If you would have asked me right after I got engaged if I thought my mom wouldn’t be alive to be there, I would have broken down into tears because that was my biggest fear. Whether your mother died while you were a child, unexpectedly, or after a long bout with cancer like mine, there’s something not right about getting married without having her there beside you. It’s not to say doing so isn’t possible—it is—but for those who are struggling with trying to be happy or finding the strength to get through this difficult time, I have some advice for you.
1. Make decisions that feel right to you at the time.
When I was planning my wedding, every decision was a struggle because I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. What I failed to ask myself was whether or not the “wrong decision” was by my own definition or someone else’s. When I was in therapy, my therapist explained grief as being buzzed. I was healthy enough to know right from wrong but just buzzed enough to make a risky decision. I think that’s a great analogy because grief can complicate even the simplest decisions. My advice is to make a decision that feels right to you in the moment, whatever it is or whatever it involves. When you make a decision that feels right to you in the moment, it’s because it IS the right decision for your state of mind at that time.
You can always look back on it with a fresh perspective, but when you make choices based on what your heart wants, you lower the chance of regretting your decisions later on.
Traditionalists will advocate against this, but I think eloping is a great option for someone who is grieving simply because it allows you to take the control back. After you lose someone you love, you feel powerless. You were powerless to stop them from dying. You feel powerless when it comes to being in charge of your emotions. You feel powerless about having your life altered without your permission. Eloping, in a way, brings the control back because it allows you to customize what your big day looks like.
For many grieving brides, the traditional aspects of the wedding—the first dances, the family photos, picking out a wedding dress—are the most difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, weddings aren’t really focused on the couple (though they should be) but rather on the couple’s family. When you’re missing someone in your family, it makes you feel left out and heartbroken to see everyone have what you’re missing. Eloping allows you to avoid all that.
Do you want to go to a theme park after exchanging vows? Do it! You want to go zip lining? Do it. You want to go home and put on the Golden Girls? Do it. At the end of the day, your wedding should look however you want but also however you can have a half-decent day. Your wedding isn’t about anyone else but the two of you.
3. Minimize how often you confide in others about wedding decisions.
When you’re planning a wedding, everyone is going to have an opinion. A lot of it comes from what they had at their own wedding or trying to push their own agenda or their own regrets onto yours. While this is a common annoyance that happens with most weddings, it can be even more difficult to deal with when you’re grieving.
When you’re grieving, you’re looking for validation for your decisions. However, what happens when someone in your bridal party, family, or soon-to-be in-laws have a different outlook? It makes you question yours.
What a lot of outsiders don’t realize is what the grieving person is looking for in these types of situations. The grieving person isn’t looking for advice, they’re looking for someone to validate that what they want is okay because they no longer have that guidance from their deceased parent. The grieving person doesn’t usually realize this is what they’re doing, which leads to miscommunication. If you make a decision about your wedding, simply relay the news. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s not your responsibility. Over-confiding in someone can cause you to make a decision that best serves them as opposed to your needs.
4. Make a list of pros and cons (and then make a list about how you truly feel about the situation).
So often, those who are grieving feel like there’s something wrong with them for being as sad as they are and for how long. Unfortunately, when you talk to people who are either not understanding or lack the necessary skills and training to help you cope with your emotions, you’re going to be fed lines that aren’t necessarily helpful.
This is your reminder that there is NOTHING wrong with how you’re feeling right now or about this situation. This is a difficult and emotionally-draining time in your life.
Writing down how you genuinely feel about what happened or about the expectations both you and others are putting on you is a healthy way to get your emotions out. The more you write, the more clear all these big decisions will become.
5. Don’t seek approval for your decisions.
Like asking for opinions, trying to get everyone’s approval over what your wedding looks like is an impossible task. Remember, you do not need to get someone else’s approval in order for your choice to be valid.
6. Remember that you are allowed to experience joy throughout this process.
When I went to purchase my wedding gown, I opted for a pink number over a fitted mermaid gown that made me feel like a bride. I didn’t want to feel like a bride because doing so made me feel guilty. Remember, you are ALLOWED to have moments of joy. And you’re certainly not a child for having them if your loved one can’t be with you. Purposely making decisions to avoid certain things for the sake of doing it is not going to benefit you in the long run. Those will become decisions you DO regret later on. Lean into moments that bring you genuine joy.
7. Cancel your wedding until you’re feeling better.
And before I get too far into this, you are going to feel better. About six months before my wedding, my best friend gave me this advice and I was absolutely irate over it because at that point in my grief, I genuinely didn’t believe I would ever get better. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, and so to hear that I had to wait until there was felt like an insurmountable task. And I was angry at her for a very long time because of it.
I eventually did see the light at the end of the tunnel… but it took me two and half years after my wedding in order for me to get there. It’s hard to hear that things get better from someone who isn’t in your shoes, which is why I’m telling you to remind yourself of this on your own.
Grief takes time to heal and you will never get over the pain of losing your mother, but you will have that first moment when life feels ordinary again. I can’t tell you when it will happen or what it will entail, but I promise that you’ll see it. For me, it was my 30th birthday. For four years, I didn’t look forward to my birthday. I didn’t look forward to any holiday or special occasion because I wished my mom was a part of it. And one day, I just woke up looking forward to my birthday. One day, I just looked forward to Christmas and Thanksgiving. One day, I didn’t spend the entire afternoon crying.
Don’t get me wrong, I still cry. I still miss her. And those are all things I’ll never get over, but the “one day” part will eventually happen. Unfortunately, you have to get through the shitty stuff first in order to get there.
Remember, when you’re planning your wedding without your mom, the best piece of advice I can offer to you is to do whatever makes this day easier for you. If that means canceling it, do it. If that means going to the courthouse, do it. If that means eloping, do it. And if someone else has a problem with it or asks for your day to look different, do what my mom liked to do and tell them to fuck off.