She apologized that all of this was “ruining” my wedding month. And without really taking any time to think it through, I replied “No, no. Nothing is ruined. Obviously I wish that this just wasn’t happening at all, ever. But it is what it is. I don’t have any reason to believe that he won’t be with us that day, and as long as he is there, that’s a huge gift and I will be happy. And I hope that everyone else can find some happiness, even if it is short lived, in that day too. Because this sh*t sucks, and we all need a day—not to ignore it—but to just try to have a few hours of happiness amid the sadness.” After I hit “send,” I re-read the message and thought yes, that’s right—that is how I feel about all of this, even if I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it until just now.

A lot of folks on here have written beautiful posts about why weddings are important, and some of those perspectives have come from people who were also grappling with sickness and death. So what I have to say here isn’t all that new, I suppose. But I will join the chorus. My wedding was already very important to me; T and I are promising to be loving and equal partners as long as we both shall live, and we’ll do that surrounded by our community of family and friends who love us and support us. That’s an amazing thing, worthy of celebration. But our wedding will also be a reminder that life is fragile, that hard stuff happens, and that finding someone who wants to take on all of it with you—the happy times and sad times, and those times that are both—and who wants to bind their life to yours, is an enormous gift. And so my hope for my wedding day is to be fully present in it: to drink up the joy I will feel when T and I exchange our vows; to look at my brother and take a snapshot of that moment, with him by my side to support me as I enter my marriage, to keep in my heart always; to acknowledge that the happy and the sad are often intertwined; and to relish in and be comforted by the hours of happiness we will have amid the sadness.

Photo by: Shot by a friend at Sara’s wedding (which was last weekend)

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