Valeria & Stuart, Part 1

Today’s post is about a million wise things at once: it’s about weddings and loss, it’s about making your own wedding dress, it’s about an international wedding, and a destination wedding. The post comes in two parts, because the story is so rich, so here we go….

Marriage wasn’t in my mind. In fact I kind of had given up on meeting somebody.

You know what comes after that sentence, right? The typical, “two people meet, date for a while, get married in a castle, she wears a beautiful big gown that fairies made and they live happily ever after.”

Not quite. It is more something like, “girl meets boy while working in a bar, thanks to his mum who is a customer and his brother who works with the girl. Boy is English and lives in England. Boy travels for two solid years every 6 weeks to visit the girl, both saving every penny to afford the tickets. The day comes when they both think it’s not great to carry on like that. So, girl moves to England. They both know they want to commit seriously, get married, buy a house and a dog,  have babies, the lot.”

So. What’s next?

After realizing flying any of our families to the other side of the world for the wedding was both impractical and expensive, we settled for the middle (almost literally) and decided to get married in Mexico. We started looking into hotels, prices, etc. and found a resort that we could afford and set a rough date. My partner proposed formally inside the Winchester Cathedral, a beautiful building with lots of meaning for us. I was not bothered about an engagement ring, but was happy when I get a one. So far so good. Until 3 months later, when my mum calls me with the news that you dread the most when you live so far away from your close family: doctors had discovered a brain tumor in my dad. And the world seemed to collapse in front of my eyes.

My dad had surgery. It turns out that it’s not just a tumor, but a metastasis from his lungs. Cancer. The bloody big C. He has chemotherapy for the first time.

We braved it as the loving close family we have always been. We lived on the phone. My sister (who by that point had lived in Spain for years with her husband) and I make lots of effort to travel and visit him. Meanwhile the wedding becomes the elephant in the room that nobody dares talk about. Some friends ask when we will book, we don’t know what to say. We make plans, but to me everything seems so distant and impossible that I almost don’t believe it.

Suddenly a ray of light emerges from the clouds. My dad gets better for a few months and we are back on track. Then again, another tumor appears. More chemotherapy, but the doctors are still hopeful and we battle it together again. My dad feels so good that they even go to Spain for a month to see their first grandchild be born. We feel confident, my mum especially has such great faith, that we think life will get better and we go ahead and book the wedding. Thinking the trip will be more than the holiday-plus-wedding-combo we originally thought, and it will turn into the celebration of my dad’s recovery as well. We are six months away from the departure date.

I decide I will, after all, make my wedding dress. (I am a former fashion designer and used to make prom dresses for a living. I also made my sister’s wedding dress, to my dad’s pride, in 2006.) Just after the new year I start on my dress, very aware of the little time I have to finish it, but content with the fact I didn’t start early in order to focus my energy on a promotion I got at work. I decide not the tell anybody except my close family and partner that I will be making the dress for fear some people will judge me for choosing a career changing opportunity (you know that thing you do in order to get money and that you have to do for most of your adult life) over my dress (you know, that rather overrated piece of clothing that could cost you more than your entire wardrobe or a small car like Meg once, and that you will only wear for a few hours).

Things take an ugly turn and my dad’s body has enough of chemicals. His kidneys fail.

At that moment my other sister (I have 2) is doing a scholarship in France, so all three of us are away from my parents. Hard, very hard. I feel guilty for having booked the wedding. In the space of a weekend he goes into the hospital. The one sister in France cuts the scholarship short, at the risk of spoiling her career future, and we both travel to see him. The other sister stays in Spain since the baby is so tiny he doesn’t have a passport yet.

What follows is not pretty. My dad gets worse by the minute, although he is very aware we are there with him, and passes away a few days after. That’s on February 9th. Our departure date is 27 of March.

My partner and I think about canceling and decide not to. First, because most of the people traveling with us have paid for their own trip and they won’t recover the full money. Second, and most importantly, because my dad was the least selfish person I will ever meet and nobody thinks he would want us to stop living our lives. And, to be honest, we all could have used a break from so much sadness(my mum especially).

I went back to England and I submerged myself into sewing. We live in a tiny flat, so daily we kind of step on each other’s space. Imagine trying to manipulate a large piece of white fabric without soiling it, doing the fitting myself and all that without my partner seeing the dress (oh yes that’s the only bit of tradition that stuck).

It was a sad time but I felt grateful my hands were so busy that the sadness seemed more bearable. And I sewed nonstop. I sewed while remembering how happy my sister was with her wedding dress and my dad’s face when he saw it for the first time (we had kept it from him only and he has never been so anxious). And how proud he was when all the family (full of heavy weight designers and seamstresses) admired the work. I sewed while knowing I was building more than a dress I would wear only once, but a statement of our relationship (imperfect but our very own and so unique), a testimony for the future, possibly a dress that one of my kids would play with one day (we did that with my mum’s).

I sew until a day before leaving for Mexico, much to my partner’s anxiety. Although he reassured me that he was proud of me for doing things like that, I am sure he thought more than once that I was going to end up doing a quick trip to the mall to buy “anything white” or  marry him in my underwear or something like that.

The trip and the wedding were beyond perfect. You see, when you go through all the sh*t in your life you tend to think nothing good will ever come. Or worse – that you don’t deserve it.

We stayed for two weeks in a magnificent place where both families(16 people in total, including us) had a great time and they all got along so well despite the language barrier. It was so much fun to see my mum with very little English knowledge and my mum in law with almost no Spanish skills trying to talk and somewhat succeeding. And everybody was relaxed and happy.


Photos by: Arrecife Studios

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  • This is one of those posts which totally made me cry. I too sew when I am in stressful times (hence the two quilts I just made during the week before my wedding, when there really was no time to sew), so I 100% loved to read and understood what you were saying about how your busy hands saved your mind, in a way. Your dress was gorgeous!! What a strong, loving family you have. I can’t wait to read the rest…

  • Jo

    oh, sweetheart. I can’t wait for part 2 of this, I’m bawling. When I got to the part about you sewing your heart, your father’s heart, your memories into your dress to wear with you I totally lost it.

    Big hugs.

  • I think we need a tearjerker rating system for these wedding grad posts. On a scale of one to five, I’m putting this one at 5. Aka, read at home so others don’t wonder why you’re sniffling and wiping tears away at your desk at 8am.


      I’ve never been so grateful for a cold in my entire life. I already had a tissue in my hand, and none of the coworkers noticed the extra sniffles.

    • liz

      yes, please.

  • It must be incredibly hard to continue planniung after such a tremendous loss. I can imagine how the dress making helped you deal – you describe it so vividly.

    I look forward to part II of your story – the coming together of family after the loss earlier must have been a very powerful event.

    On another note: I love the look of that dress!

  • I’m already so stunned by the emotion in Valeria’s story and we’re only in Part I. What an emotional journey for Valeria, Stuart, and their families. Looking forward to reading the rest.

    Also, from the pictures here, Valeria’s dress looks absolutely magical. Even cooler that it was created by the bride herself!

  • *Sniff*
    It seems the wedding grad stories I read most thoroughly are the ones with sadness mixed in, so I can send as many good thoughts and wishes to the grads and their families as I go.
    Valeria & Stuart, I’m so glad your wedding was lovely beyond your expectations, because if anyone deserved it, you did.

    • It’s kind of creepy. I’m like, “Someone died? Open in new tab.”

      That said, Valeria, I loved this post and look forward to part 2.

  • Edelweiss

    You just made me stop, pick up the phone, and call my foster mom. Thank you.

    Also, can I just applaud you for the grace it seems you demonstrated in the midst of a whirlwind? Moved to a new country, managed to succesfully gain a career promtion within a short period of time, dealt with serious family illness, prioritized being a support for your family a priority over your wedding, maintained your succesful career promotion and blossoming baby family during this drama, found a healthy outlet to focus your sadness and meditations into – and turned it into an AMAZING dress.

    You seem to be quite the incredible lady.

  • faith

    I love when you say your dress is your statement about your relationship, imperfect, but yours and so unique. It’s what was important to you, and that was your focus. A beautiful dress and more beautiful statement.

  • The dress is beautiful, as is your story. Thank you for sharing.

  • I totally understand how the process of making the dress helped you deal with your grief. I am the same way. When I can make something with my hands, the process of the creativity and busy work both help calm my nerves and allow my mind to work through the emotional state I’m in.

  • marbella

    Wow. Looking at the first picture, I immediately thought ‘what an amazing dress’, which isn’t usually what I dwell on.
    Your dress looks so beautiful, I think that all the love and emotion you sewed into it really shines through. I am sure your father would have been so proud of you for being so strong, and using your wedding to help your family start to recover. Thank you for sharing.

  • What a wonderful post! And Meg, you are so mean making us wait to read the second half!!! Now I’ll cry twice….

  • ka

    “You see, when you go through all the sh*t in your life you tend to think nothing good will ever come. Or worse – that you don’t deserve it.”

    Amen! But it will, and we all do deserve it. What an inspiring story (and lady)—thank you so much for sharing!

  • april

    Heartbreaking and raw… and yet beautiful and rich with meaning (and photos!), hopeful and uplifting in that “life continues” way. Sobbing at my desk right now, but I cannot wait for part II!

  • Jimena

    I am the sister that lives in Spain with my husband and Valentino ( Bambino !)

    Our story is for writing a book, all those who I tell it can not believe it, but that is life I am sure that everyone have a story to share. We are a close-knit family that not even distance could separate. My parents love so much each other and we had such a happy childhood and youth I thank god for that and for all the moments and memories from my dad that are so alive in me.
    We are still physically separated, my Mum and younger sis in Argentina, we are in Spain and Val & Stu in England but each day we are closer and always on the phone and internet.
    Ah Valeria´s dress was so beatiful! and also my wedding dress that she made for me was incredible ! I pray that one day she would have the opportunity of making this special dresses for a living.
    I love to read this post from my beloved Val and all thank you all for the comments.
    Val: you could not have better described it. I adoro you sister! I cried so hard remembering all.

  • I’m going to admit that I rarely cry at wedding posts, even after Meg warns us at the beginning that the story she’s about to share is a tear-jerker, but this one is making me weep.

  • I so admire your strength. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kelsi

    Valeria – my heart goes out to you. I lost my best friend to a recurrent brain tumor while we were also planning our wedding this past fall, and would have done anything to have had her stand up next to me when I got married last weekend.
    You are brave, and your family is brave. I’m glad you decided to go through with your celebration in the face of your loss.