When I was a baby, my parents watched “Father of the Bride.” Later that day, my mom found my dad sobbing over my crib, lamenting the fact that someday, he too would give his only daughter away to her new husband. My mom loved to tease him about that. He was the sap of the family, and as a teenager I cringed imagining him crying through my future wedding.
Sadly, my dad won’t have the chance to sob through my nuptials because he passed away when I was 18 years old. Eight years later, I’ve mostly made peace with his death and feel grateful for the time we had together.
But when I got engaged this fall, I was surprised at how quickly the familiar heartache resurfaced. People say that grief changes through the years, but suddenly it felt like I was losing him all over again.
When my fiance popped the question, I was thrilled. I hugged my mother, who witnessed the whole thing, and rushed home to tell my brother and sister-in-law. Then we FaceTimed with my fiance’s family. After I posted the news on social media, we were showered with well wishes from friends near and far.
Still, I had a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. For years I knew I wouldn’t be able to share this moment with my father, but it was harder than I had expected.
Anytime someone asked when our wedding would be, I would say: “The sooner the better.” I asked my fiance if we could elope. He wasn’t comfortable with that. While I was ready to get hitched already, everyone was telling me to take my time and enjoy the planning.
It made sense. After all, I’m a romantic. I inherited my dad’s sappiness. I gobble up the “how we met” stories on wedding websites. I’ve imagined the white dress, the flowers, the first kiss as husband and wife. So why was I trying to forego the entire thing?
My dream wedding died when my father did. When the concept of walking down the aisle without him became real, I wanted to scrap the aisle altogether. When I realized I’d watch my husband dance with his mom while I mourned the father-daughter dance that would never happen, I wanted to do away with a reception. I couldn’t even look at invitations without getting angry – etiquette suggests that I list my father as “the late Dr. Stephen Williams.” Even in beautiful calligraphy, those words are a buzzkill.
In the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time reading stories of how other fatherless brides handled their weddings. Everyone had different advice, and only some of it seemed right for me and my fiance. What I did see, time and time again, was the fact that they still had beautiful, memorable celebrations.
After careful thought, we’re planning the following tweaks on tradition. At the bottom of our invitations, one simple sentence will read: “Blessed from above by Dr. Stephen D. Williams.” My brother, a man who becomes more like my father each day, will walk me down the aisle to my husband-to-be. At the reception, I will dance with my mother’s wonderful husband and my new father-in-law. And above all, I’m grateful that I found a man who loves me like my father loved my mother.
I know I’m going to shed a few tears on my wedding day. What I won’t do is let those emotions ruin an incredibly special time. I will keep traditions in mind, but plan a day that celebrates what we have and not what we lack. I will remind myself that the last thing my dad would want to see is a moping daughter, let alone a moping, woe-is-me bride.