Everyone experiences the passing of loved ones at some time in their lives. Wedding celebrations can be especially stressful occasions because they are a vivid reminder that the person you have lost won’t be there physically to share your happiness.
Over the last twelve years as a Celebrant I have seen many couples grapple with their emotions during ceremonies and have done my best to help them, also in the months leading up to the day of the wedding. I have empathised and felt compassion but unless you have experienced the impact and unpredictability of grief you cannot truly know what those afflicted are going through.
In the middle of the busiest period of the wedding season last year my elderly Mother passed away in hospital here in Italy. I had willingly brought her here to live with my husband and I after a long saga of trying to find a suitable Nursing Home in England.
Towards the end of the previous year she had broken her femur, suffered multiple mini strokes and subsequently endured a long spell in hospital. She became very depressed and told me she didn’t want to live anymore. No other family member was in a position to take on the responsibility and she needed 24 hour care.
My husband and I convinced ourselves that somehow we would manage the ceremonies between us and share the emotional and physical demands of caring for this wonderful woman, who was suffering from Dementia and had sadly lost all autonomy.
Thus began several months of immense heartbreak and stress. Thankfully most couples were incredibly understanding during this period and by some miracle we managed to successfully complete the season and honoured our commitments.
Even though my Mother had reached the ripe old age of 86 and was very ill nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of utter devastation and loneliness when she left us.
Grief is moody. You never know which phrase, memory or experience will act as a trigger and it can sneak up on you like a sniper’s bullet. You can be shopping for groceries, doing the dishes or having a shower.. Before you know it you are in floods of desperate tears that you feel will never cease.
Mom had told me she was afraid to die alone. During the last few days in hospital she had been relatively lucid… an unexpected gift that gave false hope.
At one point her loving smile locked mine with an expression which seemed to say ‘I’m scared because I’m about to leave you’ and mine did its best to stoically reply ‘I love you so much Mom and you are not alone. You will be with me always. Safe journey my darling.’
We were both thankfully by her side, holding her hands while she was dying. We stroked her forehead as she took her last breath in the early hours.
It rained heavily on the journey home and we arrived back stunned and silent at sunrise. I recall feeling like an automaton, unable to feel anything and barely able to crawl under the duvet. I remember sobbing silently and feeling surreal, while my husband’s arms enfolded me, rocking me like a lost child.
I had a ceremony scheduled a few days later, where by cruel coincidence the Groom’s Mother had passed away at a relatively young age only a year before. Her death was still raw and I knew he would be very upset.
By request I mentioned his Mother at the beginning of the ceremony and immediately noticed his eyes become watery. I did my utmost to ensure that the moment was life affirming, respectful but not painfully long. Being in that situation helped me to focus upon his family’s feelings. I was able temporarily to put my own heartbreak to one side and was deeply thankful.
No one would have been able to tell that I was feeling so desperately sad. I still had the funeral to organise and a bureaucratic nightmare I won’t bore you with.
As I was leaving, The Groom took me on one side and thanked me for mentioning his Mother in an upbeat way and for emphasising what a wonderful precedent she had set for parenting. I touched him lightly on the arm and confessed that I finally understood what he had endured over the last year.
He was surprised and of course told me how sorry he was and asked me how on earth I could stand there and speak of his Mother’s passing without breaking down myself.
I maintained my composure during the train journey home but once I closed my front door I sank to the floor and sobbed until my eyes were swollen and the energy drained from my body.
My Mother was not a perfect person (who is?) but she was my absolute best friend and utterly irreplaceable. There is a Mom shaped hole in my heart but six months on finally it is starting to fill with happier memories of who she was and will always be to me.
There is nothing like having to focus upon the needs of others to make you forget your own personal pain. The fortitude of those who have faced personal loss continues to be a great source of inspiration.
Grief is inevitable, necessary and cannot be rushed. I have learned there is no time limit, no final day when you reach ultimate ‘closure’. You just learn to navigate your life around their absence.
Every memory and moment you think of their own uniqueness is precious. As long as you keep them alive in your mind and heart they will always be with you, as I know my Mother is. I like to think of her as my Guardian Angel.
Every time I remember all the laughter we shared, the many stories, poems, songs, hugs and copious cups of tea, I feel warm inside. Now I can finally smile. Grief is good.
Diane is a writer and wedding celebrant based in Italy, who we recommend through our Little Book For Brides. You can connect with her through the various options below.