Planning a Wedding After Losing a Parent

She is with me, through all of these moments

This Easter marked the one-year anniversary of the day my brother married his wife. You see, my brother and his wife didn’t have to fight the WIC, they didn’t have to send out invitations, they didn’t even have to announce the date. What I have come to consider an extremely fortunate and extremely unfortunate wedding took place in an impromptu, never could have imagined sort of way. They exchanged vows on April 20, 2013, next to the bedside of my mom, who was living her last days with lung cancer and brain cancer.

They stood at the foot of her bed and exchanged promises of love and forever. I couldn’t help but focus on my mom while our neighbor, who has been like a mother to both my brother and me, married them. She had a single tear stream down her cheek as they said, “I do,” and my brother kissed his bride. For the next day, she told everyone that came to visit her or called her: “Did you hear what happened? Chris got married in my hospital room.” The pride, joy, and love dripping from these words will forever be etched in my memory and epitomizes who my mom was as a person, but more importantly as a mom.

Four days later, my mom passed away. Though she had been battling late-stage cancer for a year, we never could prepare for that day. For that grief. For that loss. I quickly had to learn and adapt to living without my mom, my best friend, my biggest fan. After speaking to her every day, multiple times a day, I had to figure out what to do with those moments when all I wanted to do was call her. As those who have lost anyone close to them know, it’s a roller coaster. The grief ebbs and flows, and how you cope with it fluctuates. Long cries. Swapping of memories. Staring at photographs for hours. Tequila. Isolation. Laughter. This is what the past twelve months have been like.

Fast-forward eight months to December 23, 2013. On this day, my best friend and love of my life proposed to me. After a romantic proposal, which included strangers photographing and videoing and a random guy buying us chocolate cake, we headed to a local restaurant where Kyle surprised me with his parents, brother, sister-in-law, my brother, my dad, and my best friend. Among all the joy, excitement, and “over-the-moon” feelings I was experiencing, the striking pain and realization that my mom wasn’t there—that she would never be there for any of this wedding, marriage, and forever stuff—sunk in.

Should I have asked Kyle to exchange vows next to my mom’s bedside too? I mean, we knew then we’d be getting married. We had looked at rings two months earlier. I texted my mom after Kyle had surprised me around our five-year anniversary. She was so excited she told my dad and Kyle’s mom (whom Kyle hadn’t told he was surprising me with looking at engagement rings). That was totally my mom. Too excited to keep a secret. Always wanting to share my big moments and joys with others.

Though I often think about the “what if,” I have come to accept that I cannot dwell on it. Not because it’s unhealthy, a waste of time, etc. But because she absolutely would not want me to. I was fortunate enough to know I was going to marry Kyle long before my mom even became sick. I would stay up with her when I came home to New Hampshire to visit from Chicago and talk about our future wedding. One day I told her I wasn’t getting married in a church, and she immediately got defensive. Then I said, “C’mon mom, when was the last time we went to church?” and then we just laughed about all the times she “dragged” us to church when we were younger.

Kyle and I have a year and five months until our wedding day. We have so much time. But every conversation, every idea, every bit of wedding planning I’ve done thus far and will continue to do has caused me to think about and painfully miss my mom. I’m also at an age where everyone is getting married. All of my girlfriends are always talking about doing this with Mom, doing that with Mom, etc. Some days I just want to scream “GOOD FOR YOU!” in a passive aggressive tone. But most days, I know that’s not fair.

My mom won’t help me pick out the dress. She won’t be there to help decide on flowers. She won’t be there to stay up until two a.m. writing envelopes for our Save the Dates. She won’t see me walk down the aisle. But she did give me her blessings so long ago when I naturally started talking about marrying Kyle. She did help me wedding plan even before we were officially getting married. And she is with me through all of these moments.

Everything I do, everything I am, I owe to her. She taught me how to love and on September 5th, 2015, I will exchange promises of forever with the love of my life with my mom watching down.

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  • ash

    I have a half written post about this I keep meaning to send in. I got married last year almost 9 years exactly since my mum died.

    I missed her desperately through the planning, but on the day her absence didn’t over shadow our wedding day but we all felt she was there with us.

  • nikkiandringo

    Thank you for this. This is just what I needed today. I’m getting married in two days (your date will be my one year anniversary!) – and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed my mom in the process. She passed away when I was 17 and I’ve never truly recovered from it, but I have coped. You are seriously not alone in this feeling.
    If it means anything at all – my experience has been humbling to say the least. You’ll be so surprised how much your friends, the grooms family, and the rest of your family come together to support you. I have an aunt who is basically my personal fairy god mother. My new MIL has bent over backwards to get me excited for the shopping and the cooking and the parties (and that was not an easy task). My friends have told me repeatedly how much they love me and how proud my mom would be. All of these things really do help.
    Something I’m also doing to keep her memory present in the room – instead of favors we donated money in each persons name to the American Cancer Society in her memory. I also added a really lovely memory locket with her picture to my bouquet. It’s small, but significant ways to give her credit for the wonderful woman she raised.
    Best wishes on your wedding, and thank you again (timing here could not have been better).

  • jashshea

    Oh Darci, how raw and beautiful this post is.

    Take the time you need to grieve that your mother won’t go through this process with you. If you can, let your friends know how you’re feeling about the absence so they can be there (physically and with tequilla, if needed). Much love to you.

  • anonforthis

    Wow, this was beautiful and I was so not prepared to read it this morning. My dad died last year and one of my siblings is now engaged. Amidst all the very happy emotions over the engagement, I was both very sad that my dad would not be at this upcoming wedding and very very jealous that my dad knew the spouses (or spouses-to-be) of my siblings. In contrast, I’m still the single one, and I hate the fact that if I do meet the right guy and get married, it’ll be someone that my dad never knew and who never knew my dad. The excruciating pain that sits alongside joy after a loved parent dies too young is one of the hardest things to convey to people. Thank you for this piece.

  • Jenna

    If you knew you’d be getting married to the point of having looked at rings, I bet she knew it too.

  • Stacey Fraser

    Darci is a dear friend and I’m so proud of this lovely, well-written piece. Can’t wait to be with you and Kyle next year, sweetie. If you remember, I mentioned in my wedding toast that losing my grandparents was very difficult but that I knew that their love transcended time and space and therefore they were there at my and Justin’s wedding. I have absolutely no doubt it will be the same with your mom.

    • Love you Stace <3 Thank you!

  • Lauren from NH

    For me it’s the moments when I want to call him. The traditions I could take or leave. No what I miss most and love most are my memories of his grin and wink, like we were always on a secret mission together, his outrageous enthusiastic congratulations for all the little hurdles I overcame, his elaborate stories, talking with his hands, that I didn’t get to know him as an adult, and the certainty that he would have been buddies with my almost fiance. Saying goodbye to a parent, whose hand is so apparent in shaping the life you now lead, it’s tough. I see the ghost of the future that might have been if my dad had not passed so clearly side by side with the life I have built without him and it is beautiful and painful and joyful all at once.

    Love from another New Hampshire native.

  • Ana Aguilar

    My heart goes out to you. I soooo do not cry reading blogs, but this!!! Your words illustrate so well the holes our loved ones leave in our day to day lives. I am sure your mom will surround your wedding day with love.

  • Sarah

    Ohhhh, how this post speaks to me. My dad died last year, about 4 months before we got engaged. The day my fiance proposed, we spent about an hour elated and smiling and looking at my left hand. Then we went to lunch after and I just broke down in tears. I felt awful for dampening a happy time, but it was like this obvious, gaping hole hovering over me of who I wouldn’t be calling to share our news. It was all I could think about, which I was kind of embarrassed to admit.

    We’re three months out, and I still can’t think of how I’m getting down the aisle. I’m not even traditional, but just the fact that my dad *can’t* walk me down the aisle is like this sad cloud, where anyone else seems like a fill in. I like the idea of my fiance and I walking together–representing our future–but still haven’t decided.

    Your post was lovely Darci, and she’d be so proud. Thank you (and other commenters!) for reminding me we’re human and certainly not alone in feelings like this.

    • Sarah, I felt a bit the same. My dad passed very suddenly in June of 2013, while the then-boyfriend and I were in Ireland visiting his relatives (who were already nudging us about coming to the States for the wedding, though no proposal had yet happened). Being more traditional, my very first thoughts upon receiving the news, and later being able to think coherently, were that he won’t walk me down the aisle, dance at my wedding, or meet our kids.
      Then we were engaged in February 2014, and during those first excited phone calls, I decided that my mom would walk me down the aisle, but that I’d also ask my brother to walk on my other side. They do seem a bit like stand-ins, but they feel like the right stand-ins.
      The wedding date’s March 21 next year. I’ve got a blue shirt of my dad’s that I’ll cut a heart out of and sew into the lining of my gown. And we’ll think of something special involving our whole family, grandkids, and my aunts and uncles in lieu of the father-daughter dance.
      It almost seems like a great opportunity to rethink traditions while honoring the most special person who can’t be there.
      It’s different for everyone, and I’m so glad to be able to talk about it without feeling any “oughts” in there. I love APW for this reason!

  • anon

    hugs hugs hugs thank you for sharing

  • Ann

    When I was about 10 or so, my maternal grandmother, whom I was very close to, told me that she just wanted to live long enough to see me get married. At the time, her declaration made me uncomfortable–my deeply feminist grandmother wants to see me get married?! Why is getting married such an achievement? I was, after all, a third generation staunch feminist at the tender age 10, and I didn’t understand why she would place such value on marriage.

    She died when I was 13. I dealt with the grief reasonably well. When I was 18, I met my husband. As I fell in love with him, I saw all of the interests and traits he has in common with my grandmother. I could picture them laughing over jokes about bad mystery novels. I could see them playing bridge together. And I cried picturing a wedding without her there. I cried because finally understood what it meant to have lost her–there would be so much of my life that she would have loved to shared with me and I would have loved to share with her. She wanted to live to see me get married so that she would know the partner I had chosen in life. She wanted to know the person who could make me so happy. I understand what she meant.

  • Eh

    When I was 18 my mom passed away. At that time I hadn’t met my wonderful husband; I wouldn’t for another nine years (and lots of life experiences later). The last few years have been really hard for my family (but mostly in the sense that good things happened which reminded us of her absence). My brother got married and now has two kids. Then I got married last year and my sister got married this year. Now my husband and I are trying to get pregnant. Growing up, these were all events we expected our mom to see. I know I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it wasn’t for my mom (and, sadly her passing). I think about my mom all the time.

    I remember when she was dying and I wanted to speed up my life. We expected that she would live two years after her cancer diagnosis; however she only lived about four months. I hadn’t even finished high school yet and I was thinking of marrying my high school boyfriend and getting pregnant so my mom could be there. It is silly to think back but it was really important to me at the time.

  • Wandering Brunette

    My mother passed away of Lung Cancer less than a year after I started dating my now fiancee. She never got to meet him as I was living thousands of miles away (and still am). I have a loving and supportive father, but I still wonder how I will get through my wedding day without her. The planning is difficult because I want to ask her questions, her opinion and have her help. So I’ve piled everything on myself. Its hard. And I cry, too. But she will be there on my wedding day, just over my shoulder, like she is every day.

  • tarageisler

    I must say, this post was incredibly moving. For the first time since being engaged, I feel like I am not alone.
    My mom passed 5 years ago, very unexpectedly, and never met my fiance…only met the ones who came before him. I practically ruined my engagement (In Italy…no less) for my fiance due to my tears and 3-4 days of sadness that followed that came out as anger, disappointment, sadness, fear…all sorts of emotions – before ultimately realizing that the ONE person I wanted to call to tell I was engaged, I couldn’t…and that THAT was the source of my emotion.
    Then for the next 5(ish) months after, I went into a deep sadness, probably the worst since she actually had passed, that I could not explain. Every time I thought about my wedding or went to go make a plan or write a check, I’d cry…or get sick to my stomach. I went and saw my grief therapist (I RECOMMEND THIS!!!), tried talking to friends about it…to no avail. Slowly, I am coming out of it…or perhaps, it’s morphing. Along with my sadness of not having her here to plan, I have a (relatively irrational) fear of not enjoying my wedding day because of how sad I will be that she’s not there. Ultimately, that fear is melting away. I am a believer in Jesus and I believe that He wants joy in my life, always – but especially on my wedding day. So I have come to accept the fact that while I will weep many tears of sadness for my mom’s absence on my wedding day, I know ultimately, I will feel joy.
    Thank you for your honesty. I am going to set a reminder in my phone for next September to say a prayer for you. You won’t need it – God already has a plan for the joy you will feel on that day…but I will pray and think of you and your husband and for your heart to be open to the joy and peace He has for you. Still, no prayers will stop runny mascara….wear lots of waterproof makeup. I will be wed exactly 4 weeks before you – on the 4th of July.

  • Desiree

    All of this! My heart is with you. My mom passed away just over a year ago and planning our wedding for this July is so difficult. We have been together 10 years and also knew that we would be getting married so I do sometimes feel that pinch of regret and anger that we didn’t make the move while she was still with us. Above everything, I just try and remember what she said to me the first day she met my fiance 10 years ago and that was, “You’d better marry this guy”. So I will and she will be with me that day and so will yours. xo

  • Joey Jo jo

    Natural to grieve a death, but being in a state of grief and resentment in every detail the whole time you are planning your wedding? Sounds like “First World Problems”. Do you get to marry the love of your life? Yes. Do you get a dream wedding? Yes. Do you have supportive living friends and family? Yes. Do you have a decent career that provides every physical comfort? Yes. Oh, but your mother isn’t here? Then screw you, life, my joy is forever spoiled.