How Do I Plan a Wedding after My Mom’s Cancer Diagnosis?

My fiancé says we should do what we want

woman with coffee and "guts over fear" tattoo

Q:Two big life events just transpired, I got engaged (wohoo) and my mom got diagnosed with terminal cancer (not wohoo). My mom was diagnosed a few months before the engagement and while the outlook isn’t great long term, she’s undergoing treatment in hopes that there are a few good years left. My fiancé and I have long wanted to do a destination wedding (across the country) in the summer/fall. Because of the timing of the engagement, this means we’ll likely get married more than a year from now (about sixteen months). With the news of my mom’s diagnosis, I’m struggling to reconcile what I want with the reality of the situation.

There is no way to know if my mother will be healthy enough to travel, if she’ll be gravely ill, or if she will have passed before our wedding. My fiancé really feels that we need to do what we want and what is right for us, that we can’t plan around things we cannot control. We’ve discussed doing a small city hall ceremony if my mother’s health takes a turn, but I’m still wondering if this destination wedding more than a year away is the right thing to do. Some family members have mentioned that we may want to plan the wedding sooner and closer, but that is not the wedding we want. Nor do I feel ready to get married in in that time frame.

That said, I’m stressed and feel guilty planning a wedding when there are so many scary unknowns. What if my mom dies the week of the wedding? What if she becomes seriously ill right before the wedding and my sisters and other close family don’t want to leave her side (which I understand)? How do I plan such a happy event while trying to process my mother’s illness?


A: Dear Anonymous,

I’m so sorry. There’s not a good time to receive this news, but it certainly feels like you’re hearing it at one of the worst times possible.

Tune out your partner for a minute. I’m sure they’re trying to be helpful, but the ~follow your heart~ sentiment feels a bit tone-deaf. It’s probably hard to hear in the middle of so many complicated feelings.

If it helps (I know it doesn’t), everybody, on some level, has to resolve the tension between “the wedding we want” and reality. What you’re facing is albeit more urgent, and definitely more painful, but you’re not alone. Don’t ask yourself, “What is our dream wedding?” but instead, “What is the very best wedding we can pull together with all of these difficult factors looming?” It’s a hard, disappointing question, but easier to answer than trying to force an impractical ideal. Sure, your dream wedding Pinterest board might look one way, but if it doesn’t fit your mom in and you know you want to, it’s probably time to adjust. And as you do, it might help to read from ladies who experienced great loss during their wedding planning. Particularly this one, this, this, and this one who is in almost your exact situation.

Just based on what you wrote, it sounds to me like a sooner, closer wedding is in the cards. It’s not what you wanted, I know. And while coping with news of your mom’s cancer, it can be hard to imagine mustering up some wedding planning excitement any time soon. But it also could be a great distraction and a good chance for some bonding with your mom. All things to consider. But, it’s also okay to decide that it’s right for you (for you, not just your fiancé) to wait and get married later, and instead spend this time with your mom in a different way.

No matter what you decide, give yourself a little space to grieve the wedding that you wanted. The one with your mom, and no cancer, and all the little details you had planned. That’s tough. It can feel a little weird or selfish to be sad about your wedding right now (it’s not), so make sure you grant yourself that room. And then, eventually, get back to planning next year’s trip. Maybe you won’t be getting married then, like you planned, but it doesn’t mean you can’t travel. I’m sending my very best wishes that your mom will be able to go with you just the same, that all of this planning and hurrying will be for nothing.


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