Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Motherless Bride

planning my wedding without my mom

I often feel like those around me hate me. I don’t live up to this “traditional bridal” role, and it often makes me feel worse on top of how shitty I already feel.

When my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer at the age of 55 in 2011, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t be around to watch me walk down the aisle. While I feared losing her, I was wholly ignorant of the concept of death. I forgive myself for feeling that way because let’s face it, coming to terms with your beloved person dying is not very high on the to-do list.

When I got engaged in the summer of 2016, I remember having a quick doubt about planning a ceremony in October of 2018. I looked at my fiance and asked if my mom would still be alive. He smiled and reassured me, neither of us realizing that God had a different plan.

When my mother died, I was told on the side of the road by my fiance who put his face down on the steering wheel and nodded at me when I asked, “My mother’s dead, isn’t she?” A police officer escorted me to my parents’ house, where my deceased mother’s frozen body laid limp on the tiled floor in between their bedroom and the bathroom. I waited in a neighbor’s house, telling her Lieutenant husband that I wanted to see her before he put his arm on my shoulder and quietly told me “no.”

The entire day seemed like a blur because the shock of losing someone you loved more than anyone in this world doesn’t fully hit you until months later. It was around August of last year when I was slumped on my kitchen floor, banging my head against the cabinets, screaming to the heavens why God took her – and when could he take me so we could simply be together. My fiance scooped me up and I cried, broken down as a shell of who I used to be until my pain went numb.

The months following such a traumatic loss are fueled by rage. I often questioned God why then subsequently hated the lack of answer I beheld. I grew angry with my dad for telling my mom “no” to the tacky blue drapes she wanted for the bedroom. I grew angry with my sister for moving in and wearing my mother’s butterfly blazer. I grew angry with my brother  who lives walking distance from my home but never visits. I grew angry with life, because why, at 26-years old, did I have to pick out my beautiful mother’s coffin, lace her frozen fingertips between my own, and bury her? Why, at 26, did I have to lose my mom, write her eulogy in the journal I had bought her for Christmas and deliver it to a tear-soaked room? To this day, a year and a half later, I still catch myself driving aimlessly thinking I’m living out the sick plot to someone else’s life, devastated by my bitter reality.

And then, of course, I’m getting married on top of all of that. The closer the event draws near, the more it is laced with dreaded emotion and vulnerability. Marriage and weddings are different species. Marriage is spending your life with your best friend. Weddings are about family.

I always say that people can understand that I miss my mom, but they can’t understand why I’m not excited about my wedding. People often scoff, saying that they do understand and can’t imagine my pain but in the same sentence will say, “But it should be a happy event. Your mom would want you to be happy.” As someone who was pretty close with my mom, I’m fully aware of that fact.

See, my mom wasn’t a woman I actually looked at as being my parent. My mother was my best friend. My mother and I shared the kind of quirky bond that made us sisters. No topic was ever off-limits with either of us. I remember meeting her at the mall one time after a night in the city with the man I was dating and as soon as I sat down, my mother without missing a beat, took a sip of her lemonade and said, “So…how was he?” Perhaps that kind of relationship was inappropriate, but it outlines how much information about my life I shared with my mom. She was more than just a parent: she was my cheerleader, my confidant, my best friend, my support system, my conscience, and the person who I did everything with. There wasn’t one aspect of our lives that weren’t intertwined, and when she passed, I realized more than ever just how much of an extension of one another we really were. I often say that I don’t know where my mom ended and I began, and now being forced to live without her constant guidance and support, I find just how little happiness there really is in my world. It’s hard to appreciate how much light someone brings to your waking hours until their flame dies out.

So, here I am, months out from my wedding and I can’t hide behind that sadness anymore. There are reservations to be booked, plans to be made, moments where I’m going to be triggered with the inevitable reminder that unlike most brides, my mother lives on another playing field. At the start of this year, the emotions weren’t that bad. I still held a level of excitement, holding reservations only for the moments I’d ordinarily be sharing with my mom. This included picking out a bridal gown. People wanted to go with me – my dad, in-laws, best friends, and bridesmaids. Before my mom died, I was centered on the idea of sharing that beautiful moment with those women closest to me. When she died, no other woman could even compete. I walked in with my fiance, letting my attendant know early on how hard the process would be. I walked out with a gown without getting that “bridal” feeling; in fact, I wanted a dress that didn’t scream “bride.” I wanted it to scream “me” – because being a bride actually feels too overwhelming. If the dress was fun and non-traditional, then maybe the pain that came along with what I had traditionally expected may lessen.

A few weeks before my bridal shower, I knew about the date, feeling more pain than I ever had in my life. On the morning of the event, I was broken down on the side of the street hyperventilating on a wooden bench, with my fiance rubbing my back and my best friend saying the cliched thing, “your mom would want you to be happy.” While my event was decorated and designed beautifully, it was the hardest three hours of my life and something I never want to subject myself through again.

You’re probably reading this and thinking to yourself, “this woman shouldn’t get married because she’s too emotional.” You, along with most people, are hearing this information for the first time and to an onlooker, it seems devastating. It seems deserving of immediate modification. So then I hear the plethora of helpful cliches:

  1. Your mom would want you to be happy
  2. Why don’t you medicate yourself until after the wedding?
  3. Why don’t you cancel your wedding?
  4. Why don’t you postpone your wedding?
  5. You’re making this harder than it has to be
  6. Why don’t you honor your mom at your wedding? Maybe turn her wedding dress into a purse.
  7. Your mom will still be there. She would never miss this for the world.

The list can, sadly and heartbreakingly, go on and on and on and on.

See, people don’t know what to say so it becomes kind of like tossing spaghetti against the wall in an effort to see what sticks. When I become upset, naturally emotional over the common act of just missing someone I love, it becomes painstakingly obvious that there is a disconnect people think I have over life in general. When you utter to someone who recently lost their parent, “your loved one will still be there” it’s actually quite hurtful. I feel ignorant over all the times I used to say it to people because unless you’ve experienced that magnitude of loss, you can’t fully comprehend how hurtful it is more than comforting. When someone says to me that my mom will still be there, the first thing I think of is, “Yeah? Which seat?” What photo will we take together? What song will we dance to? What words of love and advice will she tell me and my betrothed? How many hugs and kisses and slow dances will she share with my father?

It’s comical in a way because people become legitimately offended when you kindly remind them that they can’t understand what you’re going through. The bottom line is that unless you’ve lost a parent, you aren’t going to know the pain that is associated with it until you lose them for yourself. I’ve lost friends, all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family goldfish, beloved dogs, the most comforting of house cats – and none of them compare to the loss you feel when you lose a parent. It’s an indescribable and inscrutable level of agony, only matched by losing a child – if not less than the pain tied to that horrific tragedy.

The biggest pain, perhaps, is when people ask me if I’m excited about my wedding. The answer is almost, always “no.” The closer the day of my wedding gets, the more apparent and painful the void of who will not be there becomes. My mother will not be able to help me get dressed in the morning. It’s not a matter of who will be there to volunteer as a competent substitute. At the end of the day, it’s not my mom – it’s not the person I’d prefer to be standing there. People often fail to understand – or maybe the right word is “relate” – to the traditional aspects of a wedding are the ones that occupy the most grief, anticipation, and worry in my heart. It’s not only getting dressed the morning of, but it’s the family photos, walking down the aisle to an empty chair and both me and my father having to come to terms with it.

At the end of the day, a year is barely enough time to fully heal from the loss of a loved one, let alone when that year is met with question after question about your wedding.

There is this ridiculous notion and gender-biased misconception that the groom doesn’t partake in any details of the wedding, except for when and where to show up. Aside from the blatant misogyny tied into that way of thinking, my fiance and I are the antitheses of that rumor. We equally play a role in the wedding planning, meaning every aspect of it from the dress, the tux, the invites and the wedding decor, have been picked out, discussed and paid for by us. This means that while it can be easy to come to me with questions, it is just as easy to go to him for answers.

I have spoken up time and again with what I need during this difficult time, and it often fails to be kept. It’s met with broken promises and a perpetuating cycle of being exposed to topics that I, unfortunately, am unable to handle at the current juncture. When I hear that it’s unfortunate that I can’t be excited about my wedding, I agree with them. It is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that I had to watch my mom suffer for six long years with a debilitating disease that invaded her brain and killed her. It’s unfortunate that at 26-years old, I lost the opportunity to ever have my mom watch me walk down the aisle to the love of my life, never be around to answer my host of pregnancy and child-rearing questions. It’s unfortunate that my mom will never meet her grandchildren. It’s unfortunate that my mom will never see my children’s book hit the shelves. It’s unfortunate that my mom never got to see one of my paintings. It’s unfortunate that she’ll never watch me walk across the graduation stage in an ill-fitting navy gown, achieving the degree and career she paved the pathway for me to obtain. It’s unfortunate that I lost her, and it’s unfortunate that I can’t make my pain go away any quicker.

When you say to a motherless bride “Are you excited about your wedding?” try to think about all the aspects that they may be devastated over. Think about all the things you were fortunate enough to have and maybe you’ll begin to understand – and even support – all the things she lacks. I can’t call my mom. I can’t do something as simple as even hear her voice or talk to her. When I’m grieving, I’m not just grieving the loss of her on holidays or days when the absence is wholly apparent; I’m grieving the ability to smell her perfume. I’m grieving the opportunity to even touch her.

Asking a motherless bride if she’s excited about her wedding is the same as you slicing her open and performing an autopsy. Perhaps you need the evidence of a raw, bleeding muscle; a chunk ripped out and buried in a white, chantilly lace-hued coffin buried six-feet under. The aspects of her wedding that will exude happiness are the moments when it’s over, and she’s lying on the couch with the love of her life, eating Ben & Jerry’s, grateful to have a partner to share and triumph over her darkest moments. Marriage is not a wedding; weddings are so heavily laced with familial traditions that it makes embarking on that journey one that’s riddled with pain. It doesn’t diminish the love she holds for her partner. It only emphasizes the sadness she holds over an event wholly out of her control.

That sadness over the inevitability that everything she feels is out of her control is what affects those around her the most. People want to get excited about a wedding. They want to be excited for their son, daughter, friend, sibling. They want to share their love and celebrate it. That in itself is a beautiful and very loving thing; it’s one I’m thankful for each and every day. It doesn’t negate the pain that the bride may feel when it comes to discussing her wedding at length. Or in general.

The best thing you can offer motherless brides who are still inherently coping and reeling from the untimely death of their parent is to simply say, “I’m sorry. You will get through this.” Remove the fluff. Don’t try to overcompensate. Don’t think that saying too much is better than saying too little. Don’t pressure yourself by thinking that saying too little isn’t enough. At the end of the day, just knowing that you are sorry for our loss and sorry for what we’re going through is enough to make us feel like we’re not alone. Because, losing someone you love, can and often is a very isolating situation. People gather at the time of death and at the funeral, but they disperse rather quickly shortly after. People fear to bring up your loved one, thinking that if you’re doing well, this will only upset you. What people often fail to realize is that my mother’s death and her life are on my mind 24/7. You can’t remind me of a subject my mind’s already focused on.

And some days are harder than others.

  • Some days I wake up and feel burdened by my situation.
  • Some days I come home from work and listen to “Slipping through my Fingers” from the Mamma Mia soundtrack I played at her funeral.
  • Some days I listen to Elvis on repeat.
  • Some days I’m on my floor crying into a pile of dirty laundry.
  • Some days I’m extremely angry.

And there are days that I’m not. Days when I’m motivated and cheerful. Days when I can handle tougher subjects and marvel at my strength.

Both are a stark contrast yet a bitter reality.

Not every bride will fall into the category of “showmanship” meaning, not every bride talks and celebrates their wedding like it’s a royal ceremony being covered and glamorized by Page 8 of the New York Times. Not every bride wants to wear a bridal sash, and matching t-shirts and talk about their impending nuptials when you were simply asked what time of day it was. Not every bride has stiff requirements on what people wear or kind of decor or the fact that there was a noticeable typo in their save-the-dates. It doesn’t mean that brides who exude that level of excitement are determined for divorce court because they scrutinized over the tiny details, just as it doesn’t mean that those who lay relatively low aren’t happy about being married.

When you’re dealing with a motherless bride, especially one who lost their mother a year prior, try and understand that it’s not as simple as canceling or postponing her wedding until the severity of their grief is dispelled. It’s a vile thing to say, “Why are you torturing yourself?” because these elements are out of her control. She’s continually on the precipice of wanting to have the wedding of her dreams, but also want that for her partner, wanting that for their family, wanting that for her friends who dished out massive amounts of money. She’s caught between wanting and non-wanting something and it’s often a confusing and overwhelming time as she tries to come to terms with the simple notion that she doesn’t want to get married without her mom there. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to get married. It simply means the motions of a traditional ceremony are heartbreaking due to her level of grief. It’s not an emotion that requires medication. It’s an emotion that is a part of her. It’s one that needs time, and it’s unfortunately, only temporarily exacerbated because this is her first major-life event without her mom.

We’ve all lost someone close in our lives, and a common thread amongst us all is that we’ve all grieved in different ways. Any psychologist will tell you that there aren’t time constraints on grief. You will never stop missing that person. Every holiday, every birthday, every small, minute moment that occurs on a daily basis is a newsworthy event I wish I could still share with my mom. That will never change, as it will get easier to adjust to the longer time goes on.

I’m different since losing her. I’m no longer the woman I used to be, and in many ways, I find that I’m a better person because of losing her. I’ve marveled at my strength and resilience at the young and tender age of 26, a time when I was still blossoming. I’m very much still blossoming into who I’m going to be, redefining who I am without her. Losing a parent changes you, in good ways and in bad.

It can be hard to look at a bride, hear her sadness, and not feel inclined to make it better. It’s an unfortunate situation where there is no single thing that will make it better short of resurrecting their loved one from the grave. Be mindful of the things you say to a motherless bride, because even if you think it’s innocent, or simple chit-chat, to her, it may be words that slice like a knife. If a person doesn’t answer the phone, or avoids messages, or tells you how they feel, please try your hardest to understand them, and at the very least respect their boundaries. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who are living through the worst day of their lives every day. Be thankful that it’s not something you can relate to.

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