Credit:Andrew Callaci (Portland) and Nicole Varnell (Spokane)
Planning a wedding is an amazing adventure. You have this incredible period of time where you get to celebrate daily the fact that you have found the love of your life. You’ll spend that time finding creative ways to express yourself as a couple and put together a celebration that encompasses all of the great and ordinary things that make you and your beloved, well, you.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always get the memo that you’re supposed to be blissful. Sometimes reality comes crashing down and sometimes tragedy hits. When these things happen, you come to grips with the fact that someone you love, someone who was an integral part of your life and someone you never dreamed of having a wedding without, won’t be there.
Within days of accepting my fiance’s proposal, it became evident that my father was in a lot of trouble over a check he mailed to a business investor. He was being investigated for money laundering and mail fraud and none of us really understood how or why. Thinking it was all a misunderstanding that could be resolved, Dad was cooperative and transparent. His honesty earned him five years in a federal prison hundreds of miles away. Since September, I’ve only been able to communicate with him via email, and it’s very expensive. I filled out the necessary paperwork months ago to be approved to visit him, but still haven’t been approved.
This situation has had a tremendous effect on my family. Their home was lost. We’re still unsure of how a seemingly simple error warranted five years of prison time. Explaining it all is awkward, scary and painful. Then of course, there are the uncomfortable feelings that go along with knowing my father won’t be there to walk me down the aisle. I won’t get to see his blushing face smile at me awkwardly when he sees me fully dressed in my gown. I will miss out on the adorable scenes of a father-daughter dance. It takes a lot of the joy out of “joyous occasion” when I dwell on it, and being happy feels selfish.
I had to accept the fact that my situation isn’t altogether unique. We all have our shit, and we all deserve to be happy.
There are a multitude of reasons someone you love could be obviously, even painfully missing and it can lead to a lot of uncomfortable questions.
“Who’s going to walk you down the aisle”
“How are you going to honor them?”
“How can you just keep planning with them gone?”
Don’t be afraid to tell people it’s personal and that you’re not ready to talk about it. You don’t ever have to be ready. This is between you and your betrothed. Any insinuation that you shouldn’t be happy is shitty and unfair and should be treated as such. I had a little bit of warning that my father wouldn’t be present at my wedding, so I rushed the wedding dress purchase just a bit. That was the one thing he could contribute and wanted desperately to do it, so when I found a dress I loved, I made sure he was there to see me try it on and make the purchase. He still tells me how grateful he is to have been made a part of it. Losing someone doesn’t always come with a warning, but it if does, consider giving them a chance to feel included. Bring pictures or magazines or questions to ask. You’d be surprised how a glimpse into something beautiful and happy can relieve someone who is suffering.
A good thing to remember is that people who love you want you to be happy. It’s horribly sad to think about, but how often do people say in their last days, “I want you be be happy and go on living your life”? Most of the time, right? I have the benefit and detriment of communicating with my dad, even just by email and he tells me every time that I deserve to be happy. I choose to believe him because I know he’s right.
At times, people will take an even more callous approach: “Just get over it. You’ve only got x months left.” How rude. Mourning has no time limit. Fear and anxiety and sadness have no time limit. When someone you love is missing, every step can be a reminder and I’m not here to tell you what and what not to dwell on. When things get hard, find someone to talk to. Someone you trust, who understands your struggle can bring you back to center. Sometimes they will have ideas on how to cope or how to address things. Listen. They care and want to help you.
Above all, don’t be ashamed. Shame is, in my opinion, the most damaging state to be in. It’s not my fault that my dad wrote a check out of the wrong business account and I refuse to see him as a bad person. It’s not wrong of you to move on with planning even though your loved one is sick or has died. You’ll have enough emotion of your own, so when painful situations arise, never, ever, ever let anyone dictate how you should and shouldn’t feel.
Have you suffered a loss during your wedding planning? How did you cope? Give brides your kindest advice in the comments below.