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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  • PA

    What a powerful post – I don’t really have words to respond, but wanted you to know how moving this was. I wish you and Avi the best!

  • Ash

    Congratulations on your marriage and the beautiful ceremony.

    And thank you for sharing your story. I had a good friend who took his life this summer and it is painful and difficult to understand and leaves one with so many questions. Grief is always difficult, but this time the loss feels especially unnecessary.

    I think it’s so important to talk about suicide and realize that this can happen to anyone. It’s important to have an open dialogue about it so people don’t feel so alone. It seems to be one of the last big taboos. So I’m very very glad you shared your story. I’m so sorry about your brother. xo

    • I agree, Ash. Somehow suicide and mental illness in general are very shameful things to discuss in our society. It’s like admitting a weakness or personal failure. But why is mental illness any more of a failure than physical illness? It’s not like people choose to be depressed or anxious, any more than they choose to get cancer or AIDS.

      And Rella: I am so sorry for your loss.

      My cousin lost her older brother to cancer a few years before she got married. They honored him at the ceremony when the officiant mentioned him in his speech. There were a lot of tissues at the ready that day!

      There is a book I really like, called “Mourning & Mitzvah,” about managing the grieving process in a Jewish context. I would recommend this book to anyone (no matter their religion) dealing with the loss of a loved one.

  • rys

    Such a beautiful and moving post. The first picture really speaks to the love and bond between Rella and Avi — there’s something about the combination of a couple wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl) and the look between them that is wonderfully emotive. Mazel tov on your marriage!

  • KB

    I second the mazel tov!! Thank you for sharing this – it’s great to read about the complex emotions that go into grieving and celebrating at the same time, that you can’t turn your feelings on and off like a switch – it’s more like a faucet with hot and cold water, running together and filling up a vessel at the same time.

    Also, totally superficial sidenote – I love your bouquet, so colorful!!

  • Karen

    This post is really amazing. Your bravery in moving forward, your love for one another and for the members of your family really shows through. Happiness and grief go hand in hand. Thank you for this example of love, even in the hard times. Life is good, always.

  • Catherine B

    What a lovely lovely post. Thank you for sharing your loss and your courage. Blessings to you and your husband and may you continue to find meaningful ways to honor your brother’s memory.

  • Such a beautiful post in both words and pictures. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  • Anon for a bit

    I should have known from the lead in that I’d end up crying at my desk. But I forged ahead regardless.

    Rella – My heart aches for you. Your tribute to your brother (and other loved ones) was truly lovely and touching – how very poignant.

    We lost my fiance’s brother this past April – natural causes, but at far too young an age. There will be a significant hole in our wedding ceremony (Our wedding parties were going to be our brothers only) and we’re struggling to figure out how to incorporate something meaningful, yet still light-handed in his memory. An empty chair is a very obvious acknowledgement of the gap and we don’t want to upset his tween and teenage children. I am not religious, nor is our ceremony, so a prayer seems empty to me. His brother was a military man, but was also a gentle, loving father and a gifted artist – I don’t want to honor one part of his personality and neglect the others (i.e. a military salute, etc). It’s…delicate.

    This post gave me a ton of other ideas to investigate and I very much appreciate that. Thank you for sharing (and, also, you guys are adorable).

  • Margaret M.

    Such a brave, beautiful post. I read and savored every word. I’ve watched suicide reverberate through generations, it is so incredibly painful. I think one of the best things we can do is live our lives as a tribute to those we have lost. It sounds like you are doing that.

    Congratulations and please accept my very best wishes for your marriage.

  • SarahToo

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank-you for sharing your journey: I find your example inspiring, as you work through (and with) your grief and manage to embrace life fully. Your post makes me think of a dear friend who recently shared with me that she was feeling borderline suicidal last year. She was on anti-depressants, and a new medication that her doctor recommended had the opposite effect and brought her to the edge of committing suicide. At the time I knew she was going through a difficult time, but I deeply regret that I didn’t know the full extent until now. She was afraid to open up to me (and her other friends) because in the past, the few times she summoned the courage to ask for help from family and friends she experienced rejection. When I think of all the people I know who are struggling silently with mental health issues, and wonder how many of them have come close to taking their own lives, it seems urgent that our society overcome the taboo around talking openly about mental health, and learn how to truly be there for each other in difficult times.

  • Weeping over here. There is so much love in this post, and so much joy in your pictures. I am so glad to hear you found a way through the maze of loss and it has lead you to live your life more intentionally. I’ve been dealing with a big loss from last year and it’s such a challenging balance (live! now! and also: cry, and why?). Thanks for sharing your experience. Wishing you such goodness together.

  • elizabeth

    thank you SO much for writing and sharing this.
    I’ve read every single wedding graduate post, but this is the first time I’ve every cried at one. I too have had too much personal experience with suicide, and reading your words hit home–in a beautiful, heart-breaking and healing way. thank you; I wish you the most happiness imaginable going forth.

  • What a beautiful way to honor a loved one. Your wedding is filled with so many beaming faces! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • 39bride

    Thank you so much for sharing this! The losses my fiance and I experienced are not nearly as fresh as yours (both our fathers), but being in this monumental transition or signpost in our lives has made the absences much more front-and-center than it used to be.

    As human beings we all want the people who have been an integral (and positive) part of our lives to continue to be that, and it’s so hard when they’re taken from us far too early. Something that has brought great comfort to both of us is to see in ourselves and each other how much our fathers shaped who we are today; we truly will carry a part of them with us throughout our lives, and that’s a beautiful thing. We’re putting a paragraph in our program about “thinking of those who have been an important part of our lives but are no longer with us, especially [father] & [father]” because they left “indelible marks.”

  • Thank you so very much for sharing your story. I lost my father to suicide a little over 4 years ago, so I can relate to what you’re going through with the pain, grief, and trauma of losing a loved one that way. Your story made me feel a little less alone, although I hate that we have this in common. I agree with some of the other comments about how we have such a stigma around suicide and mental illness, and telling your story is a great way to help end that stigma.

    • Ash

      I’m so sorry about your father Laura. You are definitely not alone. It is such a tough & complicated thing to deal with. Sending you loads of love. <3

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.

    This was a hard post for me to read because we recently lost my fiance’s father, who were both close with. It’s difficult finding a way to honour the people who mean so much to us when they can’t be there for such an important occasion. Thanks for sharing how you worked that in.

  • I had to wait until now to read this, I knew I wasn’t going to be able ot get through the day at work if I read it any time earlier.
    We lost my younger brother unexpectedly to complications from a surgery (and we are now learning because of medical mistakes). At the funeral and visitation and many times since I have had people tell me they are looking forward to my wedding in the fall, that my family is going to need the celebration. My mom has called me dozens of times asking to invite more people, and every time I question someone she tells me, “they were at the hospital with us” (where friends and family kept vigil for three terrible days), and so we add them, because as much as this wedding was never just mine and W’s, it belongs so much to the whole family now, and whatever my parents need to have there on the day of the wedding, they get.
    We’re only a few weeks away now, and things are starting to hit me pretty hard. I keep thinking back to something a family friend told me the day of the funeral.
    “No one else is experiencing what you are right now, none of the rest of your family is going to have this great joy and great sorrow at the same time the way you are. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel. Let yourself be happy at sad times and sad in happy moments. It’s all okay and all normal, and all right.”
    Rella and Avi, it is so comforting to see the joy on your family’s faces in these photos. It helps me look forward to celebrating together, and knowing that Adam is with us in spirit.

  • EM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so glad you were able to find a way to honor your loss that you felt comfortable with.

  • Melanie

    Thank you. My nephew recently passed away at the age of 3 months (mitochondrial disease, your cells don’t produce energy properly. In his case, growing was taxing his body) and I have been wondering how to best honour his memory in our ceremony.

  • rivkah

    This was so incredibly sweet and moving. Thank you for writing and sharing it.

  • Ana Maria

    A very beautiful and touching post. We lost my grandmother a few years back. On the day of the wedding we arrived at the site and the first thing my aunt said to me was that the flowers planted throughout the garden were my grandmother’s favorite. My sister had incorporated one into my bouquet and during the ceremony I looked done, saw that flower, felt the sun shining on my new husband and I and knew my grandmother was there with us.

  • Thank you so much for sharing— what a touching post. Congratulations. :)

  • Rella

    Thank you everyone for the kind remarks, I was a little hesitant to share my story but I hoped it could help others, and maybe reduce the stigma around suicide even just a bit. I’m so glad to know that my story is meaningful to so many. I knew the APW community was amazing and it’s so wonderful to experience it.