What I Learned When I Planned a Wedding without My Parents


I didn't think I could do it at first, but I'm so glad I did

by Hava

wedding photo of a couple

How do you plan a wedding without your parents? That is one of the toughest questions I’ve had to face when planning our wedding. My mother died of breast cancer a decade ago, and my father died of a brain tumor last year. I knew that I wanted to honor them in some way, and the only way to do that was to integrate them into the wedding: the ceremony, in speeches, and in my mother’s wedding dress.

Planning a wedding was very bittersweet for me. While most people get to pick out wedding dresses with their mother, or have their father walk them down the aisle, I knew I would have none of these things. It was hard for me to feel enthusiastic about wedding planning because their glaring absence reminded me that they would never be there to see it and to share in the excitement. So I tried to find other ways to honor them and feel like they were part of the process.

We got married at a courthouse a year before our wedding so that my father could see us get married. It was very quick and unplanned, but we wanted him to see us get married because I knew it was more than likely he wouldn’t be able to make it to the larger ceremony.

When he died two months after our courthouse wedding from brain cancer, I didn’t even want to think about wedding planning. A few months after he passed, I finally felt ready. I threw myself headfirst into wedding planning because it was one of the few things that made me happy and got my mind off losing my father. I could lose myself in the details of wedding planning with the help of my closest friends.

planning a wedding without your parents

a bride standing alone on a road

the wedding dress: From the beginning, I knew I was going to wear my mother’s wedding dress. Although she was four inches shorter than me, and her dress was a lot tighter than I expected, I knew that I could make it work. My mother got married in 1980, and I knew that it wouldn’t work unless I had it altered.

My mother’s cousin is a wedding dress maker, and she offered to alter it for me. After back and forth emails detailing what I wanted, I flew up to meet her in Sacramento so that she could take measurements and alterations. The dress had long lacy sleeves, which I had cut off. I altered the long train so that I could dance and not let it drag along the ground.

I was thrilled when my aunt shipped the dress back: it was perfect. Wearing her dress helped me feel closer to my mother.

a couple on their wedding day

The Photographer: I wanted a photographer who not only would understand our vision, but who would understand why integrating my parents into the whole thing was so important to me. I found a perfect fit with Evangeline Lane Photography. Evangeline not only got it, she made me and my husband feel like we were in good, safe hands.

Evangeline captured so many beautiful shots: putting on my mother’s wedding dress, our “first look” in a beautiful botanical garden, our kiss at the ceremony. Hiring the right photographer is so crucial because those photographs will be the only lasting memory for many years down the line, and we feel like we got the best.

a couple during their wedding ceremony

The Vows: Writing my own vows was the most intimidating part of the wedding for me. It’s so hard to lay out all your emotions without sounding cliche or trite. However, I knew that I was going to integrate my father into the vows.

My husband had spent so much time with him over the five years we dated, so he got to know him very well. The biggest challenge for me was to talk about my husband being there for me while my father was dying without sounding too dark or somber. I wanted my speech to emphasize how he helped me through the dark times with some levity and humor.

This was my speech:

I knew as soon as we first started dating that you were the right one for me, but that was cemented when my father was diagnosed with cancer. You dropped everything to be with me and my dad and were literally the only thing keeping me going.

We’ve been married almost a year and we’ve both been through more than most people experience in their first ten years of marriage. You’ve been there by my side for some of the roughest times in my life and you’ve never wavered.

I love you for always knowing exactly the right thing to do when I’m sad, or hurt, or angry. I love you for letting me be myself, and I want to be the best version of myself for you. Every day I come home and I feel better because I know you’ll be there waiting for me.

I promise to love you and be by your side through good days and bad, no matter what comes. I promise to always be truthful, even if the truth is hard to say.

I promise to never bend your comic book trades, because I know you hate that.

And I promise to always support you in your work, respect your interests, and contribute to your happiness.

The wedding day: I was surrounded by my closest friends and family when I put on my wedding dress. And as special as it felt, I felt struck by sadness that my mother wasn’t there to see me put on her wedding dress. I said, “I wish she were here to see this,” and everyone understood exactly what that meant, and everyone was there to comfort me.

Before the ceremony, Evangeline took pictures of me and my husband for a “first look.” Between the shots of family portraits and wedding party photos, she captured me and my husband holding a portrait of my parents. Since I would not be able to get a “traditional” portrait of my family, I wanted to do this. It was so special and intimate, and it was thanks to her fantastic skills that it turned out so well.

I also placed my favorite photos of my parents on the table with the gifts and cards. This allowed our guests to see them and for me to feel like they were included in our big day.

The Toasts: Since my dad wouldn’t be there to give his toast, I reserved that honor for my uncle, who was my dad’s brother.

During his speech, my uncle made jokes, and talked fondly about my parents who he said “would be very proud of us.” That was exactly what I needed to hear, and it was a great, moving speech.

a couple during their first dance

The First Dance: We decided to skip the father-daughter dance since my dad and I already had a father-daughter dance at the courthouse ceremony. My husband’s mother said she hated dancing anyway, so we nixed the mother-son dance too. All that we really wanted was a fun, easy first dance that fit both our musical tastes, so we picked “Oh, Oh, I Love Her So” by The Ramones.

There were still a couple of bittersweet moments for me. My dad not there to toast us during dinner. My mom not there to help me into the dress that she wore once over thirty years ago. But… it still managed to be a beautiful, unforgettable day for both of us.

All I ever wanted when I got married was to have all the people I love in one place, at the same time. And I got that.


The Info:

Photography by Evangeline Lane

Hava

Hava Buchanan is an occasional writer and she loves making lists. She lives in Southern California .

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  • sofar

    Why is someone cutting onions at my office? Or maybe it’s allergies???

  • emmers

    This was a beautiful account. I think the author did an excellent job of capturing both the beauty and sadness of her day.

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  • Emma

    Yes!! Thank you for writing this. I am so sorry for your losses. I had to plan my wedding without my mom, and it was beyond hard. I still struggle with thinking about our wedding without my mom.

  • Nicole

    What a beautiful tribute to her parents. I’m getting married in two months and lost my dad a few years ago, and I loved her speech and want to incorporate elements into my own. Thank you for including it.

  • Suzanne

    Beautiful dress!

  • Hava you are an inspiration! Sending you virtual hugs and love <3

  • mui

    What a beautiful wedding and a beautiful way to honor and remember your mother and father. My mom passed away a long time ago from cancer and it was definitely a day filled with joy and sadness remembering her and wishing she could’ve been with us to celebrate. Our loved ones live on in our hearts <3

  • Kari

    Wow, this was really lovely. Your dress turned out great, and I love the idea of taking a photo with a photo. All the best xx

  • Hannah Paige Woodard

    All the tears. Thank you so much for sharing this! I loved hearing how you brought your parents into your day even though they could not be there in person. And your mother’s dress – stunning. Beautiful piece and I wish you two all the best!

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  • This is really sweet! My parents died by the time I was 10 years old (both to cancer) so I feel your bittersweet pain/joy in planning a wedding. I also skipped the father/daughter dance…obviously. I could tell my mother-in-law really wanted to dance with her son but it would’ve been weird if only they did the dance. She even asked if I wanted to dance with my father-in-law but I didn’t. Anyways, loved connecting with you on this. <3

  • jiggahava

    Thank you guys for all your lovely sweet comments! They warmed my heart. A big reason why I wrote this was the hope that my experience would help someone else.