For Those Who Have Lost: Doing This Without Her

When I was 12, writing out guest lists for my imaginary, far-in-the-future wedding, I never dreamed I’d be doing this without my grandparents or my aunt. And I definitely never in a million years would have guessed I’d be planning a wedding without my mother.

This post has been in my blogging dashboard in draft format since before I even applied to be a bee. It’s been a tough one to finish – partially because I’m still, 5 years later, going through the grieving process. Partially because I don’t want to come across like I’m trying to elicit sympathy. But because I know others have been through this, are going through this, or are afraid of this, I feel I need to come clean about the biggest dark cloud over this entire process.

My mom died in 2006 of a heart attack. She was gone by the time I made it to the hospital, and it was, to say the least, a shock. She hadn’t been sick for any amount of time, excepting a mini-stroke she had in 2001, after which they discovered she had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She’d been maintaining on medicine, exercise, a modified diet, and regular doctors’ visits – or so I thought. For about a week before the heart attack, she complained of swollen ankles and a stomach ache. She was so funny about it, nobody thought twice.

So that was when I was 26, and I was nowhere near a serious, marriage-caliber relationship. But one of the first things I realized about Mr. Ladyfingers, once we’d been together a couple of months and fallen in love, was that my mother would have adored him.

I try not to spend too much time lamenting how unfair it is. People lose parents and other close loved ones all the time. But when I’m in a bad spot emotionally, when I’m overtired or hungry or just plain stressed out, or even when a certain song comes on the radio or her lucky number flashes across the kitchen clock, I break down just a little bit. When the Reverend asks about what order I’d like to seat my mother and Mr. LF’s mother, or when the hair and makeup stylist asks if my mom will also be having her hair done, or when the caterer asks if we’ll be doing an introduction at the reception… I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t gotten easier.

The odd comfort I have is that there are other brides-to-be like me, mourning parents or others who can’t be there on that most special day. We considered doing something “in memoriam” for the wedding – a mention in the program, or a rose on an empty seat. They all seemed too personal and intimate, even for a wedding. I worry it would be too hard on my father, and on her brother, who will also be there.

So instead, I’ve made subtle nods to her in our vows, nods perhaps only I will understand. I also try to remember certain things about her in these months leading up to the Big Day, and to frequently talk to her. Although I’m still not at the point in the grieving process where I can freely talk to her and feel comfort from it, I’m working at it. But when I need to laugh instead of cry, here are the things I remember.

Baby Frannie

My mother and father’s wedding was, apparently, the party of the century. As she put it, people raved for years about how much fun they had. The priest who married them left the priesthood like two months later – she joked it was because he saw how much fun he could really have, but I suspect it was unrelated. I think she would have appreciated the fact that our No. 2 priority, behind actually getting married, is that our guests have a total blast. Everything else is a bonus.

Smug with Santa

She had the most awesome story about choosing a band to play at one of her friends’ weddings. She auditioned a few people before finding a group that really jammed out to The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” The lead singer was a dead ringer for Jim Morrison. She hired them on the spot. Come the night of the wedding, the band cued up with “Light My Fire.” It was a huge hit. Then they played their second song: “Light My Fire.” My mom sidled up to the stage once they started to play the song a third time. “What’s going on?” she murmured out of the side of her mouth. The lead singer shrugged: “It’s the only song we know.” With her penchant for exaggeration, I always doubted the truth of this story – but it certainly makes for a good cautionary tale.

High school graduation

I have been garage saleing since I was 12. My mom took me to my first one. It was a favorite thing of ours, to get the Saturday classifieds and drive around the wealthy neighborhoods. I know she would really love the antique milk bottles and ornate picture frames I’ve been picking up for our décor. She would love the invitations and the little touches here and there. She would love my dress, my shoes, my bracelet. She would love it all.

Mom, middle, with my aunt, uncle, grandfather, and grandmother. My uncle is the only one we still have.

She would probably be driving me crazy, too. But if daily blowups and silent treatments were the price I’d have to pay to have her back here, helping me plan my wedding, for even one day… well, I’d make that trade in a heartbeat.

My mom, dad, and I at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. She hated photos… so this is the last one I have of her.

Have you lost a parent? How do you remember them as you’re planning your own wedding day? Are you planning any special memorials or mentions for the ceremony? How have you coped in the final weeks with the onslaught of emotional memories?

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