Not knowing how I’d feel was the hardest part.
Would the tears fall all day, or would I just need a few silent sobs alone in my room before my bridesmaids descended upon me? Would I weep as I walked down the aisle, punctuating each step towards my future husband with grief?
I worried about not crying too. Would people judge me as heartless and unfeeling – disrespectful even? At the same time, I was wary of acknowledging my loss so publically. I didn’t want to pretend everything was normal, but I knew from experience that some people find even the slightest mention of death too uncomfortable to bear. The last thing I wanted was a room full of people shuffling awkwardly in their seats as I tried to talk about my Dad…
My Father died of leukaemia just over 6 years ago. I was 22. He’d been ill for a number of years, but the final stages of the disease still seemed to rob us of him suddenly. The sense of loss was enormous. It’s the only time I’ve ever experienced an emotion as actual physical pain. I felt like my heart had broken.
My daughter was only 10 months old at the time. I can remember watching her intently at the funeral as she napped in her car seat. Her thumb was nestled between her tiny pink lips and she sucked on it rhythmically while she slept. In that moment, I was acutely aware of just how much my Dad was going to miss…
Franky's Dad with her eldest child, daughter Izzy…
Becoming a Grandfather at 50 should have assured him plenty of time to enjoy my children. Instead, my Dad missed Izzy’s first birthday, and her first Christmas too. He wasn’t there for her first day of school or the first time she rode a bike without stabilisers. He never listened to her as she learnt to read and he never saw her star in her first school play. He didn’t get to admire her gappy smile or celebrate her first visit from the tooth fairy. He didn’t get to congratulate her on becoming a big sister.
He won’t be there for all that is yet to come either. He won’t see her develop into a young woman and he won’t be party to her ambitions or achievements as an adult. He won’t know of her first love or her first heartbreak, won’t see her become a wife or a mother.
That’s the thing about death you see. When you lose someone, you don’t just grieve for a person’s past or the life you shared with them; you mourn the loss of their future, and the way it might have overlapped with yours.
In the end, I did cry on my wedding day. The first tears fell as I spoke to the registrar just before the ceremony. She quizzed me about my parents – what they did, their names, that sort of thing. I could feel the emotion swelling in my chest as she asked me to spell my father’s name. I struggled to get past the first few letters and then asked if my sister could step forward and take over.
My Dad had become a word, an arrangement of letters to be recorded on an official document, rather than the person I would cling to as I walked down the aisle. That should have been my moment with my Father, and I felt cheated as it passed by without him. What would he have said to me as we waited to go in? How would it have felt to slip my arm into his as we readied ourselves for the grand entrance?
Somehow I composed myself. As I made way towards the ceremony room the feeling of despair began to lift. I felt nothing but happiness as I walked in on my Step-Father’s arm. I’m sure my grief came with me as I crossed the threshold and started towards my husband, but it was crowded out by the love that was waiting for me at the end of the aisle.
I cried happy tears as we said our vows, but the pain filled ones returned as I made my speech and toasted absent friends. The tears weren’t just about sorrow and loss though. I smiled as they rolled down my cheeks, I even laughed at points. I just couldn’t escape the pure joy of the experience, standing up beside my new husband and addressing a room full of people that had gathered there to share something special with us.
Franky as a child, with her Dad…
Dad always said laughter through tears was his favourite emotion, and that’s exactly what our wedding day was all about; acknowledging that life goes on, and it can be beautiful no matter what.
Later that evening we wandered from table to table, mingling with our guests as they tucked into their meals. A relative of mine leant in close to me, put his hand on my arm, and said ‘He’s here. You know that don’t you? I truly believe he’s here’.
I think he was right. A person can be with you on your wedding day, or any other day for that matter, if you simply acknowledge their absence and turn your memory of them into a presence. There are many ways to do this, but I’d venture few are as effective as simply thinking, remembering, contemplating and, most importantly, celebrating.
Grief is an incredibly personal, and often a deeply private, experience. If you feel able, I’d love for you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Are you facing your wedding day after bereavement? Did you get married without a particular relative or close friend?
How have you coped with the experience? Do you have any advice for brides in a similar situation?
Did you include any particular details in your wedding day to acknowledge the absence of your loved one?
Read more features by Franky here, Franky joined the Love My Dress team in February 2012. Read more about her on our 'About' page. You may also wish to read 'Involving Those You Love on your Wedding Day'.