Planning A Wedding When A Loved One Is Dying

You won't have to wear a black wedding dress

When a loved one gets a life-threatening diagnosis while you’re thinking of getting married, there are a lot of options on the table. The only thing that is for sure is that you’re going to have to make some kind of decision. Our decision was in the works for the four years my mother-in-law, Abby, was rounding the corner in her fight with stage IV colon cancer.

What we did might not be best for you and yours. You might decide to not get married at all. You might decide to wait and get married later, when you’re not mixing a wedding and a funeral. But I do want to assure you that if you decide to pull the trigger, you’ll be infinitely happy you did. It will still be your wedding day. You will not walk down the aisle or say your vows with a heavy heart. You will not be in mourning or unable to feel the love and joy surrounding your union. You won’t have to wear a black wedding dress. Your wedding day will be even more intoxicatingly joyful than you could have ever imagined.

For us, that joy helped usher us through the most difficult time in our relationship. Two weeks after we planned our wedding, we were planning a funeral. We got our wedding photos the day after my mother-in-law passed away. We barely made it through the first few clicks and the tears started coming. But as we sat there and flipped through the gallery for the first time, overwhelmed with equal parts sadness and the happiness of reliving our day through these photos, I felt truly connected, not only with my husband, but also with Abby.

A lot of issues that cropped up when we were deciding whether or not to plan a wedding in seventeen days, knowing my mother-in-law was dying. Those issues included, but were not limited to: It’s not my mother who is ill, how much of a say do I really have in this? Is it okay to essentially get married for someone else? How will said person feel about us getting married so soon? Is this just one more stressful thing she will have to deal with? Will this still be a celebration about us and our future? What will we regret more: hauling ass to move the date up, or getting cold feet and not having her there at all?

Last November, we decided to tackle these issues head on.  What resulted was a seemingly endless conversation that left us both in tears, lying in bed mulling over the only thing we could agree on: we had no idea what to do.

It was a gentle shove from my sister that set everything into motion. I was very nervous about talking to my parents—not that I thought they would be unsupportive, but it’s not exactly what we had all pictured for my wedding. My sister led the entire conversation; she could tell I was struggling with a way to approach my parents. She was able to get everyone on the same page in a very diplomatic way.  I am so thankful she was about to do that for me because it instantly eliminated a lot of stress on my part.

And once we reached the other side of the fence, we hit the ground running. Flights were arranged, hotels booked and the planning began. And this might sounds crazy, but the planning was one of the highlights of this whole journey. We had all the support we needed to take this step and I realized having a little more faith in people is never a bad thing. This event wasn’t a burden on our friends and family. Everyone involved kept the focus on us and the excitement of what we were doing, and they left no opportunity for us to latch onto anything but the joy we found in our day.

When I look back on the decisions we made to get us where we are, those details are quickly disappearing from my memory, and thank God for that. They have nothing to do with the best and most memorable part of this story. The part that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, the part that is memorialized through the pictures of our wedding day, and the conversations we continue to have with our wedding guests about the day.

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We finally got married. Our families and friends were there to witness it. This is how it was meant to be. Fire the confetti canons and let’s party.

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