I’m finding the wedding countdown to be a particularly awkward season of life. I’ve never had people use words like “perfect” and “adorable” and “wonderful” so regularly to describe my life. I walk on a cloud, fart rainbows, and am waited on by only the fluffiest of kittens. You know, the usual.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something as much as I want to finally be the Mr. Man’s wife. But this whole wedding business is too messy for me to try and sum it up under something so one-dimensional as “happy.” Sure, I’m happy. But I also feel broken, raw, and heartsick in decent measurements, too.
I lost my dad a number of years ago to a horrible brain disorder — it began by slowly devoured him, little by little, until every part of the daddy I’d loved was completely lost. Most holidays (but Father’s Day and Christmas are the worst) and major milestones in life have a way of bringing up all the grief anew.
For example, two days after the Mr. Man and I got engaged I sobbed as if I’d only just been informed of someone’s passing. And it hurt just as much. I was thrilled about being able to inject “when” instead of “if” into sentences pertaining to the future, excited to upgrade my relationship status on Facebook, but riddled with grief, too. Life’s messy.
As a result, being engaged has been a particularly challenging season of life for me. This is primarily due to the fact that there’s a weird thing that happens when you get engaged: women decide that you need to hear, in great detail, about their weddings (even the completely imagined ones that have been planned down to the blue lace napkins). The trouble is that a lot of these weddings or daydreams involve dads.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many women have told me about dad-related wedding stuff that ripped me to shreds as I politely listened — the touching speeches their proud daddies made on their big day, how their dad is ordained and will not only be present at the wedding but will even perform it, their special father/daughter dance, and so on.
A few have even come close to scolding me when they asked if I was going to have my dad walk me down the aisle and I simply replied, “Nope.” I was trying to protect them from the harsh realization of just how badly they’d just stuck entire their foot in their mouth. But they proceed to just jab it in there even deeper by instructing me on the importance of brides including their dads in their weddings. Ouch.
There’s also the awkwardly painful but well-meaning questions. For example, “Are your parents excited about the wedding?” or “Does he get along with your dad?” Sometimes when I only talk about my mom after being asked about my “parents” (man, I hate that awkward little “s” the creeps into so many casual conversations) they’ll cue in. Sometimes, they just ask more directly, which leads to things being pretty awkward for everyone.
When the Grief Hits Hard
Originally, the Mr. Man and I had planned on getting married in late summer or early fall, so we were considering an outdoor wedding. A risky move even during the warmest times of year in the Seattle area, but we were feeling adventurous.
While checking out possible wedding locations, we’d gone to a park with a view of the water. It was beautiful. We held hands, pretending to be in the middle of our vows, when I suddenly burst into ugly crying (the kind of crying where you lose every sense of propriety as you wipe your smeared eyeliner, tears, and probably a few boogers on your significant other’s favorite t-shirt). I felt like a wreck. The grief was so bad my chest physically ached.
It’s been several years now since the very last time I saw my dad, so watching all the Hallmark-y family-oriented Christmas specials no longer feels like a new form of torture and I usually get through Father’s Day okay providing I stay off Facebook. But sometimes, usually unexpectedly, the grief still manages to crash into my chest like a supersonic jet. And I’m left feeling like a little girl who only just lost her dad.
The Glaring Holes
When it came time to plan the wedding details, everyone wondered what sort of flowers I wanted and what my color scheme was. My actual wedding plan, which I only told to a few people, was pretty simple: I didn’t want to look out into the group of attendees and be able to see specifically where my dad should be sitting. I’ll know he’s not there, I’ll feel it in some measure or another regardless of whether anyone draws attention to it, but I don’t want any specific reminders. I don’t want any glaring dad holes.
Some people have suggested doing something to honor my dad at the wedding — lighting a candle, taking a moment of silence, or displaying his picture — but for me it’d just bust that hole where my dad’s supposed to be wide open. And it’s already pretty raw.
I’m wearing my grandma’s necklace at the wedding for my “something old” as a way of honoring and remembering her. It makes me feel closer to her, which I know is what people are hoping would happen if I did something similar regarding my dad. But that pain is still too raw for a reminder like that to be comforting, at least for now.
It’s All Pretty Messy
When I graduated from community college and expressed similar sentiments about the sadness that my dad wasn’t there, some folks told me to “cheer up” and “don’t mope.” They wanted me to snap out of it; what they didn’t understand is that grief doesn’t work like that.
While my grief isn’t usually a major fixture in my life anymore, I’ll never stop missing my daddy. And the fact that he won’t be there for my wedding provides some new elements of grief. My daddy won’t be there to give me away, dance with me, or make a speech telling me he’s proud. He won’t wave me goodbye as I drive away with my new husband. He won’t do any of his classic embarrassing things like accidentally tucking his pant leg into his sock or talking way too much about work to someone who couldn’t care less. He won’t be there at all. In fact, Dad never even got to meet my Mr. Man.
This shadow — the fact my dad is truly gone, not just unable to walk me down the aisle — gives the event some of the emotions and complexities as if I were planning both a wedding and a funeral. Death and life. Beginnings and endings. Joy and grief. It’s all there.
This doesn’t mean I’m not excited to get married — my first thought this morning was, “Only 19 more days!” But there’s still a hole. There’s grief, pain, and shadows. Because, despite what the movies and glamorous wedding photo shoots suggest, normal life in all its messy, sometimes heart-wrenching glory doesn’t take a break for weddings.