Confessions of a Fatherless Bride

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.

Daddy Stories 

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.

12 thoughts on “Confessions of a Fatherless Bride

  1. DM

    Kelsey, no simplistic replies coming from me on this one. I appreciate your honestly and vulnerability on this one. You are a bigger person than me. I would probably not have been as nice to some of those people who tried to straighten you out. Big hug and early congrats from the Hinderland. DM

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  2. Lynn

    Life’s funny like that, isn’t it? And not really funny, like the “haha, hilarious!” sort of “funny,” but the bittersweet irony kind. The sort we can reflect on with tears in our eyes and a wistful smile on our faces.

    I don’t know if I ever told you about my own losses, but reading this definitely brings that into perspective, and I can tell you I understand on some level. I’m not sure what else I can really say other than that I’ve always seen you as possibly one of the strongest people I’ve ever had the privilege to call a friend and, though circumstance has put some distance between us, that hasn’t changed. If anyone deserves some closure at any point in your life, however and whenever it comes, it is you!

    Grief is one of the hardest things in life to conquer, but it’s not an impossible mountain to climb. I’m still making my own ascent, after all– learning to come to terms with certain aspects of my own life. In the end, it’s all about seeking company in those who help fill in the gaps and learning to love life for all its bumps and patches of gravel. It’s not all smooth sailing, but it’s not all rough patches, either, and I think you illustrate that so beautifully in so many different ways.

    (Also, hi, I believe this is the first time I’ve actually commented on one of your entries. asldjfawe)

    –Lynn.

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  3. Kim

    Kelsey – what a fantastically personal and for me, accurate post about this void. I lost my dad as a teenager and I adored him, quirks and all. He did not meet my Mr. Man either, was not there for our intimate outdoor wedding where I openly wept and paid tribute to his love for me and mine for him. It has been awful, painful, messy and there has been longing everyday he has been gone – even 25 years later. You think it is bad now? Wait until you buy your first house and wish he were around to share his counsel. Wait until you have your first child or your fourth and there is no grandpa and no relationship for you to watch develop between them. It never, ever gets easier I have found, it only hurts in new and different ways. But your memories of him will cement even firmer in your mind and you will carry him with you at every moment. By looking into that gaping void you always feel, you will see him, because that is his spot in your heart. Let it hurt deeply and just live your beautiful life, missing him all the while. Have a beautiful wedding, just the way you want it.

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  4. I would like to read a follow-up of how this all played out at the wedding. My husband has been gone for 5 years, missing high school and college graduations of his kids, and this past Nov., the wedding of our first born son. (Another son is getting married in May.) We’ve all wondered at how it will be for the3 girls with no dad (who they adored) to escort them. My son chose to wear his dad’s wedding band….said it would be an honor. He had his and his wife’s initials put in along side my husband’s and mine. The pastor challenged him to love and be devoted to his wife the way his dad was to me….It was a sober time, but such a time of rejoicing for a couple who had followed the Lord and were being so blessed to come together in a godly process. I tho’t I would be a bawling mess, but all I could think of during the wedding was how very good our God is to us in allowing this wedding/beautiful relationship to all take place. And, as always, in our humanness, the focus is naturally on us and our feelings, when it really all about God and his glory. 😀
    Thanks so much for sharing the raw, very real feelings….Beautiful writing, by the way.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, and to share a little about your own family’s story. Weddings can be messy sometimes — it’s like an amplified version of the holidays — when life feels not exactly perfect. I’m glad that it sounds like your son was able to find a way of remembering his dad that worked for him.

      That’s a good idea about writing a follow up post. I mentioned it briefly in another post (see link below), but haven’t written much about it. Maybe I’ll have to do that. 🙂

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  5. I lost my father to Lou Gehrig’s disease four weeks before my wedding. One of the most bizzare experiences I have ever had was accepting congratulations on my upcoming wedding with my father’s coffin about twenty feet away.

    I can’t say that “I know how you feel”, but I do know the pain of not having a father at your wedding.

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