I am walking on unknown territory right now and have debated whether or not I should write down my thoughts about becoming a motherless bride. Not sharing my experiences, especially as a motherless daughter, goes against my foundation for starting “dammit, Hali,” though. So, here I am, trying my best to describe the pain of being a woman who is planning a wedding without her mom and put into words the rollercoaster of emotions I have already experienced.
Yes, this means that after 6 years together, Justin and I are finally planning a wedding. While I am excited to exchange vows in front of our family and friends and officially become his wife, the planning process to this point has been bittersweet and plagued with many emotional highs and lows. In the 2 months since we announced our wedding date and made it “Facebook official,” I have said out loud “I wish my mom could be here” more times than I have altogether in the 7 years since her passing.
When my mom died in July 2009 I was 19 and could not imagine myself getting married or having a wedding without her. Moms and wedding planning typically go together, and the fact that my mom was taken from me before I got to experience the joy — and frustration — of planning a wedding with her is cruel.
Fast forward 7 months to a cold February night when Justin and I met at a college party. I thought he was funny and kind; I’m not sure what his first impression was of me, and I don’t think I will ever ask. We exchanged phone numbers and quickly became friends before we made it official and started dating.
I wish I could say that I immediately knew Justin was the person I would marry, but for the first several months of our relationship I was very much determined to not get married. Then, at some point along the way, I looked at him and it became clear, this man is the one and I will marry him … someday.
And September 16, 2017, will be that day. We know, that date is more than 1 year away and when we announced it to our friends and family, it was actually 1 and a half years away. I made jokes about it at first when people would ask why we set the date so far out: “We’ve been together for so long already, what’s one more year?” Or “1 year away just seems too soon.” What they all don’t know is we originally set a date for next June but I immediately started having panic attacks and nightmares and had to push the date back to September. I was worried about planning a wedding by myself in a year and saving money to pay for the wedding, but I also just needed more time to process the fact that I am getting married and my mom will not be there. When we started picking a venue and setting a date, I was so excited that I didn’t take into consideration how emotional I might be during the first months of the planning process.
THE MOST EMOTIONAL DAY
The worst day I have had on this wedding journey was scary for me and for Justin. I had a panic attack at work because I started looking at our budget and trying to figure out how we are going to make the money situation work. That was the beginning of it.
I text Justin and told him we will never be able to afford a wedding on our own and we should probably just call the entire thing off. He seemed unfazed by my statement which set me into an even deeper downward spiral.
That is when I began thinking about who else I could talk to about all the things I was thinking and it occurred to me that I have no one — I didn’t want to bother my best friend, who really is my rock. Ever since Justin and I made the announcement and all that initial excitement died down, I felt like I had nobody to share this joyous time with. Don’t get me wrong, my best friend is the most amazing and selfless human I know and would drop everything in her life to be here for me, but I don’t want to continuously bombard her with my stress; it’s not fair to her.
On this day, though, I just needed someone to talk to. When I left work that afternoon, I called my dad — something I do each day. I was fighting back tears on the phone but still didn’t want to say anything to him. Then, I reached the point where I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore and just mentioned that we had found a photographer we liked. I was excited about this and wanted to share it with him. He didn’t respond and there was silence on the line until I asked if he was going to say anything. “That’s good,” is all he replied. That’s when I completely lost it. I told him that he doesn’t care, nobody cares, that I’m getting married. His words still replay in my head because they hurt so badly. He said, “Hali, people care but the wedding is a year and a half away.” I thought, just because my wedding is more than a year away, I’m not allowed to be excited and talk about all my ideas and plans? Which made me feel even more like nobody cares.
I was almost home and at that point I was crying full-blown tears so I hung up the phone. When I walked through the door of the little townhouse Justin and I have made into our home, I immediately fell into his arms and cried. I was the definition of a mess. Then, out of nowhere, I muttered “I miss my mom; I wish she were here.” I have NEVER said those words out loud to Justin before, but it felt so good to say them. Then, I couldn’t stop. “I know your mom wants to help, and I know I have kept her at arm’s length, but you have to understand that I just want someone from my family to ask me about the wedding and how the planning is going. Your mom has been great, but it’s not the same. My mom should be here; she should be here,” I recited as I sobbed into the collar of his shirt.
I realized at that moment that I wasn’t upset because nobody cared, it was the fact that the one person I wanted to listen to me and calm me wasn’t there and this was how my anger and sadness was manifesting. The truth is, Justin and I are surrounded by love and support from our family and friends, but at that moment I couldn’t see it because I was so emotionally and mentally drained and didn’t even know it.
Since that day, I have gotten better about enjoying wedding planning and letting people, especially Justin’s mom, help when they ask. It is difficult to constantly remind myself that I do have a team of people willing to help. I really just want my mom to be here to make decisions for me and tell me what to do next; I envy the women who have moms to pick out flowers for centerpieces, tell her which dress looks best on her, and collect 150 addresses for invitations.
We have booked our venue, our caterer, our photographer, and our DJ — not too bad for a wedding that is a little more than 1 year away at this point. The next item on our to-do list is the menu tasting, which is scheduled for July 27. Yes, I subconsciously planned to try our wedding food on the 7-year anniversary of my mom’s death and invited Justin’s mom to join us before I realized what day it is. It will be fine — it’s just that I have a history of falling apart on this day. It doesn’t matter how much effort I put into telling myself I’m not going to let it hurt, I will always fall to pieces in the quiet moments after a long day of fighting a battle within myself nobody else can see.
Perhaps eating yummy wedding food will keep me distracted and I won’t have the urge to drink a bottle of wine and listen to Tanya Tucker on repeat. Probably not, though.
According to the meticulous schedule I put together in my wedding planning bible, the next thing I have to worry about after menu tasting is picking out my dress. I just let out a hefty heavy sigh typing the words “picking out my dress.” Clearly, I already dread this and don’t plan to start shopping until November or December.
I know I am overthinking it, but who am I supposed to bring with me? Part of me wants to go by myself but I know if that happens I will never choose a dress — I can’t even make a decision on face wash because there are so many options; do you know how many different wedding dresses are out there?
My best friend/maid of honor is a given and possibly my matron of honor, but should I invite my aunts and Justin’s mom? Is this going to be too emotional of an experience for me to have a room full of people? Will my aunts be emotional if they come and do I really want someone there who will be a bigger mess than me?
I feel like dress shopping is the one thing that brides are supposed to be most excited about, but here I am not wanting to deal with it. That’s why I have put it on the calendar for the end of the year. Maybe by then I will have all my feelings worked out, but probably not.
Honestly, my biggest fear isn’t that I am going to miss my mom being there for the moment I say yes to the dress. I mean, yes, I am in tears just thinking about the fact that she isn’t here to shop for dresses with me, but I am worried that whoever I take wedding dress shopping will be scared to offer their honest opinion and all the dresses I try on will be “beautiful” and “perfect.” When I was in high school and shopping for prom dresses, my mom had the most honest remarks to make on each dress and how it fit me. At the time, I didn’t value her opinion even though it’s what helped me pick out prom dresses I loved — and still love when I look back at pictures. When you’re a woman and lose your mom at a young age, the older you get you realize all the little things you took for granted and all the weird things you never thought you would miss but certainly do. For example, I wish I could hear that woman say, “No, that looks like shit,” several more times.
Not to mention, I really wanted to incorporate pieces of my mom’s wedding dress into whatever dress I pick, but her dress is lost … gone. It is nowhere to be found. My aunts and I have looked for it for at least 3 years, and even though it hurts, I have accepted the fact that it is gone forever.
There have been many moments during the last 2 months that made me stop and process how thankful I am to have found someone as patient and caring as Justin. This man has proved to be the only person who can calm me during my most exaggerated moments, and I have learned to lean on him more during this time than I ever have in the 6 years we have been together.
I didn’t think it was possible to love him more deeply, but then he did something that made me pause and I became even more enamored of him.
Not long after we announced our engagement, one of my closest friends asked if I was going to do anything to honor my mom at our wedding. Justin and I hadn’t talked about it, but I was convinced that I would not do a memorial for my mom on our wedding day.
My thought was, it’s supposed to be a happy day for Justin, me, and all our guests. I am already going to be fighting back tears and don’t want to call any additional attention to the fact that my mom is not there.
When I told my friend that I wasn’t planning to do anything and gave him my reasoning, he frankly told me he thinks I should honor my mom in some way. I value his opinion so I mentioned the conversation to Justin.
This was the first time we discussed any kind of memorial. I gave him my reason for not wanting to honor mom and asked what his thoughts were. After all, this is OUR wedding and I believe he should have a say in each aspect of it — except for the song I walk down the aisle to; that’s tip-top secret.
This man, who never met my mom and therefore has no emotional ties to her other than the ones he feels for me and my loss of her, told me that the decision ultimately is mine, but he thinks we should do something to honor her on our wedding day. At that moment, I was overcome with love for him for choosing to love my dead mother, for wanting to make her part of our day, and for having the courage to tell me what he thinks we should do.
So, as the sun sets on our wedding day, after we recite our vows, after Justin and I have shared our first dance as husband and wife and I have danced with my dad and Justin with his mom, the two of us will light paper lanterns and release them toward the sky in memory of the beautiful woman who gave me life — the woman who I am certain sent Justin to me to be the calming counterbalance my untamed soul needs.