Morgan on Weddings In The Face of Death

I’m sure you all remember (because how could you possibly forget), Morgan, who wrote me in January to get Team Practical advice about wedding planning in the face of serious illness. Her dad was dying, and she was getting married, and you guys rushed into the void with support, and wisdom, and just the hand holding of having been there. I was blown away. Morgan emailed me the day after that post went up and said she’d locked herself in her office and cried after reading all your responses, and then read more and cried before dinner, and then read more and cried after dinner, and said, “We got more bad news yesterday, and to have such an outpouring of support and kindness from strangers was just … I have no words.  So, thank you..” And then she emailed me a few weeks later to say her dad had died. And then she emailed me a few weeks later to say that they had just gotten married and it was healing and full of joy and she was off on her honeymoon and she’d write a graduate post when she got back. She was blissed out. I was so so so glad and grateful that she finally got to have that. And then she emailed me to say her 19 year old cousin had died. Out of the blue.

And so. After all that, Morgan was strong enough to sit down and write. She wrote two pieces. Today’s post is about why weddings are important especially in the face of death, and tomorrow’s post is about throwing a cheap and lazy wedding (or, as she prefers to call it, a cheap and cheerful wedding). I want to warn you that you need tissues to make it through today’s post. Not in the, “I got misty” way, but in the, “I went into the ugly cry” way. Seriously, I got sob-y as I read this. This level of honesty is necessary, but so hard, and so rare. So here is to Morgan, for her bravery – for getting to the other side, and for being willing to tell the tale.

. . . . .

Let me tell you about my last year.

In March, we know that David is about to become ‘temporarily out of work’, but decided to go to Washington DC as planned for 10 days anyway.  A week after we come back, my father breaks the news that he has stage 4 lung cancer.  Two weeks after that, David’s out of work, thankfully with benefits.  They discover cancer in Dad’s brain, and he starts chemo and radiation – his health improves dramatically.  David’s return to work is delayed yet again, now they promise September.  In July, we take a look at our savings, my job, and decide on a whim to go to Scotland and Ireland for 3 weeks.  He proposes at a Neolithic portal tomb in Ireland.  It’s wonderful. My father undergoes another round of brain radiation.  David doesn’t go back to work.  We start to plan a wedding, and figure that March, 6 months away, seems safe, and book the venue. Gradually my father’s health starts to decline, and as does my mother’s mental health.  David finally goes back to work, after 8 months of unemployment, 3 days before Christmas.  We are all aware that this will be my father’s last Christmas, and everything is hard.  He is getting worse, and this round of treatment does not help.  Wedding plans are progressing, but it’s hard to get worked up about details.  I call my sister home in mid-January for the weekend, complete with a big Sunday dinner with a couple of my parents’ oldest friends, and it is wonderful.  My father then dies 5 days later, 50 days before the wedding.  I have very few memories of the week between his death and the wake, and I’m okay with not remembering.  I do remember that the day after he died, David and I buy a house, and are stuck with possession the weekend before the wedding.  We pack up, con my friends in to helping us move, and eat a lot of take out.  The wedding rolls around, and it is wonderful.  We go on a lazy beach honeymoon (that also includes zip lines) and come home to start setting up house and buying furniture and unpacking boxes.  Less than a week later, my 19 year old cousin dies of a totally unexpected heart problem.  Mike was the spitting image of my father at that age, to the point at the wake I’d made a joke that as long as we had Mike, it would feel a little bit like young-dad was around.

So.  Things were hard.  The big stuff was very, very hard. Two funerals and a wedding in 9 weeks for my family.

I didn’t necessarily cope with well with life.  I stopped sleeping around Christmas, and finally went for sleeping pills in early January.  The panic and desperation in my voice when I called my doctor’s office got me an appointment an hour later.  I contemplated grabbing David and running away. I drank too much rum.  I closed the door to my office and cried during work hours. The night before my father died, after I left the hospital in the middle of the night, I screamed the entire way home and my voice was left hoarse and raw for a week.  I leaned on David – hard – and he caught me when I crumpled.  I got anxious more than a few times, and then I made spreadsheets that helped quell (wedding) anxiety.  In some ways, having the wedding to focus on was a small blessing – it was a series of tasks that needed to be done, and things to check off when they were accomplished.  Unlike watching my father die in slow motion, where there was nothing to do but watch and grieve.

Interestingly, my mother, sister and I all dealt with our grief in very different ways, at different times.  Only now, three months after my dad’s death, is my mom starting to own her anger and sadness instead of simply lashing out at everyone about everything.  My sister did most her grieving last summer after the diagnosis.  I get grief in waves, and I was fine on the wedding day.  I teared up for the toasts, but just damp eyes.  The next day, after the wedding brunch?  Tired and exhausted and hungover?  I made it through the brunch, I made it partway home, and then I started to cry.  I cried for the next two hours, finally crying myself to sleep in David’s arms – hardly the sexytime nap we had planned.  My grief came, in part, from managing to get through the wedding without my father there, and in part because rites of passage really are a big deal, no matter how happy they make you.

I wore my father’s blue star sapphire engagement ring as my something blue – I got a ring guard and it fit well enough.  The minister wanted my mother to say, “with joy Hal and I give her to this marriage” but she couldn’t.  My sister’s original toast was about my dad, but when it came time to give it, she couldn’t, and told a funny story about me instead.  David’s toast to my father made everyone in the room tear up.  We made sure to celebrate his memory in small ways on the day, and it helped.

When Meg posted my plea for advice in January, many people mentioned moving up the wedding date, or trying to involve my father in the plans as much as possible.  That just didn’t work for us.  Partially because up to the week before he died, my mother was sure that he would make it, and partially because I got the feeling that he knew he wouldn’t, and in his mind I was already married.  He lived long enough to meet my husband and to see me happy, and for that I am ever so grateful.  As David said, “I’d like to make a toast to a man who, although I only got to know for a very brief time, always made me feel welcomed into his family. A man who so clearly wanted to have something to talk with me about he started reading the sports section and watching Flames games on TV. A man who, although he won’t get to see Morgan and I as husband and wife, very clearly approved of me marrying his daughter. A man who, for the last few months before his passing no longer referred to me as David but rather, ‘Morgan’s Hubby’.”

Do I wish he was there?  Of course.  Do I wish he had lived and suffered through a horrible and humiliating illness for two more months just to have watched me wed?  Of course not.  Was walking down the aisle myself hard and nerve-racking?  Yes!  (I debated the aisle walk for a long time, and in the end, decided to walk by myself.  David wanted to be at the altar waiting, and I had to respect that.  Although a friend of mine, who got married 5 months after her father died and 11 months after his, didn’t give her groom a choice and they walked in together.)  Do I have any regrets about throwing the wedding, about the timing, about our choices?  Sure, everyone has regrets, but I can live with my choices.  Do I regret standing up in the room full of family and friends and declaring my love?  No, absolutely not.  Life is short and it can be cruel, we all know this, so any excuse to celebrate joy should be taken.

Managing to sandwich the wedding in between two funerals makes it abundantly clear to me just HOW IMPORTANT weddings are.  I come from a large family that only gathers for weddings and funerals, and the fact that my cousin Mike’s last family gathering was a happy one?  A blessing.  I felt tremendously loved by my family at the wake and the wedding, but the joy at the wedding was healing and wonderful.

Talking about grief and death is hard.  Celebrating joy in the face of grief is hard.  And ever so necessary.

Picture by Kevin Steinhouse

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  • Thank you so much for writing this.

  • ElfPuddle

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing this.

  • Wow… Thank you so much for sharing this… Dave’s words about your father brought tears to my eyes.


  • C

    Oh my; what strength and courage. I cried. For the first time reading APW. I am so sorry for your losses but congratulations on your wedding. Perhaps your wedding was a gift to your family; a happy distraction in what could only be a tremendously difficult time.

  • I’m so sorry for your losses. I think it is wonderful you have written this; I’m sure it will help others grieving while wedding planning. I’m so glad you recognize just how significant it was that your wedding gave your family another opportunity to grieve your father together but also the chance to celebrate with your cousin while he was still here. That’s such a gift to your family. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Moz

    Great post. I am so sorry for your losses but so joyful for your marriage, Morgan. What your husband said is truly beautiful xx

  • evi

    David’s speech was very special – as your dad was. I am so sorry for your losses. My dad died six years ago, I met my now-husband four years ago. I wish they would have gotten to know each other so I understand your thankfulness in all these hard times.
    I am wishing you all the best!

  • Wench

    Thank you so very much for being so brave and honest to tell us about what was clearly a year filled with such grief and pain and yet through it all, such an awful lot of love.

  • Carbon Girl

    Thank you for posting this. It definitely hit a raw nerve. My husband’s dad was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma yesterday and there is no treatment. I can’t even begin to imagine how this will test us. I really hope I am strong enough to support my husband through this.

    • FK

      You’ll be strong enough. And remember to take care of yourself as well as others throughout.

    • Kristen

      You’ll find that there are a lot of things that you would never have thought you could do that you can – because there’s no other choice. You will get through it although ten years down the road, you may not know how you managed it. But you will know that you did it together. And that is the beautiful thing. Take care.

      • Morgan

        You do it because there is no other option – the only way through it is through.

  • Maureen

    What unbelievable courage you have. Your story about the aisle walk made me think of what Meg’s Grandfather says about bravery (something along the lines of “it’s ok to be scared, it’s stupid not to be scared. But to be scared and do it anyway- that is brave.”). Congrats on your marriage and finding a partner who will catch you when you need to be caught.

  • Katrina

    Oh my gosh, I just cried through this post. Thank you morgan for being brave enough to write this

  • Meg

    Knowing that wedding can bring up grief from years ago, I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for you and your family. Thank you for your bravery and strength in sharing your story with us. Sad though it is, hope shines through it. Morgan, I wish you and your husband a wonderful and joyful life together.

  • Carly

    Thank you for sharing this with us…. it puts everything in perspective.

  • jolynn

    Thank you so much for putting the “it’s a cry-er” warning on here, Meg! I saw the title and the warning and brought my laptop down to the kitchen to read by myself.

    Morgan, I have oodles of respect for you. I am so glad that you are finding your joy, that you are allowing yourself to live it. I am so glad that you and your husband have each other, that you are open and willing to share these struggles with each other and support each other. My family, too, is of the “gather for weddings and funerals” variety, and while we’ve had more weddings than funerals, our last gathering was the funeral of my baby sister. Now I’ve met a wonderful man and am looking at my wedding realistically being the next gathering, and this is difficult for me. Thank you for the reminder that both are necessary, that this is healing.

    I also very much appreciated your acknowledgment of the various ways that people grieve. It’s been important for me to recognize that in my own family. Big hug to you and yours, and a high five to the husband for being awesome.

    Congratulations on the rest of your life together! Thank you also for the reminder that it’s important to travel and live and be ourselves, be it in the face of unemployment or death or whatever else life throws.

  • Margaret

    Morgan, I haven’t read this post yet, but I wanted to respond to it before the tears got worse.

    I lost my dad, very suddenly, 3 years ago. The missing him has never stopped, but something about taking this next step in life just makes his absence all the more acute. My fiance only met my Dad once, when he was in the hospital and unconscious. My guy held my Dad’s hand and talked to him, though we were pretty sure he couldn’t hear us… told him that he’d take care of me, that he was sorry they hadn’t gotten to meet earlier.

    It was the sweetest and hardest thing to watch.

    Anyway, the ugly cry is going to be on me soon, but I wanted to thank you for sharing and for dealing this topicon APW.
    I also wanted to share a few lines from a poem (“From Blossoms”) that we were thinking about having read at our wedding. We ended up choosing something else, but to me, it really speaks of how weddings are part of the human experience, and therefore inextricably linked to death… not to be all morbid, but weddings are a celebration of life and of loving as long as you are alive… which becomes only more precious and sweet when you know how fleeting it all is.

    There are days we live
    as if death were nowhere
    in the background; from joy
    to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
    from blossom to blossom to
    impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

    – Li-Young Lee

    • Thanks for sharing this poem! Li-Young Lee is one of my favorite poets, but I had missed this one somehow. I might use it in my own wedding.

    • That is one of my all-time favorite poems. I have it printed out and on the wall in my office.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you so much for writing this. A few things really resonated with me.

    “My grief came, in part, from managing to get through the wedding without my father there, and in part because rites of passage really are a big deal, no matter how happy they make you.” My mother has been gone 21 years, enough time to adjust as well as one ever will to the absence of a parent. No one told me, however, how emotional a rite of passage like a marriage can be. For a while, the magnitude of the change had me in a funk, but 6 months out, I’m finally adjusting emotionally (and I was living with my fiance for 6 years before our wedding! I thought I’d have no transition whatsoever. I was wrong.)

    “Managing to sandwich the wedding in between two funerals makes it abundantly clear to me just HOW IMPORTANT weddings are.” This sentiment is why we opted to have a wedding in the first place. I needed to hear this again and placed in such excruciating context to remember that the expense, hassle, disappointments, and frustrations of a wedding really are worth it.

    Again, thank you for writing this. I needed some guidance back to the roots of my wedding, and this helped.

  • Courtney

    Thank you for writing this post. My dad survived prostate cancer, despite the terrible odds against him (it’s more deadly in younger men–GET YOUR GUYS AT AGE 50 SCREENED!!). But he did survive. Sometimes bad things just pile up on top of each other in a way that seems impossible…and it takes a while for the misery to subside afterwards.

    What makes Morgan’s post so powerful to me is that she can, at least some of the time–because nobody’s perfectly philosophical all the time!–recognize the joy, and the good things in the middle of all the pain. And she can give herself permission to feel her grief, as well. I don’t know which is harder, but both took me a really long time to learn. I hope and pray that for Morgan and David, many big good things will come in their future.

  • ShellyNu

    Morgan: Thank you for sharing this, especially now. This is exactly what I have been needing to hear, and I didn’t even know it! I’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and we get married in October. The emotions have been more of a rollercoaster than I anticipated, and this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now!
    Meg: How do you ALWAYS seem to post EXACTLY what I need to read EXACTLY when I need to read it?
    Again, thank you for this post. It’s takes a huge amount of courage to share that kind of honesty at the best of times.

  • Sarah M

    What a beautiful post. My fiance’s grandmother passed away earlier this year. It was the first family death we had been through as a couple and it was extremely hard as she was basically a mother to him. She was also our last surviving biological grandparent. Her passing was slow and agonizing and while in some ways it was wonderful to be able to say goodbye properly, it was so hard to watch her go. Some of the last words she spoke to us were to tell us to “just love each other, always.”

    Her passing has given me some perspective on how blessed we are for the family we do have and has reminded me of the importance of honouring and remembering those who have left us.

    My 56 year old aunt is getting married for the first time in October and I am serving as the matron of honour. My aunt lived with my grandmother until she passed in the early 90s and it really took a toll on her. I feel equally honoured and petrified that I will get the opportunity to honour my grandmother when I speak at the wedding.

    And now I’m crying in my office.

  • I want to thank you for writing this and allowing us all to be a part. I had to take breaks while reading it since I’m at work and couldn’t full on sob at my desk without drawing some serious attention. It sounds like you had a lovely day that was full of love and honored your father’s memory in an incredible fashion.

    I lost my mother when I was 15, and my father died 2 and 1/2 years ago – before I met my mister, and so I know it can even mean a lot just to know that your hubby and father had the opportunity to spend at least some time together. It’s the part that makes me most sad when I think about the fact that my parents won’t be at the celebration – I can handle the aisle walk, the dance, all of those bits just fine. I just wish they had the chance to meet Andy (and him them…).

    Again, thank you for sharing – sending lots of love your way

  • This post, and Morgan, have amazing amounts of courage and strength.

  • Priscilla

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Thank you Morgan for sharing this. We’ve dealt with so much serious illness in our family since our engagement, but luckily not the grief of loss. But the choice to focus on the wedding has been healing, though at times very very difficult. Your post had me crying and in awe of your strength and will. Please accept my condolences and my hopes for a beautiful life with your new husband.

  • J

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Cherish your love & each other, sounds like you have an amazing partnership with your husband and that your father knew you were in good hands before he passed.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is an incredibly brave this to do. I know it will help many APW readers face similar losses. Thank you and I am very sorry for you losses.

  • It’s not an easy thing to share something like this, and I know it can be especially difficult to write it all down and have the whole story turned into concrete words for others to read and for you to revisit. But I hope that writing it brought you some measure of peace with your decisions, as I know that facing an emotionally complex time head-on can be really challenging but also fulfilling. You are very brave to tell us this story and to open up and be vulnerable, and I really admire you for that. You made your choices because you believed they were the right ones, and one should never regret that – plus it sounds like you handled everything amazingly well :).

    And as you mention, in the midst of grief, recognizing – and embracing – happiness can do wonders and is oh so healthy.

    Thank you.

    – Bret

  • sarah

    i think this is a great example of how good things can come even out of hard times, and the importance of taking the time to really enjoy having the people you love around you. the biggest losses i’ve had thus far were having my grandparents die in a succession of years between when i was 14 and 18, all of whom i was very close with. it’s not the same of course as losing your parents, but my mom’s parents were like pseudo-parents to me. of course, i remember how hard it was losing them, and how devastated we were. i remember just crying and crying and thinking i would never be able to stop crying… but you know what else i remember? even now, years later, i remember the enveloping feeling of love i had from having our family members gather around us, and express their kindness to us during such a hard time. it’s so important to remember those moments… those are the moments that keep us going through the bad stuff.

  • Amy

    Morgan, I am so sorry for your loss and have so much admiration for your strength and willingness to share your story.

  • Marj

    I’ve never commented before but this post is so relevant that I feel compelled to do so.

    Thank you for posting this! My dad died three weeks ago and my wedding is in three weeks so it’s useful to see the experience of someone else in a similar situation. The wedding is in the backyard of our house which I am so grateful my dad was able to visit last Spring as we were in the process of buying it and before he got too sick to travel out here again.

  • Morgan, thank you so very much for this post. You are so right, of course, about the importance of weddings and joyful gatherings. And, wow, am I sorry to hear about what you and your family are enduring. Very best wishes to you all.

    Thank you, especially, for the details of David’s toast. My fiancee’s amazing mother died in January, three months after we got engaged (an even she was able to attend, thankfully), and we’ll be married in September. I’ve been thinking about how best to honor her, and this has been thought-provoking, to say the least. Thank you, again, and I wish you comfort and beauty and sparkly happiness.

    • Oops, *fiance*. Apologies.

  • I wish you peace.

  • Beautifully written. I’m so sorry for your losses. It’s so hard. But, congratulations on your marriage and your house and the beginning of a beautiful life. Cycles.

    My last words to my grandmother were “please live to be at the wedding.” She didn’t, but I know she will be there in my heart. I wrote a post about it here:

    “What I realized, though, was that with all the death and funerals and low-point-of-the-cycle-of-life ceremonies this year, my family-tribe NEEDS a wedding, needs something bigger than an announcement or an elopement, needs to get together and feel love together and eat and talk and be in my woods, my woods that feels more healing and amazing and magical than almost anywhere I’ve been.”

  • Christen

    Thank you. My mother passed away last friday, and while we still have a year-plus before our wedding, I’ve been grappling … hard … with the concept of trying to be happy and plan this and get married, while knowing she won’t be there. The one person who has ALWAYS been there, won’t be there. She and my fiance were close … and this is painful for him as well, but he’s been wonderful in helping me and knowing that when I talk wedding right now, it’s because I need something … ANYTHING else to think about. And you’re right, the tasking helps. A lot. It’s something to focus on. I feel guilty about it, but as my father and stepfather both told me, it’s important for me to do this … important for them, important for her, important for us.

    I saw others have said this is the most relevant post … and it is. For many reasons. It helps ease the guilt, it helps us relate, it allows us to know what we’re doing is for a good reason. It makes wanting to be happy when happy doesn’t seem like an option OK. I didn’t cry while reading this … mostly because I’m cried out. But it made me feel a little more human, a little less like a drone.

  • Jamie

    Morgan, I’m so grateful to you for this post. Do you remember me? I posted the long, long story of my own that is so similar to yours in the comments on your last post. My dad died last November, and my wedding is coming up.. just 58 days from today. I have so many uncertainties and emotions about how my grief and emotions will unfold on my wedding day. Your post shed some light on some possibilities. Sometimes I am able to muster up the emotional energy to think about ways to honor my dad during the wedding, and other times I just can’t get through it. We’ll see how it goes.. I hope that I can be as strong as you have been.

    Wishing you and your family more good days,

  • Tracey

    Wow, that beautiful post is more about what marriage really is than any other wedding story I’ve ever read. It’s about going through life’s hills and valleys, including the really really tough valleys, together…. and emerging stronger than you would alone. What strength from the bride and the entire family. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, yet sad story. My condolences on your loss and congratulations on your marriage.

  • Morgan, I’m so sorry for your loss. You are so brave & admirable for sharing your story here. It seems like you handled everything perfectly & everything worked out as it was meant to be even if it seems imperfect. A little excerpt from a Kahlil Gibrain poem about sorrow & joy:

    When you are joyous, look deep into
    your heart and you shall find it is only that
    which has given you sorrow that is giving
    you joy.

    When you are sorrowful look again in
    your heart, and you shall see that in truth
    you are weeping for that which has been
    your delight.

    HUGS to you!!!

  • “Talking about grief and death is hard. Celebrating joy in the face of grief is hard. And ever so necessary.”

    That ending quote in particular is just so, so true, and not just for weddings. Thank you for having the courage to post this, Morgan. My fiance’s brother, Michael, passed away last October at the age of 35, and even though it’ll have been almost a year since his death when we have our wedding, it’s still hard to think about sometimes. It’s also hard because Michael’s wife absolutely refuses to celebrate anything at all now…she wouldn’t even let their two-year-old daughter have a Christmas, and we’re not really sure if she’ll even attend our wedding in September. Grief is important and natural and necessary, but if we let grief consume us, it turns inward and becomes something selfish. You and your husband have shown that you’re brave enough to embrace joy when it’s necessary, and not many people stop to think just how hard that can be. I hope your marriage is infinitely blessed.

  • Liz

    Morgan, your post makes me thankful for all the various things that life throws at us and how they reaffirm the joy in life, even in the wake of a huge loss. And thank you for your perspectives also. I am always heartened to see that even the hardest things in life can be endured, and that just being human allows us to still love deeply in the face of terrible grief. I am looking forward to reading your post tomorrow, but thanks for sharing this with all of us- a healing thing to do, for everyone here, I think.

  • Fitz

    Thank you so much for this post, Morgan – and for sharing the details of your beautiful ceremony. I cried in my cubicle.

    Your observation that “Managing to sandwich the wedding in between two funerals makes it abundantly clear to me just HOW IMPORTANT weddings are” really resonated with me. I also come from a large weddings+funerals family, and at our wedding it was so joyful to be together for a happy occasion – you really don’t know how many chances you’ll have.

  • This is beautifully written. The love for and from your family rings through with every word. I am so glad that you decided to take the chances you did — with your choices to travel together and to go forward with your wedding during such sad and uncertain times. These choices to live your life together even in the face of death and uncertainty will serve you both well as you grow together.

  • liz

    you’re so very brave.

  • CTD

    This story definitely made me cry over my cereal this morning. I think the way you could articulate your feelings is really impressive. Thank you for sharing!

    I lost my dad a couple years ago, totally unexpected. I wasn’t engaged at the time..but got married last summer. So, my emotions weren’t as raw at our wedding over the loss. But it was still sad to not have him there.

    I love the Gibran quote shared above…so true.

    I think time does heal, as do good memories, and family support. Kudos to you both for having the wedding and celebrating happy things despite the sadness of the loss.

  • I just want to give you a giant hug.

  • Your husband’s words at your reception were so thoughtful. I am so so sorry for the loss of your father, especially at a time when you are planning a celebration to bring together family and friends. I’m tearing up thinking about your story.

  • This is so beautiful. I think it’s so amazing, and wonderful, that you went ahead and had the wedding because, as so many said above, the family needed to celebrate something. And by celebrating your love, they still celebrated your father’s life because he gave you life. I think it’s easy to paint wedding celebrations as frivolous, but this is exactly why they’re important. Also, I totally cried in my office reading your fiance’s words. Your father sounds like an amazing man.

  • J

    it must have been so difficult for you to write this… thank you for sharing. my fiance’s mother died a year ago under painful circumstances, and she will never see us get married this fall. reading about your experience was distressing but helpful/hopeful as well.

    i am liking this blog more and more. it takes up important topics with so much common sense and real emotion!

  • Stephanie F.

    I’ve never posted before, but I felt I had to.

    Days after my parents announced their engagement, my grandmother died of breast cancer. My parents’ love story is deeply entwined in the relationship between both of their families, and so the loss of my grandmother was difficult for everyone.

    So when my aunt was dying with brain cancer during the time leading up to her daughter’s wedding and my sister’s wedding – I asked my dad how you keep celebrating when things are so sad. I will never forget what he told me. He told me that joy honors those who have passed. He said you honor loved ones lost by living fully, by celebrating. He said that grief and loss is not diminished by joy, but it is healed by it.

    My parents have been married for more than thirty years. I wish you and David the same and many more.

  • Morgan’s Sister

    Oh, man… my sister’s post made me a little teary, but it’s the beautiful, sad, hopeful comments that have made me bawl for the last hour (something I haven’t done for almost three weeks now). Thank you all for sharing your stories and kindness and encouragement with my family, both in January and again today, and to Meg for giving us a forum to share. Much love to anyone going through anything similar.

    Oh, and the wedding was wonderful! M&D struck the right balance of commemorating our father and celebrating their future and just having a good ole party, and I think it was exactly what our family needed. So happy for you, sis!

  • Kristen

    First and foremost, thank you for sharing this, Morgan. I am sure that writing this brought a lot back to the surface and that it was, while healing, painful. But it has a certain beauty – specifically in the ways David cared for you – like just holding you until you cried yourself to sleep.

    Thank you to the rest of you, too, for sharing your stories. What an amazing group of people.

  • Roxy

    I almost decided not to read this post because I knew how difficult it would be for me. My husband and I got engaged December 25, 2008 and it was my father’s last Christmas, though we weren’t sure it would be at that point. We planned an August 2009 wedding thinking he’d still be around then and we wouldn’t have to drive ourselves crazy planning something sooner than that. In early April we knew he wouldn’t make it that long and made plans to be legally wed at the home he was living in the first weekend of May. He passed away April 13.

    Unlike you I couldn’t walk down the aisle alone. I knew I wouldn’t make it without crying and I only wanted happy tears (if any). I finally decided to have my best friend besides my husband escort me. Just before we started walking I started to tear up and whispered that he’d better make me laugh before I started to cry. He said, “this is the closest we’ll ever get to being married.”

    While I’m sorry that anyone else ever has to go through what we did I’m glad to know I’m not alone in the way that I felt. And I think what you said about needing the wedding between the funerals was so very true. My father’s family is much the same way with weddings and funerals and mine has been the first wedding in at least years. I think we were all overdue for a joyful occasion.

    Thank you as well for your comment on how your dad seemed to know he wouldn’t make it “and in his mind I was already married.” I did my best to keep my dad informed on the wedding progress and even brought my dress to the hospital for him to see. When I asked if he wanted me to put it on for him he said no, and I was slightly disappointed. Maybe it was because he knew he wouldn’t make it to the wedding and it would hurt to much or maybe because just seeing it was enough for him. In any case, I think that he was glad to know I had found someone who would take good care of me after he was gone.

  • Yolanda

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I became engaged two months after my Father died very suddenly. I planned the wedding in a haze of grief mixed with hope. Our wedding was a testament to joy and a celebration of all things that last eternally. That’s what it’s about.

  • Theresa

    WOW. I can relate on soooo many levels.

    My dad passed away from cancer about a year and a half after our engagement, but only 8 months before our wedding. We had planned on moving it up, so that he could be a part of it, but the cancer took him in 7 weeks instead of the 6-18 months we were counting on. I remember waking up one morning before the wedding, bawling my eyes out and huddled in my soon-to-be-husband’s arms because the family member who loved me most was gone. (Wow, I’m tearing up writing this!)

    My mom lost it, too, and there was a HUGE debacle on me walking myself down the aisle, and I spent the morning of my rehearsal locked in my bedroom closet because my mother hurt my feelings so badly. I was embarassed in front of my fiancee and his parents, and I was hurt that she couldn’t find a way to pull it together for me in those last two very stressful days. My now-husband was the only person who kept me centered and in the moment for the wedding day. And I guess that’s the most important thing-he is a part of my past, but a crucial part of my future, and I know he’ll continue to be there for me when I’m haggard and when I’m blissed.

    Thank you for being brave and strong, and for sharing your story. :)

    • Theresa

      PS-I also shared a bit on that initial post where you were asking for advice. And I don’t remember if the advice I shared was any good or not. But 3 months out of the wedding now, and I can see the day a little more clearly, even if it still has its rough edges.

  • Thank you for your story Morgan. I feel like I am in the middle of a similiar situation.

    My mom had had cancer for three years, was doing well and seemed to be getting better. Then late April of last year she started to tank. My partner rushed to propose to me while she was still around (he was so sweet and asked both my parents for approval) on May 3rd. Mothers Day happened a few days later and I realized that my mom was on her way out. Sure enough, on May 13th she died peacefully at home… just 10 days after getting engaged. We didn’t race into wedding planning like most couples do. I’m getting married July 2nd and this whole process has felt like a disconnect. I haven’t been excited about colors or music or food. Most days, I simply don’t care. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that I haven’t had my mom by my side to help me plan. I know that our wedding day will be great, but it won’t be the same.

    Thank you again for your story, makes me feel better in a sad way that I am not alone.

  • This post really struck a chord with me. My father also died of cancer, when I was 12. A lot of those emotions stay surprisingly close to the surface, no matter how long its been. And now with the wedding, I’ve been thinking about him so often.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  • This post was absolutely beautiful–thank you for being so honest and open and sharing. I didn’t quite believe Meg’s tissue warning, and wound up having to stop and read this in three batches. I am so glad you and your husband could find the joy through the sorrows, and that your dad was able to meet, and love, the man in your life. May the two of you have a very, very long and beautiful life together.

  • I needed this kind of perspective today. Thank you for telling your story, Morgan. I hope it helps you both grieve and celebrate. Congratulations on your baby family with David :)

  • Lindsey

    Thank you so much for writing this, Morgan, and congratulations on your wedding. From David’s words about your dad he sounds like a fantastic guy, and I wish you guys many many moments of joy.

    My grandmother died soon after I got engaged to my own fantastic guy, late last year. We were very close and it was really difficult to deal with the fact that she had allllllmost made it to see me get married, but not quite. But she got to meet Jeff, and we had a visit with her after we had gotten engaged, and she got to see the ring and talk about wedding stuff with us — it really made her happy. She lit up, like most girls do talking about weddings :), and it was really nice to see. We knew she wasn’t going to last much longer and I’m so happy that I got to share that happy moment with her before she died. I hope that you guys had tons and tons of happy moments with your dad, talking about your wedding, too. I completely agree that these big happy rites of passage are so important, just for that reason. What else could have made us all so happy for a few minutes when we all knew we were saying goodbye?

    Best wishes to you, and thank you again for sharing your story.

  • Taryn Lee

    Thank you for all of this. I sobbed through the whole post and it was a sob of relief! I’m planning a wedding taking place in 140 days. Eduard is a beautiful man and I’m enjoying our time being engaged and making plans for our wedding and our future. But as there is so much joy, my dad is dying. He was diagnosed three years ago with pancreatic cancer and his body is just done. Everyday I question whether or not he’ll make it to the wedding. And then the questions keep piling on top of one another: will he make it? If he doesn’t, what will we do? Will I be able to go through with it? Will I be able to walk down the aisle? Should I even have an aisle? Your post left me with such peace and relief and the knowledge that whatever happens, my dad loves my husband and trusts him with his baby girl and that I will be supported and loved by a man who is good through and through.

  • YES: “Talking about grief and death is hard. Celebrating joy in the face of grief is hard. And ever so necessary.”

    Yes….the reality of grief and tragedy in life underlines the necessity of celebrating love, joy, and life itself. Thank you for bravely and honestly talking about your experience and bringing up something that is rarely talked about in wedding-y conversations. From reading these coments, it’s obvious that learning how to deal with intense grief during wedding planning is a reality many people face. So thank you.

  • chibride

    My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (never smoked a day in her life) a few months before my younger sister’s wedding (5 years ago). She lost her hair the day of the wedding. We bought her a wig. No one noticed. She had fun, laughed, danced, and celebrated with all 300+ guests. We have the most amazing photos of her doing all those things amidst all those happy lovey dovey guests. 2 years later, she lost her battle with cancer.
    Our family feels so lucky to have had her for my sister’s wedding. Her joy from that event still feels so palpable.
    I’m so glad that my mother got to meet my husband..although we weren’t engaged then, she knew that’s where we were headed. I’m really grateful for the little time they spent together.
    I missed her terribly during the planning of our wedding and on the day I felt weepy, especially during my sister’s toast. Occasionally when I see mother’s and daughters shopping together I still get that pinching feeling in my throat. I can’t help but get a little choked up. I think that our grief is intensified by being sort of bookend-ed by our weddings. Although I think that it intensifies my joyful memories too. I think of how much she would’ve had fun at our wedding and how much she would’ve kicked up her heels on the dance floor.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m sorry for your family’s losses.

  • Thank you for posting this. I just got engaged April 1st to the absolute man of my dreams. My sister had been living in Australia for the past almost 3 years, but she had finally planned a trip home where they were to meet for the first time (my fiance and her). Unfortunately, about 2 weeks before she was supposed to come home (I was supposed to pick her up from the airport and bring her home as surprise for my mom’s birthday), she was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident in Sydney, Australia. My parents and I flew out to her as soon as we could and the doctors kept her on life support long enough for us to arrive, see her, and basically say our goodbyes. There was no hope of a recovery for her. The next 2 weeks were a whirlwind of memorials across the world (literally…in Sydney, Portland OR, and back in Delaware) and finally her funeral. She was my older sister and I had asked her 2 weeks prior to be my Maid of Honor.
    Now we are trying to cope with her death and trying to plan a wedding. Its so hard to not feel guilty planning the “happiest day of our lives” in the wake of the hardest day (to date) of my life. We are working on ways to incorporate her into the wedding without making it another somber memorial, but its hard. I can’t say I’ve even fully dealt with all the emotions just yet. I go through random bouts of tears, anger, frustration, confusion, etc…
    You post brings so many emotions up. I can only imagine how hard it was not to have your dad with you physically on your day. I’m so sorry for your loss, but it looks like it was a day of celebration and happiness while remembering. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for posting this… our wedding is in October and my father was just dx’d with Bladder Cancer. He has also had a stroke following an exploratory surgery… it is a scary time for my family… one of uncertainty and sadness. I know exactly what you mean about the wedding planning being a needed distraction.. something I feel like I can control, something to have a handle on. My family is apx. 12 hours away… I call but it isn’t the same as being there… but at the same time, I don’t know when to go and be the most helpful. This post brought up so many emotions… thank you for sharing, raw as it might be for you.

  • Steph

    Thank you, Morgan. I am oddly and distantly comforted in knowing there is someone else out there who…thrived on this situation. I, too, am in the face of wedding planning while my father is being treated for stage IV lung cancer. Your strength is an inspiration. I felt guilty for thinking about my wedding, for even discussing moving-up the date. My fiance suggested we continue with our July 2011 plan as a way to hang on to hope and not give in to cancer. The heavy reality is there, though, and our entire amazing, loving, extremely supportive family and friends are ready to drop everything and have this wedding anytime, anywhere.
    It’s funny, 3 weeks ago my fiance and I were arguing about his dog bring in the wedding. Today, I’d take 101 dalmations. Nothing else matters except having my family and friends by my side as we join our lives together.

  • Maggie

    While I am an avid reader of the blog, I don’t comment on anything really. I just enjoy reading about the details of the big day and how different everybody’s weddings are. However, your story brought me to tears (as I was warned I would be). You are an amazingly strong woman and it seems like your father loved that you were with someone you loved so much, and trusted him to take care of you, almost in his place.Your father was lucky enough to meet the man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, to know he approved and loved him as if he were already family. It’s a small blessing in the larger sense, but it’s one to be eternally grateful for.

    My mother died when I was 17, and I always tear up thinking about getting married without her guidance. I am not planning a wedding, and probably won’t be for a few years, but I love this site, and this post is unforgettable. Thank you for sharing your story and giving me a glimpse at what a wedding without a parent is like. I wish you and your husband the best of luck and nothing but happiness in your life together.

  • Stephanie

    I am engaged and my godmother (aka my best friend and mom/sister combination) is in a coma and dying right now. She was the first person my fiance and I told about wanting to get engaged, and it was her support and excitement for us that really validated our decision. I am currently sitting at my parent’s house, waiting for my mom to leave work early, so we can go visit my unconscious godmother and hope that a miracle happens. I was sick of looking up information on her disease (untreatable and irreversible lung scarring), so I visited this site for the first time in forever and immediately looked for this post to revisit. Meg and Morgan, I hope you both know what a wonderful thing you are doing for people everywhere. Thank you for this, it is a comfort now and will continue to be for many people.

  • Alexandra

    Awwww. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes on your continuing journey of marriage.

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing this! My father passed away 3 months after my wedding with Lung Cancer. My uncle passed away 2 weeks before that with Lung Cancer. Neither of them a smoker. My dad went into the hospital, was diagnosed, and passed away all in the month of August. With such a sudden movement towards grief for someone I wasn’t expecting to lose, I went on a downward spiral. Trying to use my “wifely duties” and settling in at our house as a distraction. I am still healing from the pain at times, and I’m still trying to figure out why my whole consciousness got flipped when this happened. I used to be outgoing and ok in my own skin. Now I feel as though people judge me and that I am alone. I’m grateful for people like you, who are willing to let others into their lives and realize we are not alone. That the grief I feel, you have felt and so have others.

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  • Lori

    That was beautiful. THANK YOU.

  • Talia

    thank you so much for writing this. my fiancé’s father died in january of this year, and my father just passed away in november. our wedding is in april, and i fully expected my father would be there. I struggle daily with the planning, the details, even the imagining of the day, now that i know that he won’t be. I worry about being a basketcase, falling apart, losing site of the whole-soul-happy of the day that i marry my person. i am grateful for your post and your perspective. thank you thank you thank you.

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  • Lizzie C.

    I really needed this post- thank you. (Just found it through today’s APW post about moving up a wedding in the face of impending death–better late than never.) My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer a few months after I got engaged, and as his health took a nose-dive many people suggested that my then-fiance and I get married right away, next to my dad’s hospital bed if need be. But that didn’t feel right; I didn’t want to plan a wedding while my father was dying, and I didn’t think I could muster up enough happiness to overpower the sadness.

    My dad lived 3 weeks after his diagnosis, and after his memorial I finally felt like I could look at wedding planning things again, though the stress of losing my dad made the planning feel like a chore. I can’t let myself think about what it might have been like to go through with a hospice wedding. It makes me too sad. But it’s a comfort knowing other brides-to-be made the same choice I did.

  • Michelle

    I was given the APW book by a friend, and skipped through all these pieces initially. Then, suddenly, my wonderful MIL-to-be was rushed to the hospital. Shock, waiting, tears, surgery, waiting, tears, hope at a chance for recovery, shock again at a sudden stroke where she lost consciousness and died 6 weeks before our wedding. Lots of tears. Death, rituals, funerals, tears. Returning to the book and finding the blog with all these comments about weddings ‘when life hurts’ helped us decide to go ahead with our wedding. It also guided out conversations about what marriage means to us and what words we want to have spoken at our ceremony. A million times over, thank-you.

    We are now less than a week away and having all the anxious thoughts that I dreaded… will we feel OK? Is this the right thing? Will my finance be OK or will he retreat into himself? Will we be able to get through the family photos? How is it OK to feel happy and excited about how happy my mom is, when my partner is still racked with grief at the fact his mom can’t be there? We both are in tears daily. And how do we tell people that we actually don’t want to hear condolences all day? Not at all because we are selfish and want the day to be about us, but because of how sad they make us both (my finance especially).

    Grief is a funny thing, a roller-coaster that you never really are sure about the next turn. Sometimes little things set us off, and it’s unpredictable and scary. I’m so scared that this is going to be what I remember about my wedding.

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