Weddings are beautiful, joyous celebrations of life and love. We like to talk about them as perfect days, and some go as far as to say it’ll be the happiest day of your life, but today I’m here to tell you weddings don’t have to be 100% perfect, and you don’t have to be 100% happy all day long. For some, their wedding day might even be bittersweet at moments, because the reality is that life is messy, things don’t always go as planned, and loved ones die.
As sad as the passing of a loved one truly is, death is a natural part of the life cycle and is the most expected thing that people don’t feel comfortable talking about. So how the heck are we supposed to talk about death, loss and grief in the context of the happiest day of your life?
We honor the love and respect the loss by acknowledging the grief.
I’m no psychologist, but I’ve spent enough time in therapy to know that when we shut out negative emotions, we also block out joyful emotions. When the grief is fresh or there’s a part of the day where the loss is particularly felt, you may worry about becoming emotional during your wedding. But my worry is that you’ll focus so much on keeping the tears away and blocking the sadness that you won’t be able to fully experience your wedding.
When we take the time to acknowledge our grief, we allow ourselves a moment to honor the love, respect the loss, and continue the healing process. All loss is significant, but some carry a heavier weight on a day as symbolic as a wedding, so the way you choose to remember your loved ones can vary greatly. However you represent the remembrance, I encourage you to be honest about what you need, and how you want to honor their memory.
A Private Moment
If you have a feeling tears will be involved, you may want to consider setting some time aside in the morning for reflection. Do you want to take some time to watch a video of them while drinking your morning coffee? Is there a special spot you’d like to visit before going to the venue? Do you and your family want to take a moment together before the ceremony begins? Is there someone unable to be present, but you can take a moment to call each other?
A Public Moment
If you have the unfortunate case of a death close to the date of the wedding, or the death of a parent, you may choose to include a public moment of recognition, such as a moment of silence during the ceremony, or a special song in place of a traditional dance. If a parent has passed, there are many hurdles to face, including the parent dances. Some couples choose to skip these dances altogether, while others will have siblings or parental figures join them in a special dance. If you choose a public moment of remembrance, we recommend speaking with anyone who might be sensitive to the death so they know what to expect.
A Subtle Mention
For those who want to go a more subtle route, there are so many ways you can choose to reflect on the loss you want to represent. Maybe you want to include their favorite poem in your ceremony, or a memorial table in your reception. You may choose to reserve a ceremony seat in your ceremony for someone who’s place could never be filled, or include their favorite flower in your bouquet.
Your program gives ample opportunity to leave a note of remembrance for any points of loss and grief you wish to honor. This can be as simple as an “in honor of” note at the bottom of your program, a special story you want to share, a cause that is close to your hearts, or even a love note. Sarah from Lust ‘il Dawn shared how she chose to honor her deceased mother and father in her wedding program: “I wrote a personal letter to my parents about my wedding day, events leading up to it, and how they would’ve loved it. I kept it pretty positive and also liked including something so personal that you didn’t really know was there unless you flipped through the program intentionally. It could’ve been easily missed, but that was sort of the intention; to have my words to my parents out there without having a huge emphasis on it.”
Stephanie & Matt’s Intimate Outdoor Wedding – Photo Credit: Jeff Allen Studios
A Personal Token
Some losses, we hold closer to our hearts, and you may choose to include a personal token to remember the loss. If you have something from the person you want to include that can be worked into your wedding, we find that’s a beautiful way to think of them. This might mean having a piece of their clothing sewn into your dress or jacket, wearing a piece of jewelry like a watch or necklace, or using something from their wedding such as a veil or cufflinks. I carried my late grandfather’s gold cross wrapped around my bouquet, and one of our brides had a charm bracelet with photos of her late grandparents.
Acknowledging Your Changing Plans
If your wedding plans were forced to change because of COVID-19, you may be experiencing feelings of disappointment, loss, and even grief. You put a lot of time, effort, money, and excitement into planning a wedding for a certain date, so it’s perfectly natural and understandable to feel bittersweet about your wedding plans. If you chose to reschedule or postpone your wedding, the best way you can acknowledge the change is by celebrating on your original date. You might have chosen to elope on your original date but push back the reception, or you might have rescheduled the whole shebang, but either way you should do something to celebrate your love on that date. Maybe it’s an amazing at-home date night with food from your favorite restaurant and reading your vows together. Maybe you put on your wedding outfits and have a photographer take pictures of you on your front porch. Maybe it’s a video chat with your bridal party. However you celebrate, make sure it feels totally YOU.