My wedding day was beautiful. I was surrounded by family and friends. I felt loved. I felt supported. I held back my tears as I spoke my vows to the love of my life and we slipped rings on one another’s fingers. I smiled so much that whole day that I didn’t know if I could ever stop.
It was everything a wedding should be.
Except there was a void.
When the photographer asked for my family to stand with us for pictures, my parents and my sister were nowhere in sight.
The reason they were absent? I never sent them an invitation.
I agonized over the final decision to go no-contact with my immediate family.
I had briefly done so once before; dysfunction could no longer be ignored. Words were said that could not be taken back. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to create space for myself. I blocked them anywhere we might be connected online, and made a vow not to answer any of their phone calls.
I needed distance to heal and to process the last 20-something years of my life, and find my footing on my own without their influence.
Some time later — whether it was six months or a year, I don’t remember — my heartache and my healing fantasies convinced me that if I just gave them another chance, things would be different.
Things were… okay. For awhile. Awkward, but okay, I suppose. We found a tentative peace between us all.
And then a boundary was crossed.
Confrontation was had.
I saw, finally, that nothing had actually changed. This relationship was unhealthy for me to continue in.
So I walked away.
I spent years in therapy trying to make sense of the fog of my life leading up to that moment in which I chose myself.
Was I making the worst mistake of my life or doing the very best thing I could for my mental health?
Were my memories, reflecting such an awful history, accurate? Could I trust my own senses?
Was I a bad daughter for hurting them so terribly?
I could feel an invisible string linking me to my family. I could sense the conversations they were having amongst themselves trying to make sense of my choices. I could feel the depths of their grief in being rejected by me. I could hear accusations in each of their voices, screaming in my mind, about what a bitch I was for going my own way.
Through all of it, even in the deepest spaces of my own pain, I was still centering their feelings over my own.
Sometimes, they would scream at me for days and days before I could find a way to silence those voices.
It was torture.
The trauma impacted my body too. My spine had become so hunched under the weight of my grief, that I had developed two pinched nerves. For several months, I practically lost the ability to use both of my arms and experienced terrible pain in my chest.
Through a lot of mindful work on my part, I began to heal. I grew stronger. I learned how to stand on my own two feet and how to begin to put my own needs first.
I learned that I matter. I am not just likable as a human being, I am worthy of love: love that doesn’t come with strings attached or expectations for me to fulfill some predetermined role. I learned that love empowers, and never tears down. Love embraces authenticity and doesn’t settle for a fake sense of peace based on people-pleasing.
Eventually, the invisible string broke down to nearly nothing, and the screaming voices quieted. I still hear them occasionally, but they’re much softer than they used to be. They don’t have that same hold on me today that they once did.
But that grief is still there.
Grief for losing my family.
Grief for the family I never had, but wish to God I did.
Grief for all of it.
My husband and I got engaged during a period of time in which I was in contact with my immediate family. I saw them attending my wedding then, though I knew their role in the wedding would be toned down more than they would have expected.
My father was never going to walk me down the aisle. My parents would not be involved in any of the wedding planning details. It was my attempt to find a new normal with them that allowed me room to take priority in my own life.
When I decided to go back into no-contact mode with them for the second time, there was always a small whisper of hope in my heart that maybe, somehow, I could have them at the wedding. I mean… it was my wedding; I could make an exception for the most important day of my life, right? I couldn’t envision that day taking place without them in the room.
But when we set the date, it suddenly became clear that I shouldn’t be inviting them at all. I knew that if I did, my wedding weekend would have become about making sure they were happy. It would have been about prioritizing them instead of myself or my new husband.
I would have been giving into healing fantasies that will likely never materialize. So, instead, I would prioritize my own mental well-being and my wedding and I would not be sending them an invitation.
The decision finally made, I then spent weeks struggling to get out of bed in the morning. My ability to concentrate on day-to-day tasks fell to zero. Tears would jump suddenly into my eyes as the most random things reminded me that I would not have the wedding I used to envision when I was a kid.
I flew to California roughly a month after setting the date to go shopping for a wedding dress with my best friend. At the last minute, I nearly canceled our appointment at the bridal boutique. Every time I thought about trying on wedding dresses, I would have flashbacks to Friday nights in my late teens/early twenties spent with my mom watching, Say Yes To The Dress, and the dreams we would share about how my own dress would look one day.
I didn’t settle on a dress until about 5 weeks before the wedding. And in all honesty, I chose it only because I ran out of time and because I was drained and exhausted by the thought of trying on even one more dress.
I probably tried on 100 dresses in the end. None of them were quite right.
The one I chose was still a “maybe” on the day of my wedding. I even brought a $30 dress from SHEIN with me to the hotel as a backup in case I tried on my dress and hated how I looked in it.
Perhaps, if I could have had that dress-shopping milestone most mothers and daughters get to experience, I wouldn’t have struggled so much settling on a dress.
In the end, I stuck with the dress I bought five weeks before the wedding.
I suppose I made the right choice. Everyone gave me such great complements on it.
In hindsight, I do like it. I like the shape it gave me. I like that it changed colours, depending on the light. It was a pretty dress, and it worked.
But there is still so much grief attached to that dress.
When our photographer asked for my family to stand up with us for photos on our wedding day, there was a brief moment of awkwardness when it became clear to her and everyone else in the room that my only family present were my cousins on my mother’s side and their partners.
I look at those photos now and I feel a strange mixture of grief and gratitude.
Grief: because my family photos were supposed to include my parents and my sister; I didn’t get to find out what it would be like to get married with them by my side to support me as I start a new chapter of my life.
It was my decision, of course. And I do believe that it was the right one for what I need in my life right now. However, I am saddened by the reality of the situation nonetheless.
Gratitude: because I still had family there to support me and send me off into married life. I really didn’t know if I would have that or not. The moment that I found out my cousins were indeed coming, I was overjoyed.
My eyes shift to other pictures now.
My two bridesmaids are fussing over me before the wedding, ensuring that my dress is properly fluffed and my veil is on properly. In another picture, they are standing beside me during the ceremony, beautiful in their intentionally mismatched burgundy chiffon dresses, as I tearfully look into my husband’s eyes.
Picking up other pictures; I see our two nieces walking down the aisle. I see our nephew.
Another picture; we’re standing with my husband’s family, who are now my family.
Another picture; my new husband and I are cutting our wedding cake together, ushering in the next phase of our lives with friends and family looking on.
I wasn’t alone on my wedding day.
I was surrounded by love everywhere that I looked. It was a beautiful day, and I would happily live it 1,000 times over.
But a part of me will always grieve that my immediate family will never be found among our guests.
Joy lives alongside grief.
2 thoughts on “Wedding Planning and Grief”
Vulnerability is courage, says Brené Brown. Here you are, doing the hard thing. Sharing your truth with honesty and rawness. Thank you. I felt every word. I care about how you felt and feel. Good job, Shari! Good job
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Thank you, Kara, for your kind words and encouragement. I appreciate your message and I appreciate you 💜