Imagine this: After dreaming of your wedding day since you were a teenage girl, the time finally comes and it’s bittersweet because you have to plan and enjoy the most important day of your life—without a parent. The pain in knowing your mom won’t be there to help you choose the perfect dress, or having your dad around to walk you up the aisle, can make such an exciting moment a little dull. Although I lost my mom 17 years ago, I always wondered what it would be like not having her beside me on my wedding day. Only when that time came, it snapped. ‘This is about to be an emotional rollercoaster and I have to endure with a brave face.’ If you’re trying to figure out how to approach your wedding day after the loss of a parent (or any loved-one, really), perhaps my story can help.
Almost no one would associate their wedding day with grief. (Who in their right mind, right?) Realistically, after a loss, no matter how many years have passed, significant life events are reminders that the person we lost is not there with us. It was quite painful to get through graduation ceremonies and Mother’s Day without my mom there, but it became a whole different excruciating reality as my wedding day approached. Particularly since this occasion was a big milestone for my family. Being the first child to get married of the kids, it meant, yet again, we had to celebrate a special occasion without being able to share the joyful feeling in her presence. Don’t get me wrong, my wedding day itself was, by far, the happiest day of my life. I had so much fun, and as so many people told me beforehand, it was quite overwhelming to sit in a space surrounded by all the people you love most in the world. This didn’t change the fact that not everyone could be present — in person, at least.
Of course, I wasn’t going to spend the months leading up to my wedding, and the day itself, focused on my late mother, but neither did the joyousness of getting married stop me from feeling the pain of her absence. I already knew it was on everyone else’s mind, although they tried not to mention it.
When my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, as a child I really just thought that meant that she’d spend a few days in the hospital, the doctors would fix everything and then she’d be back to normal. Looking back, I sometimes feel sorry for that little girl who didn’t know any better and just saw life as butterflies, sweets from the shop around the corner, Disney channel, going to school and preparing for tests, playing with dolls and having mummy there with me each step of the way (even though I sometimes got a ‘buff’, or two, for being naughty).
When the months drew closer to my wedding day, I started getting more emotional. Naturally. I actively envisioned her there with me at every fitting, I imagined what she’d comment, what she’d like and what she absolutely would not stand for in all the drama of planning. Of course, I kept the sadness inside, regardless of the fact that it tore at my heart when I’d turn to Pinterest for inspiration and see beautiful photos of brides and their moms. Externally, I made sure to focus on the exciting things: the bridal shower, bachelorette, decor, dresses and, of course, my soon-to-be husband.
There was one time, in particular, I mustered up the emotional courage to look for ways to subtly-yet-meaningfully acknowledge her on my wedding day. I searched Pinterest, because that’s where all brides find all great ideas, right? Interestingly, I didn’t want her picture up in a frame for everyone to see. I didn’t want any special mention of her name. And I surely didn’t want a moment of silence. I wanted something that I, and she—wherever she is—would connect to. After scrolling through a few posts in my feed, I came across an image of a bride, holding her bouquet with her mom’s photo pinned to it. I immediately contacted my florist. All efforts to keep the cost for flowers down went out the window, because in that moment, I knew that I wanted the most lavish arrangement with her photo attached to walk with me on the day. I hadn’t shared this idea with anyone other than my fiancé — not even my dad until the wedding day.
Fortunately, I had the best team of bridesmaids to help keep me sane—and as happy as they could have — in preparing for the wedding day. Although I didn’t have anyone to fulfill the role of ‘mother of the bride’, I had the right support, generally, to get the job done. The day of the wedding came and our florist delivered the bridal party bouquets on-site where we got dressed. While getting my makeup done, the florists went through the delivery to ensure we had exactly what was ordered. Then, she presented me with my bouquet and showed me the photo of mummy attached. My heart shattered into a gazillion piece. I felt the exact pain that I did on the day of her funeral, 17 years ago. She smiled at me through the photo, watching me get ready to say ‘I do’ and I cried. This was the moment I wondered about for years. The day finally came and she wasn’t there. After getting dressed, I held onto my dad’s arm. We walked towards the the car that would carry us to the church ceremony and there was a slight drizzle. My heart felt full. I knew she was present. This is true — my mother was present.
This is in no way an easy experience for anyone. Whether it be your mom or dad that you’ve lost, whether it was a couple months before or years ago, this journey is one that’s heart-wrenching. If you’re currently planning for your big day and you’re feeling a bit down, remember that your mom or dad is there. They are always present with us in our hearts and minds, our actions and inactions, our traditions and rituals, and in our songs and laughter. You can choose to acknowledge them publicly, privately, or not at all, if you so desire. I wish you a peaceful heart in knowing that they are, and will always be, there with us during our proudest moments and at our most significant milestones — just as my mom was there, with me, on my wedding day.