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.
19 thoughts on “From The Heart: Good Grief”
Thank you so much for this honest, heart wrenching feature, Diane. Losing a parent is definitely the most difficult hurdle I’ve ever had to deal with, being only 7 months ago. Grief is a weird thing, as you said you can be doing such mundane every day activities and it can hit you like a tonne of bricks. Xxx
Thank you for taking the time to comment Bex. I am deeply sorry for your loss. It is painful beyond meaure I know… and only those who have experienced the loss of a parent will truly understand. Be kind and patient with yourself. The spectrum of emotions that grieving for someone so close involves is vast. I did everything I could yet felt such guilt and regret. Everything you feel makes no sense at the time and yes… being hit by bricks of falling grief is exactly how it feels.. some days you will dodge them and think they’ve missed you and other days you feel bruised and like building a wall with them. Don’t close yourself in, reach out and share how you feel, like you have just now. It’s essential to coming to terms with loss. I wish you strength and peace x
Diane, this is a beautiful piece and it made me very emotional reading it. Losing a close family member is never easy and you write about it beautifully and your love for your mother is evident. The compassion you showed the groom so close to losing your mother was very touching to read.
It resonates particularly with me as two years ago I lost my grandfather who also suffered with dementia in the last 5 years of his life.. Xx
I am moved to hear the article touched you Amelia. I sadly never knew my Grandparents but so many couples wish for them to be mentioned and honoured in their wedding ceremonies. If you have been blessed with a close bond then you are so very lucky. I do believe that those who pass away stay close nevertheless. Mom had Dementia for a couple of years before she passed away.. Oddly the last couple of days she was extremely lucid and I thought she was miraculously healed. I have since found out that this can sometimes happen towards the end and I do believe that was a little gift that I was lucky to receive. She died 2 days after my Birthday and so was really aware and we chatted so normally. When I think of her I have such a warm soft feeling in my heart.. My love for her could never fade and I feel she knows that. I know your Grandfather will continue to reside in your heart and his presence there is his eternal gift to you.
Oh my. I lost my 90 year old nan 2 days ago to dementia so it’s still very raw… thank you Diane for writing so beautifully and helping me understand a little better how my mum might be feeling. I will give her an extra big hug today ?
I was hoping my Mom would have made it to 90 years old.. but she didn’t want to! In fact 6 months before she left us at Christmas, in an ‘aware’ moment, she declared ‘I’ve had enough’ and I just didn’t want to hear that. Dementia is so painfully unfair.. You lose the person first when it gets bad and then finally when they pass away.. However your Nan was loved and always will be. Dementia was not who she was. Towards the end my mom would say things that were quite hurtful like ‘Who are you? You’re not my daughter!’ I had to keep reminding myself not to take it personally. Other times she said things that were hilariously endearing and it’s those moments I try to focus on now. Your mom will really need your love and support now more than ever.. and you will need her too. I’m sending a huge hug to you both x
Thank you Diane. Our stories have many similarities, you’ve clearly been through a lot and I really appreciate the time taken to respond and reflect. My nan said several times ‘I want to go’ so she got her wish in the end however painful it is for us to accept xxx
You are so right Joelle. They were ready to leave us… I am happy for the woman who brought me into the world and in many ways it was a priviledge to be by her side when she left it. It’s taken me a little while to allow her to run free.. that’s the selfish side of loss… xxx
Diane, thank you for this post – for having the incredible strength to tell your story and for articulating the feelings of grief – and good grief – so beautifully. You are amazing. Xx
Laura you have no idea how much the whole experience of writing and sharing my honest feelings with others has helped. Grieving is so isolating and it’s liberating to have a wider conversation about what is often a taboo topic but is actually part of life. I nearly didn’t share it but I am so glad I have because I am in contact now with some very special people:-) xxx
Diane, I’m sure you have brought so much comfort to anyone reading this who has also lost a dear relative, especially in the run up to their wedding. And your beautifully written words which explain your own process and how you had to maintain professionalism, even through your own grief, just go to show what a fantastic wedding celebrant and wonderful writer that you are. x
Dearest Natasha, there is nothing more comforting and reassuring than the support of a fellow Celebrant. As a Writer you know too how draining writing can be.. sometimes it’s hard to find the most appropriate words to express emotion but the piece about my mom just flowed. There was an earlier version which I toned it down.. It contained some personal frustration regarding certain agencies but one has to have a sense of decorum even in the midst of loss. Bureacracy is not something that is conducive to dealing with the immense pain of losing a parent.
Especially now when composing personalised ceremonies for those who have experienced/are in the throws of grief, I am even more mindful of the importance of sensitively interpreting the love that was shared and still exists. Thanks for your continued support Natasha, it really means the world. xxx
Diane, this was such a beautifully written piece and reminded me very much of my Grandpa. I’m so glad he got to see me achieve setting up my own business (I credit him, being the only other entrepreneur in our family, as a big source of inspiration) and write my book. He was one of my biggest fans and was so proud of my book – he’d take copies down to the library in Lichfield where he lived. I feel weepy thinking about this now, that I no longer have that person who made me really believe in myself. But, like you say, I carry him very closely in my heart. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Your mum was very lucky to have ended her days being surrounded by so much love,
Your beloved Grandpa will never cease to be proud of you and knowing my mom, she will be siddling up to him, wherever they both are now, quizzing him all about your book and how he inspired you:-) The inspiration that our loved ones bequeath is worthy of recognition and your work is a testament to the love you shared. Nothing is more special than those who love us unconditionally.
I went for a walk this afternoon in the countryside alone and saw a son in his middle years taking his elderly mom for a walk. She was hunched over and walked with the aid of a walking stick.. and couldn’t see that his eyes were locked into the screen of his i-phone. Maybe she wouldn’t have minded but it made me think.. how I would feel as a mom if that had been me. Sometimes you have to lose something before you find it..
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of being locked into our devices at inopportune moments. We may miss incredible natural beauty and the smiles of the real people in our lives.. Messages are no subsitute for the real conversations and embraces which are even more precious when the person is no longer around to give or receive them.
Grief gives one a lot to think about and much to be thankful for. So thank you Annabel.. from my heart to yours for deciding to publish something that I really needed to share.. with real people. Just the thought that my mom’s vintage photo has been seen by many people is wonderful. It was taken by a professional photographer who just happened to spot her on the streets of Sheffield in the mid 40’s.. she told me that she was saying ‘I don’t want to be photographed!’ But I know she didn’t mean it! Now she is a little famous thanks to Love My Dress…
Diane – the universe is cruel and ruthless. I cannot think of anything good about death. You have put on record a beautiful tribute to your mother. Good trees bear good fruit. Buckets of love to you.
Dally thank you for taking the time to add a comment here on the UK’s most elegant and articulate wedding resource. You are a great addition here.
As Father of Celebrancy from its early beginning in Austalia in the 1970’s, you must have had huge experience of grief during Weddings and of course Funerals. I don’t think we understand the workings of the Universe or ever will but I don’t feel that anything ever truly dies, it just takes another form. There is a scientific theory which proposes exactly this (but the term escapes me!)
The science of the heart is mysterious, majestic and out of our control… just like grief. There is a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye which my daughter read at the intimate Funeral we had for mom here in Italy. You most likely know it. I hope anyone reading this who is currently desperately missing a loved one will find some comfort in these lines..
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Diane this is such a superb piece and thank you so much for sharing yours and your Mum’s story. Thanks also to Annabel for publishing it. I too lost a parent suddenly in the Spring of last year and afterwards sort of threw myself into the creative side of my Wedding Celebrancy work using my couples’ joyful celebrations and their elation almost as a kind of therapy to get through my own grief. I hope writing this has helped your own grieving process, you are right, there is no limit – we must give ourselves as much space as we need and everyone is different. Much like the personal ceremonies we create, there is no “template”; over time the tears fall less frequently but we never forget. x
Thank you for commenting and especially since you experienced the same sadness during the wedding season. I am truly sorry for your loss too.
No one wants a gloomy Celebrant and we do our best to put our personal lives and emotions to one side and be professional. I completely agree with you about finding the creative aspect of our work a welcome therapy. Although June was the worst month it could have happened I do feel immense gratitude to all the lovely wedding industry professionals and couples who were immensely understanding.
Not only has writing this article been therapeutic but so too is reading all the amazingly supportive comments here. There is an undeniable comfort in sharing collective experience and showing solidarity. After all this is something that we all face at some point if we outlive our parents or others we love.
We are so fortunate to be part of such a caring industry. Celebrating love is easy but you can’t say that about loss. However celebrating life is part of grief and this has been such a beautiful place to let the feelings flow. I love your final sentence..it’s so beautiful, like a mantra: ‘There is no “template”; over time the tears fall less frequently but we never forget’
How very true that it is.. xxx
One of the loveliest Brides from last year just sent me something she came across. She had recently lost her Mother and brother too… so the fact that it spoke to her made the following even more poignant:
‘Grief I’ve learned is really just love.
It’s all the love you want to give but cannot.
All that unspent love gathers up in the corner of your eyes, the lump in your throat and in that hollow part of your chest.
Grief is just love with no place to go.’
This resonated so strongly with me and I hope it gives comfort to anyone experiencing grief right now. The pain of grief reminds you that your love is still very much alive. While ever that special person resides in your heart you will never be truly separated.