The First Wedding After a Death: My Little Sister Got Hitched
It’s not everyday your littlest sister gets married…no siree. Marrying off the youngest of 6 children is a hallmark event to be sure. My little sister got married this past week and by all accounts it was a day of joy and celebration. Very little would have damped the day, despite the anticipatory disorganization and craziness of any event involving my family, and in the end the couple was married and everything went off without a hitch – mission accomplished.
For my family, the milestones this day held were two-fold because this was the first major event we celebrated as a family without my mother. Yes I do realize 10 grandchildren have been born in the 6 years since my mother’s been gone, but clearly the women in my family see birthing babies as NBD (that’s ‘no big deal’ for those of you who are acronymly challenged). Not since my mother’s funeral has my immediate family and our closest relatives gathered in one place to acknowledge such a life event. And although the gaping hole was obvious to us all – I can’t count how many times I thought, or said, or heard someone say ‘if only mom were here’ – I must say the emotional impact didn’t feel quite as palpable as I would have expected.
Overall there was a sense of sadness when it came to her absence, but also a sense that we have each other, we’re all okay, and the joy in life goes on. Of course I can only speak for myself, everyone in the family felt the day differently. My little sister may have felt the ache with greater intensity, I know she would have given anything to have her mother see her in her wedding gown. My father likely felt it when he had to give his youngest child away on his own. My eldest sister likely felt it when taking on the planning and other motherly responsibilities. The day held different shades of happy and sad for everyone.
Throughout the Spring we wrote a series on planning a wedding after the death of someone important. We discussed wedding dress shopping without your mom, remembrance ideas for the ceremony, remembrance ideas for the reception, and a journal exercise about ‘wedding day advice’.
Today I’d like to share with you a few of the ways in which my mother was remembered at my sisters wedding because, although we never sat down and made a concerted plan about how to remember her, her presence was certainly felt in many ways throughout the day.
My father officiated so he had the unique opportunity to personalize the cermony. This will not be the case for those whose officiant is their religious leader, but I’d like to share a suggestion based on my experience at my own wedding. I was married by a priest who I hardly knew outside of a few premarital counseling sessions. However during those sessions I shared things about my mother, her and my father’s marriage, and my family. A month before the wedding when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer I shared that information as well. Because of what we discussed with him ahead of time he was able to put together some of the most beautiful, sentimental, and relevant words regarding marriage and familial love for his sermon. So, if your officiant is open to it, I suggest sharing your loved ones story and letting them know the impact they have had on you, your relationship, and the impact they are likely to have on the day. And if they aren’t open to tailoring what they say, look for opportunities to incorporate things like special readings or music.
Okay back to the day, as a part of the ceremony my father planned a little surprise. He reached out to married people close to the couple on both sides and asked for one piece of marital advice. He took all the responses and wove them together. During the ceremony he told the couple about this and said he was going to start with a piece of marital advice my mother had written to one of her children while she was still alive.
Enjoy each day together. When you look back it will seem so special. You can never go back only forward. Go forward together. One foot in front of the other. Keep singing! Be happy! You make me proud. Love Mom
This was a touching way to combine the advice of my mother, probably the first person my sister wishes she could receive advice from on this day, and connect it to the advice of those who are still around to help support and guide the couple. Again I know not everyone can incorporate this into their ceremony, but if you like the idea you could do a variation on it by putting a book together for the couple or setting out a box with pieces of paper and pens for guests to write down their marital advice.
For many brides the jewelry they wear will be a big decision. Truth be told, this is the kind of detail my sister doesn’t spend much time on. However she did choose to wear one special piece of jewelry other than her wedding ring, the acorn necklace all the women in my family own as a symbol of my mother. My mother wore a similar necklace when she was sick and she said it stood for ‘strength’. A special token or piece of jewelry can be your something old, new, borrowed, or blue.
The wedding was at a farmers market located on the water so after sundown everyone went down to the docks to set off lanterns (pictured above). I think this was honestly just planned for fun but it ended up being inadvertently symbolic and afterwards I heard many people say how my mother was watching and how she had definitely been present throughout the day.
This is true, my mother was present. She was there with us in our hearts and minds, our actions and inactions, our traditions and rituals, and in our songs and laughter. She exists in the fact that we are all diverse and different in our beliefs, views, lifestyles, even religions; but at the base of our family lie roots which have nurtured a strong familial foundation and will forever bind us in unconditional love.
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