If you want to know what the hardest part of this whole wedding process was, just ask me about my bridal shower. Back in May, I was experiencing one of the hardest weeks of 2018 since my mom died. I can’t remember why, but I remember crumbling at the very mention of the word ‘wedding.’ And, it coincidentally, I suppose, happened to be around the time when guests, bridesmaids and the like needed me to make final decisions about my upcoming nuptials. The wedding was – and is – the least of my priorities if I’m being honest.
I remember breaking down over the thought of my bridal shower because this was going to be the first major wedding-themed event I was going to have to get through without my mom. Had she passed away several years ago, I’d like to think that while the pain never goes away, my heart would have had time to heal by the time my bridal shower came around. A year after her death is not enough time to heal, let alone have to fake a smile opening presents without the one person there I needed. In the midst of my breakdown, I asked my fiance if he knew when it was and he did. I begged him to tell me because I couldn’t deal with the anxiety anymore. I figured if I knew when the date was that it’d be easier for me to cope and maybe readjust the way I had been thinking about it. Lovingly, he told me, and it didn’t ruin anything for me; it eased the anxiety a bit knowing it was still a few months away.
The months after were quite easy to get through and in the middle of them, I picked out wedding flowers, tried on my dress, fawned over Pinterest. There is this misconception that because I can’t deal with some wedding things, that it means I detest all of it. It isn’t true. Things that can be solely based upon John and I are easy for me to handle, and even get me excited. It’s familial traditions that get me – things like picking out a wedding dress, bridal shower and the wedding itself that are difficult to swallow – and they have every reason to be, especially a year after my mother passed.
The two weeks leading up to my bridal shower, I fell into a deep depression. I was crying at work, coming home to play all her favorite songs on repeat. I was angry, cursing out the entire event, refusing to go, breaking down crying day after day, getting into arguments with my friends, who I felt so disconnected from. I kept hearing things like, “Your mom would want you to be happy” and “Why are you torturing yourself?” and “Maybe you need medication” from loved ones who had been closest to me, who supposedly understood my level of grief and the pain this caused me. Their words caused me to retreat, to hide back within myself only to find that it angered them, saying “Don’t avoid me.”
I felt like no matter what I did, or said, or didn’t say, I was in the wrong, that I kept having to justify myself for feeling the way I had been feeling. I wrote articles, thinking it would make me happier, that it would perhaps relieve some of this pain that had been eroding inside me. The day before my shower, John took me out to the mall to get me out of the house and I broke down near Forever 21, hyperventilating.
The morning of my bridal shower consisted of two panic attacks, and in the car, only minutes away from the location I could barely breathe. My hands were clammy, my neck dripping with sweat, my erratic breathing beginning to worry John who parked the car slowly and suggested we stay inside for a couple of minutes. When I got out of the car, I felt so weak that I had to hold on to him for balance, before collapsing on the bench outside, having two of my guests – and friends – hide behind their hair walking past me as I’m screaming out in agony that I couldn’t breathe, that I can’t go in, that I can’t do this.
My maid of honor – and best friend – came out and rubbed my back. I fought back the vomit. She assured me that it was a small affair, nothing grand and once again started saying to me that my mom would “still be there with me.” That’s the harshest thing we say to people in mourning: “they’re still there.” Where? Which seat will she be sitting in? What photo will we have together? What present did she buy me off my registry?
I’ve come to detest that traditional phrase I’ve told people in mourning. It seems innocent, but really, all it does it send daggers to your already constricting chest.
We walked inside and it was very quiet. I kept my sunglasses on like I was a Kardashian, too good to show my watery eyes to the room. I was shaking, trying my best to stay to one side of the room with my head down while I took it all in. My friends did a beautiful job, adding hints of Disney everywhere in my cake and in small, bridal games. My future mother-in-law bought me a pair of bridal Minnie ears, and my best friend, a bridal sash which I didn’t know if I had the strength to wear.
My bridal shower was an afternoon with tea, a blend of fruity flavors, cucumber sandwiches, croissants, and scones at the beautiful Picket Fence & Garden Tea Room. It was a nightmare for some of my guests who despise high tea, but for me, it was everything I’d ever envisioned my bridal shower to be. About an hour in, I began to come down, laughing, making jokes with my friends and John who was kind enough to stay by my side through the entire event.
When it came time to open presents, my friend’s mom urged me to wear my ears and bridal sash and I saw my friends out of the corner of my eye, look terrified at her actions because the more this event felt like a bridal shower, the more it made me miss my mom. I took a deep breath and tried, slinging the sash over my shoulders and tucking the hat strap beneath my chin. I sat in the center of the room with all eyes on me, feeling the weight of my anxiety creep up.
I got through it though, and as the event ended and I began helping everyone clean up, my friend Nicole handed me a box from the bridesmaids which contained a bridal bouquet trinket with a quote that says “Mom, walk beside me every day” and a photo of my mom. The second I saw my mom’s face I broke down – not a tearful smile, a heavy, broken down sob. My friends circled me and when I had eyeliner dripping down my face, I ran into the bathroom to fix myself up, coming out to thank them for the gift that I actually am using as a keychain up until my wedding day because I like having an opportunity to see her on a daily basis.
As I got home and unloaded all the gifts, I was thankful that the event was over and proud of myself for getting through it. My mother-in-law texted and said she knew I was upset by the gift my friends gave me but in time, I’d learn to appreciate it. What people don’t understand about losing a mother can be summarized by that one quote. My bridal shower had sweet, loving moments and that is what I will remember from it. My father, about a week before the event, came to my house and while I was crying on the couch, said to me, “Everything about the wedding is going to suck. It’s all terrible. You just have to find some happy moments in between.”
I think that’s the best way to surmise what planning a wedding without your mom is like. Maybe there are some people who are able to handle it better than me, or maybe they had a different relationship, all of which is fine. My mom and I were extensions of one another. I didn’t know where she ended and I began. We talked every day, multiple times a day. My mom was a part of every one of my decisions, every part of my goals, my happiness and even my woes. Without her, life feels bleak and that’s okay for now. I know the misery won’t last forever, just like I know my friends who try to cheer me up do it to the best of their abilities.
I was happy in a way that my friends got to see that side of me because actions speak a lot louder than words. You know, when someone dies, your friends and family are there 24/7. They’re there for every pained phone call, the funeral, and doing whatever they can to make you laugh, or reminisce, and even in those moments, phrases like “she’s still with you” make you feel better because you just lost them. After the funeral though, people drop off. My aunt and uncle stopped inviting my dad and me over for summer barbeques. My brother who lives five minutes down the road refuses to visit. My nephew who lives with my dad has never even mentioned my mom’s name to either of us. Friends care, but it’s a topic they don’t know what to say because it’s something they’ve never experienced.
When I talk freely about my distaste for wedding planning, it’s because I’m sad that I’m doing it without her. It doesn’t go against my romantic feelings toward John or negate my desire to start a life together. It just means that waking up on October 5th, getting dressed, walking down the aisle, having my first dance and all the traditional aspects of it are difficult to swallow. They’re difficult for my father to swallow, too. When people get frustrated [out of kindness] that “I should be enjoying this time as a bride” it, in turn, makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong like my grieving has extended past its’ warranty.
There is no timeline on death or grieving. It moves at its own pace and to say things like, “Why are you torturing yourself?” or “Why don’t you cancel your wedding until you’re feeling better” are not statements that are rooted in toxicity, but they’re filled to the brim with it.
The time leading up to my bridal shower ended up filled with these kinds of statements and it made my grieving process worse. At the end of the day, I know better than anyone that my mom would want me to enjoy my bridal shower and for it to be perfect. At the end of the day, I knew she would be there in spirit. But, when I looked at all the pictures my friends took of me, I looked eagerly to see a small orb or imperfection that resembled her as proof she was there. All I had were empty photos, crystal clear, zoomed in on my face where I knew my mom would be able to look at it and say, “I can tell by your eyes” something’s wrong.”