It was a snowy winter day, the crisp mountain air seeping into our lungs. We decided to take the first ski run of our trip from the top of Aspen Highlands Mountain. We arrived at the peak and before I knew it, my now husband was down on one knee proposing. It was a picture-perfect fairytale moment in my happy place with my favorite person. As the excitement and joy enveloped me, the sun started shining through the clouds. “Mom, is that you?” I thought.
Getting engaged was truly one of the happiest times of my life. It was also the first joyful moment that I could not share with my mom. We got engaged about four months after my mother passed away. As my husband noted in his wedding speech, my mother played a large role in our engagement. Apparently, she had a private heart-to-heart with him about us getting engaged when she was in the hospital. I will always cherish that memory. Nevertheless, when I went to make my first elated “We’re engaged!” call, my mother’s phone number was not an option. In the same moment, I felt joy and sadness, wholeness and emptiness. My brain did not know how to react.
As the dust settled, it came time to plan the wedding. I did not know where to start and could not believe that I had to plan one of the biggest days of my life without my mom. I am fortunate to have great friends and family who were immensely helpful. And, no one can replace her. Going through wedding planning without my mother was challenging on numerous levels. There were many fun and exciting parts too, there was just a layer of, “I wish my mom were here,” looming underneath. If you are planning a wedding without your deceased mother, I hope these lessons can be helpful for you:
TELL VENDORS UPFRONT
As we started looking at venues, without fail someone would say, “your mother will love this part” or “all of the moms like to know…” or worse, “when mom gets annoying, she can go to this special area.” Initially, I would smile politely and continue on our tour. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to feel joy, not have constant reminders of my mother’s absence. As if I wasn’t already thinking about it. So I changed my approach. When I called vendors, one of the first things I said was, “just so you are aware, my mother passed away this year so she is not part of the planning.” It may seem direct or socially unconventional, but it completely turned the process around. After the initial calls, I did not have to hear how my mother would presumably feel if she were here. I also felt more comfortable bringing my father dress shopping when we no longer had to ignore the elephant in the room. Furthermore, it gave me space to think about what my mom actually would think or want for me. In fact, I knew which wedding dress was “the one” when I found out it was called “Clementine,” my mother’s nickname for me.
THINK ABOUT WAYS TO INCLUDE HER IN YOUR BIG DAY
As we narrowed down vendors, I still could not wrap my head around the idea that my mother was not going to show up for the big day. Sometimes grief plays tricks on you and makes it seem like this is all one big joke. I researched and compiled a list of ways to include my mother. This is what we did:
- I wore my mother’s jewelry and wedding rings during the wedding and beyond.
- Wedding dress
- I had part of my mother’s wedding dress repurposed as a table runner under our chuppah. I also wore part of her dress to my rehearsal dinner.
- Favorite flowers
- Hydrangeas, my mother’s favorite flowers, were sprinkled throughout floral arrangements and bridal party bouquets.
- Bridal bouquet
- My bouquet was a modern interpretation of my mother’s wedding bouquet wrapped in a sash from her wedding dress. I fastened a locket to the bouquet with my mother’s picture and handwriting in it.
- Bridal party present
- I gave my bridal party bracelets from New Mexico, where my mother was born.
- Memory table
- We had a table in a prominent place during the reception with photographs of our close relatives who had passed away, including my mother.
- XOXO balloons
- My mother’s signature sign off was “XOXO” (i.e., kisses and hugs), so we placed XOXO balloons around the memory table. I released balloons at the end of the night to symbolically send her kisses and hugs.
- Dedication in the wedding program
- We had a dedication page in our wedding program listing the ways we included my mother. This is how we phrased it: “On this special day in our lives, we lovingly remember all those who could not be here with us, especially the Mother of the Bride. Though she could not be here physically, her presence can be felt and seen through…”
- Charm sewn into wedding dress
- Handwriting jewelry and charms are a special way to have a piece of the deceased person with you. Inside of my dress was a charm that read, “Xoxo, Mom” in my mother’s handwriting.
- Personalized ketubah
- Our ketubah was handmade with personalized symbols including my mother’s favorite animal and the New Mexican roadrunner.
- Groom’s speech
- My husband spoke about my mother in his speech, which was extra meaningful.
- Father of the bride speech
- My father also spoke about my mother and how she would have felt if she were there.
There are many other ways to honor the deceased at your wedding. Some of the options we considered but did not include were: lighting a candle, moment of silence, empty seat, and donating to a charity important to my mother. These are great ideas and may work well for other couples. It is important to find ways to include your mother that make sense to you given who she was and your relationship with her. When considering the feel of our ceremony, we wanted to balance acknowledging my mother’s absence with the joy of the occasion. We thought that lighting a candle, silence, or an empty seat might evoke too much sadness when we wanted to feel elated. My mother also would have hated the empty seat idea. In terms of donating to a charity, we wanted the wedding to be about us as a couple rather than my mother’s illness. We also do a great deal of charitable work in her memory already, so did not feel the need to do more on our wedding day. However, if you are looking for an opportunity to donate to a cause important to your mother, wedding favors can be a meaningful way to do so.
DON’T AVOID THE SUBJECT
As you can see from the above list, we did not avoid the topic of my mother’s absence. We truly embraced it, and talked about her with love and warmth. One might think it would be too sad to talk about a deceased parent on such a joyful occasion. I can understand that. However, even if you don’t acknowledge it, it’s still there. There was something very special about seeing our wedding guests moved by all that we did to include my mother in our big day. In some ways, the personal touches made our wedding even more meaningful than I could have imagined.
I still wish that my mother could have been there with us to celebrate. She would have had the time of her life and I know that she would have done anything to be there. In fact, we suspect that she was already celebrating at our wedding in her mind when she passed away. Given that she could not be there physically, my heart is full from all of the ways we brought her spirit into the day. I know she would be proud.