From The Heart: Getting through a wedding in the absence of a much loved parent

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I will always remember that Christmas, curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in one hand, mince pie in the other, watching the classic film ‘The Holiday’.

Especially that moment when Cameron Diaz’s character Amanda opens up, telling Graham how her family were just like the ‘Three Musketeers’ Because, that’s exactly the upbringing I enjoyed. A very much wanted only child, blessed with the kindest, most loving parents who truly adored one another. And together we laughed, played and created the most wonderful memories, that now more than ever, I treasure.

Then the fun stopped, the holidays were postponed, life plans put on hold and the smiles reserved for the now, few and precious moments of joy.  The too often heard ‘C-word’ had taken hold and after a tough few years, it left two women heartbroken.

At the mere age of 22, my world as I knew it, seemed to collapse around me.

From living in a new city, with my best friends, enjoying the transition into an adult relationship and friendship with both my parents, I found myself back slap bang in my old bedroom feeling completely and utterly like a little girl lost. Watching my mum’s heartbreak turned me against any thought of love. How could anyone bear to expose themselves to falling love, if this is undoubtedly how it will end for one of you?  I promised myself I would never marry, never have children and never ever let my heart swell with the sweet feel of love.

But, of course, it did…

Four years later, I met someone who was worth the risk of potentially feeling all that physical and emotional pain for, just to spend my days in their life. A huge smile returned, my tummy was full of butterflies and my heart  was all a-flutter.  The thought of any pain was and is a million miles away. And how I wish the new man in my life could have met the original one; a girl’s first love, and forever hero – her daddy.

I still imagine how well they would have got on, the topics they’d discuss and the many eye-rolling moments over some of my odd outfit choices.

Then like a cruel twist of the knife. He was to experience the same pain. The day before I was due to meet my future father-in-law (not that I knew this at the time) he sadly passed away. Leaving the one I was falling in love with, experiencing the pain I knew all too well. And leaving two people unable to meet the other one’s hero. If life wanted to teach us to embrace every moment, this was it.

Fast forward an incredible 18 months, a new home, a romantic engagement, and we are facing two distinctly empty seats at our top table. A missing teary speech. An awkward bride facing her walk down the aisle alone.

As a typical young girl looking forward to her day as a ‘princess’, you imagine it all. Your wonderful daddy being wowed by your gown, that precious walk down to your ‘prince’, the speech he’s spent hours working on, to which usually brings the room to floods of tears (or howls of laughter) and even the possibility of your very own dad and daughter dance.  A big part of our special day is often focussed around our father or father figure. And however old fashioned these traditions may seem, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to have them back.

Especially when working in the wedding industry. As a hair and make-up artist, it’s such a privilege to spend a bride’s wedding morning with her family and closest friends, making sure they feel and look at their most beautiful for the special day. I’m often still with the bride when she’s dressing, and whilst I potter around helping where I can, there is usually a nervous dad pacing the floor, hands in knots, tears on the verge. And then he sees her and the tears fall, and that moment is truly beautiful to witness.

So what to do? Do we make the statement many choose to, leaving two empty seats on the front row? Display there pictures on the top or cake table? Raise a glass to them during the speeches?

I honestly don’t think we’ll know until the day itself. What can sometimes feel like a comforting idea or notion in the future tense, can be overwhelming in the here and now. And each couple deals with their losses differently on their own special days.

One big decision we’ve made is who will escort me down the aisle. Many will surely expect my mum to take the key role, as we really do have a close relationship and wonderful friendship, but personally I wished for a male family member to take my arm. My dad had two amazing brothers, and one of which has only had sons, so given that he would never have the privilege of accompanying a daughter down the aisle, I have asked him to ‘step in’ for his big brother on our wedding day. Being given away by such a close relative and hearing his words during the speeches, I feel, will ease the pain we will no doubt be feeling even on such a joyous occasion.

I always knew planning my own wedding, without having both my father and father in law there to witness our marriage, would be hard. But sharing stories, memories and tales along the way has so far started to ease the pain. And today I’ll be raising a glass to them both, and celebrating the ridiculously amazing feeling of love, that six years ago I believed I’d never let myself feel again.




Sian is a Love My Dress reader who has contributed to our ‘From The Heart’ feature – a new weekly Sunday spot on the blog where we hand the blog back over to our readers to write about all matters of love and life. If you would like to contribute a From The Heart piece, we would dearly love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter what it’s about and it doesn’t have to be related to weddings at all – we’re looking for honest, authentic, personal, sad, happy, family, relationship, marriage, health, baby, trying for baby, children, career, simple, complicated – real life issues.  We just need you to write from your heart. Keep it upbeat and witty, or share your thoughts anonymously on a more challenging or emotional subject. Please drop me a line at [email protected]. Love Annabel x

13 thoughts on “From The Heart: Getting through a wedding in the absence of a much loved parent

  1. I lost my Dad to cancer just under a year before we got married. We were going to get married but not yet, my Mum asked if we could have something to celebrate. So the wedding was planned. We made Dad part of the day and I would definitely recommend this…the table names were after his favourite bands songs, I had a locket with his picture in tied to my bouquet and we put photos of him dotted everywhere. His best friend gave me away, his brother said it would be to emotional for him. He did such a wonderful speech.
    You words and piece is truly lovely, celebrate, remember, smile and laugh and have a wonderful day. Xx

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Between Sian, yourself and the other ladies who have commented, I’ve more than a few tears in my eyes at the moment. We recently discovered that my mom has cancer and it’s made every special occasion more special and every memory more intense. I love the way that you included your dad in your day and I hope that you find lots of ways to keep him with you as you go though life. Much love and best wishes to you and your family xx

    2. Hello lovely Vicki, I’m so sorry it’s taken me to now to reply.
      I’m so sorry that your Dad passed away before he could see you marry and joyful on your wedding day – but what lovely, thoughtful ways of ensuring his presence was felt on your wedding day – just lovely. I really hope that these ideas might comfort some of our readers too.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to reply Vicki,
      Love Annabel xxx

  2. Sian what a beautifully written blog post. Very touching. As a wedding photographer I am mindful and sensitive that there is often loved ones who can not share the day. But they are still part of it, in the hearts of the couple and the family and friends. One of my brides who had lost her father, felt the only way she could have him so close was to wear her Mother’s wedding gown. She had shared this with him before he list his battle and everyone looked at how amazing she was in the dress that her mum had worn. It was so touching. Thank you for sharing these sad but beautiful feelings with us. I’m so glad you found love.

    1. Thanks for adding your comments Sharon. We have shared many weddings on the site with couples who have lost parents. They all deal with it in their own, and varied, ways. Thank you for sharing the story of your bride with us xx

    2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Sharon. I adore the idea of a bride wearing her mother’s gown and what a touching pay homage to her father.
      Much love to you,
      Annabel xx

  3. Sian thank you so much for being brave enough to put into words what I could not. I was 21 when my gorgeous Papa was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and just over 3 years later we lost him (last August). That October my better half proposed, having asked dad for permission just weeks before he died. Who knows what the day itself will bring but from one heartbroken bride to another, I truly wish you the most beautiful day – you deserve it xxx

    1. Bryony, so sorry to hear of your story. I hope that the joy and celebration of your marriage will bring some happiness and comfort to you and your family at this sad time. Many best wishes for your future together xxx

      1. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment too Bryony – what an incredibly painful 3 years that must have been for you and your family, but what a wonderful story that your better half was able to seek your father’s permission and good wishes, brings tears to my eyes thinking about it.
        Thank you so, so very much for leaving such a sweet and kind comment.
        Love Annabel xXx

  4. Hi Sian, thank you for sharing your story with us. I can only imagine how difficult planning a wedding would be without some of your ‘main men’ being around to celebrate with you and your family. I’m sure the two of you have been a great source of support and understanding for each other and I believe that your approach of waiting to see how you feel, as things go forward, will work for you. I can only wish you as much joy, love and best wishes as possible from now on. I’m sure the day itself will be bittersweet, but I do hope that you have a truly wonderful day xxx

    1. Thanks so so much Katie. We are both looking forward to our big day, as hard as it may be, and hopefully the joy we will all feel will help ease that pain.
      sending you much love and wishes of good health to both you and your mum xxxxxx

  5. This made me tear up! I lost my father when I was 10, and while we had tumultuous relationship while he was alive, I wish he was still around to walk me down the aisle when I meet the right man.

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