Challenging “normal” wedding planning when I lost my mother while engaged

Guest post by Courtney Dercqu
Challenging "normal" wedding planning when I lost my mother while engaged
Photo by Khoa Nguyen on Unsplash

I considered myself to be an “ordinary bride,” that is until my mother died, and then I discovered that the definition of normalcy is what you deem appropriate, especially when it comes to wedding planning.

For the first few months after she died, it was only natural that my upcoming nuptials were the furthest thing from my mind. Then, as the year of my wedding date began to approach, suddenly friends and family became concerned that I wasn't living up to being a “traditional bride.” It begs the question: what's traditional?

My natural anxiety over my wedding stems, not from fear of settling down or with whom I'm jetting out to experience life. My anxiety stems from sadness over the empty seat at the right side of the aisle, the photos where a familiar and comforting face should be smiling, hands that should be zipping up the back of my dress, telling me how beautiful I look before I even get a chance to look at my reflection.

Until I became a motherless daughter, it was a concept I couldn't understand. And if you're reading this now, relating to my burden-riddled words at a rate of 100%, I'm sorry that you can. It's a burden unlike any other, but I hope you can find solace in these words — and your wedding day.

The one thing I keep reminding myself of is the fact that I don't want to be sad on the morning of my wedding. As much as I know my mother is looking down on me as I walk down that aisle, I don't want to be blindsided by my rightful emotions.

I plan on eloping before my actual wedding date. It'll be a small ceremony, with just the two of us standing in the park where my parents had their wedding photos taken. To me, walking down the aisle as a secretly married woman takes the sting out of the traditional formalities that would ordinarily take place. It makes walking down the aisle, the first dance, and essentially every other aspect of the wedding easier to digest. The one thing I keep reminding myself of is the fact that I don't want to be sad on the morning of my wedding. As much as I know my mother is looking down on me as I walk down that aisle, I don't want to be blindsided by my rightful emotions. With the wedding countdown lingering in double digits, I'm finding comfort with my decision to elope before the wedding.

Here's the thing, weddings are going to be internalized differently by those who are in them. While there's nothing wrong with living up to that “traditional” bridal experience, at the end of the day you need to ask yourself, “What's traditional?” Am I less of a bride because I don't want to wear a bridal sash at my bachelorette party? Am I less of a bride because I couldn't care less about the kinds of shoes my bridesmaids wear, as long as they're ones that make them happy? Am I less of a bride because I don't walk around with bridal quotes etched into my water bottle? Absolutely not!

Every bride is entitled to experience the kind of day that brings unparalleled happiness and respite. After all, weddings are a big deal! I think about what my soon-to-be husband and I have been through over the course of our four years together: surgeries, infertility scares, loss of employment, death of a parent (just to name a few), and at the end of the day, there's no one else with whom I'd rather have gone through each of those harrowing experiences. Weddings are a step into happily ever after and it's important to remember that with any ceremony, it's what happens next that makes the biggest impact on your life moving forward.

When people ask me if I'm excited about the wedding, I tell them that I'm excited to get married. For me, the greatest opportunity I've had in life is to find a partner who wants to walk on this beautiful, crooked path of life with me. Had my mother lived, I'd like to think that I would have indulged myself a little more into getting excited about the planning aspect of my nuptials. But, to feel some anxiety, to feel some sadness and a very real level of grief as I approach this day, I've come to accept it as a part of my overall healing.

I will never look back on my day with regret that I should have gotten more excited over my floral arrangements, or scoff at how I felt anguished at saying yes to my beautiful, blush-colored bridal gown without my mother standing beside me. At the end of the day, all I will remember and forever continue looking forward to is the life I'm lucky enough to live with my best friend, my companion, my soulmate — my reason for being.

If you've recently lost a parent, or even if you look at marriage as being more important to you than the wedding itself, you're not less of a bride for wanting to do things a little differently. At the end of the day, weddings are a celebration of the love that's unique to the two of you. Let your wedding, regardless of the reason, be nothing but a reflection of that by doing it the way your heart, mind, and soul are desperately craving you to do so.

As my mother used to say, you're never, ever wrong in the way you feel.

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Comments on Challenging “normal” wedding planning when I lost my mother while engaged

  1. Hugs and love, dear one.

    I’m pretty sure that I would elope beforehand, too, and that it would make everything a bit easier.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. My mom died before I got engaged, but she made my fiancé and I promise to marry each other before she passed. We had a tumultuous relationship, but I find myself missing out on things I never thought I’d think about: going dress shopping with her, having her witness my marriage and being happy for me (amazing, considering what she thought of my exes). I’m sending you *all* the hugs, and I get it. Congrats on your wedding, and I hope you and your partner have many, MANY happy years together.

    Again, thank you so much for writing this. It means a lot to me.

  3. Despite not being engaged yet, I relate to this so hard. My mother passed away almost 2 years ago now, and although we did have some type of warning/idea of how much time left (thanks cancer), it was nowhere near enough time. I had just begun seeing my current partner before my mom started to get sick, and my mom and I spent a lot of time talking about our potential future wedding, planning out colors and dates and talking about readings that were important to both of us. It was really important to my mother to have these conversations. Once things started to get worse, we even made plans to go wedding dress “window” shopping, so that we could share the experience of picking out a wedding dress and she could see me dressed up. All of these things don’t matter in the larger picture of the type of marriage I want to have, but there was a sense of symbolism that I didn’t realize was so important. We didn’t get to go dress shopping, but I am thankful for the conversations we had about weddings before she passed away. Now, when I get engaged, I can focus on planning for my marriage with her ideas for weddings to influence me.

    • Paige, this is almost my story verbatim. My mom and I were looking at wedding dresses on her iPad when she was hospitalized for the final time before going home for hospice care, and she made it *very* clear to my fiancé that she loved him and was happy to have him as a son-in-law. I’m so sorry you lost your mom, but I’m so glad you two were able to bond over this before she passed away. Good luck on your future engagement and lots of hugs!

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