Rella & Avi

*Rella, Consultant & Avi, Web Strategist*

This week we’ve been talking, in a whole variety of ways, about The Breaking Point, that point that we sometimes hit where everything falls apart. And what we’ve really been exploring are the times when that moment of crisis deepens your relationship instead of rupturing it. As far as wedding stories go, there is no more poignant version of that story than having a wedding after losing a loved one. So I’m deeply honored to share Rella’s story here, in the hopes that it helps just one of you on your own journey.

A lot of people have written powerful APW posts about losing a parent before a wedding, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one about losing a sibling. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has gotten married without a beloved brother (or sister) standing with them, so I wanted to share my story.

On June 14, 2010, my younger brother took his own life. This was just the beginning of an unbelievably heartbreaking summer.

The only (and I really mean only) thing that got me (and to a large extent, my family) through this difficult time was my now-husband, then-boyfriend. We’d been dating for just under six months at that point, so the fact that our relationship made it through that summer unscathed was the first indication that he was a keeper. He was an anchor for me as I navigated the uncharted, rocky waters of the grieving process. I literally don’t know how I would have made it without him.

As I came to terms with my brother’s death, and the many thousands of lost moments we were supposed to have together, I slowly learned how to be happy again, and to not feel guilty about being happy. I think that’s one of the hardest things when you lose a loved one so suddenly. But my brother wouldn’t want me to be unhappy for the rest of my life—he’d want me to be happy. I’m dishonoring his memory by doing that.

I also realized that you never know what’s going to happen in life. You have to take charge and make the most of the time you have with the ones you love. And if we could make it through that horrific summer, we could make it through anything. So when Avi proposed to me shortly after our one-year anniversary, I was thrilled to say yes.

Planning a wedding while grieving at the same time was really hard, but in some ways it also gave the family something joyous to look forward to. And although my brother can never be replaced, my parents were thrilled to welcome a son-in-law into their family. My mom, who is an avid quilter, began a (what I think was very healing) nine-month long project to quilt a beautiful chuppah (ceremonial wedding canopy) for us.

We agonized a lot about the wedding day itself. Avi had also lost his father to suicide when he was very young, and his grandfather, with whom he was extremely close, had died of leukemia a few months before my brother. So we struggled with how to bring our lost loved ones into the wedding in a way that was quiet and respectful, and that didn’t detract from the joy of the day. Should we have the Rabbi say something during the ceremony? Should we include a short paragraph in the wedding pamphlet? Should we say nothing? Should we set aside chairs for them at the family tables at the reception (I know someone who did this, but it seemed very over-the-top for me)?

In the end, Avi and I did something incredibly meaningful to us and our families, and, we found out later, very moving for the wedding guests as well. There is a Jewish tradition to study a portion of Talmud (a central Jewish text) in memory of someone who has passed away, and so Avi and I did that together. Just before our traditional marriage ceremony, we celebrated completing our study with a small ceremony where we spoke about my brother and Avi’s dad and grandfather. And as I walked down the aisle to meet my soon-to-be husband, and as I stood with him under our chuppah, I felt my brother’s presence there with me.

It was still a hard day—I held my mom’s hand for a good part of the ceremony because we both felt like crying, and looking back at our posed family pictures, my dad isn’t smiling in a single one because he’s probably thinking about the person who’s missing from them. But there was also so much joy that day—once we got through the ceremony, my parents couldn’t stop grinning.

I’ve always been a Type-A person who likes to organize and control as much as possible, so losing my brother so suddenly really shattered my frame of reference. But there is a silver lining—I’m relearning to live life to the fullest, and I’m incredibly lucky that I found the love of my life to travel on this crazy journey with me.

The Info—Photography: Michael Temchine / Venue: Ohr Kodesh / Rella’s Dress and Sash: David’s Bridal / Rella’s Lace Jacket: Custom made by Jeannie Edfort /Rella’s Bouquet: Custom made by Designed by Stephanie

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