Planning A Day About Love In The Wake Of Loss
Written By: Georgia Mae H.
I’ve envisioned my wedding day my entire life — but in different way than you might think. I wasn’t imagining my dress or day-dreaming about table cloth colors (but if you did, more power to you!!) but I was always fantasizing about the people and the energy of my big day. I come from a larger-than-life family that is notorious for taking over a dance floor. Growing up, weddings were some of our favorite family events.
I knew that once I met my future husband, the excitement would grow even more because I could finally envision my dance partner (and partner for life).
All of these elements to our big day felt secure and intact. Until my family’s world was turned upside down...twice.
My dad passed away suddenly right before Thanksgiving in 2015 and my mom in October of 2017. We got married on November 4th of 2018, so as you can imagine, I had to rise to the occasion as I was simultaneously walking through some of the worst days of my life and planning one of the best days Talk about a contrast.
Among the many concerns and worries was one that pained me to think about: my dad would never meet my future husband and neither of my parents would be there for the biggest day of my life. I wrestled with this so much. As someone who had waded through a few tough relationships, I knew that they wanted to see me end up with someone who would “crawl to the ends of the earth for you” (my dad’s words, not mine).
People often mention that they are so glad I have Tyler. I am too. He is the most wonderful man. But, that doesn’t mean he replaces my parents. The hole is still there. It’s weird going through something difficult while a great thing is on the horizon (our wedding). There was so much good to be celebrated with a layer of deep sadness that my two parents weren’t there during this milestone. They dreamed of this day. So did I. PSA: Tyler and my dad actually DID meet unbeknownst to me...but that’s a longer story for another time. :)
Planning a wedding without them was daunting. From friends and family, I’ve learned that the bride’s parents are typically big decision makers in the planning process. Since this wasn’t something I’d experience, I dove right in on my own. We decided to get married in Charleston, SC instead of my hometown in Florida. I wanted a fresh, new place where I wouldn’t feel too much familiarity but I also wanted it to really capture who Tyler and I are as a couple. We found Magnolia Plantation and Gardens on a quick day trip and booked shortly after. I was sold on it’s intimate coziness and southern charm. Not to mention, it’s right on the marsh, and our family home was also on a marsh waterway. Details like that make it feel more meaningful without sparking too much sadness.
I knew what I wanted our wedding to feel like. I wanted it to feel warm, cozy, welcoming, and fun. I knew I needed to balance the heartache of the past few years and pair it with the anticipation and happiness of my future with Tyler. It was then that it hit me: a wedding day is a micro-version of life. We celebrate, we love, we mourn, we cry, we laugh and we reflect. For me, this day would represent all of the years Tyler and I had spent as individuals and the special journey that had led us to one another.
These are the elements that I included on our special day in memory of my parents. Some visual, some not. Some were obvious, some were subtle. I knew I wanted them to be woven into the day. How could I not?! But I also didn’t want it to feel like a memorial.
A Special Walk
Who’s going to walk me down the aisle?! This was one of my first thoughts after my dad and mom passed (and probably every young woman that loses their parents). There was no question in my mind I wanted my brother to walk with me — it symbolized milestone of healing for us. You see, being the protective older sister that i am, I always wanted to impose my way of thinking or living on my siblings. Especially as we faced immense loss together, I wanted to take away all of their pain and guide them the best I could. This is a story for another time, but we really can’t force people or even ask them to grieve like we do. It’s not fair and it will create a wedge in the relationship. Not having your parents to coach you through these moments pushes you to have uncomfortable conversations and really revisit what it means to be a supportive sibling. After 3 years of navigating this and learning to “let go and let God” (thanks, mom. I get it now!) I watched as both of my siblings emerged from the fog of grief in their own way. That is what made this walk incredibly special — I felt the unity of our sibling bond highlighted in that moment. When our officiant asked who was to give me away, both of my siblings answered — I know two angels that were beaming down on that moment.
First Dance Song
I grew up watching my parents dance to their wedding song ’What a Wonderful World’ by Stevie Wonder. As a child, I used to scream “ewww!!!” as my dad dipped my mom and “smooched” her. Then, at church they would play it every Thanksgiving service and I watched as my dad teared up. On top of it being their song, I grew to love the words and meaning behind it. It’s all about community and togetherness — two things Tyler and I both cherish. I hesitated at first about making it our song because this was our day and I wanted to be careful about trying to recreate my parent’s day. I soon realized that the song would still be just as meaningful to us as long as we felt connected to it. We worked with a dance instructor who was jazzed about helping us create something simple and special. Throughout the wedding planning process, we always happened to have dance lessons on the same nights of our most stressful planning moments. I always felt a sense of relief as Tyler and I danced. Something we will continue to do for years to come.
Two Roses & Quote
I thought about this one a lot. Did I want to have empty chairs?! What does that symbolize? I know they are “with me” but would it make people feel uncomfortable if there were empty seats up front? Woah! Had to catch myself on that one. It’s our wedding...haha! I can call the shots on the chairs, the food, everything! My worries melted. I found this sign on Etsy after searching high and low for something that really conveyed how I felt about our day without my parents. I wanted it to be sweet and thoughtful...not too sappy. The two roses represent them, too.
Dancing Kick-Off Video
In place of the traditional father-daughter dance, I created this video to honor my parents. They were big dancers as I’ve mentioned so it felt like the perfect way to remember them and introduce them to people that hadn’t met them. I’ve been making videos for as long as I can remember. Thanksgiving, road trips, family talent shows...etc. I always loved compiling memories and creating a storyline. This was definitely a big time commitment, but I am SO glad we did it. I wanted the video to really encapsulate my parents’ vivacious spirit. I knew people would cry, and that it would tug at heartstrings, but I also wanted it to feel warm and light. Accomplishing this was no easy feat. I cried through videos, played around with countless songs and tried to keep it at a concise length. I finally landed on this song by ‘Searchin’ My Soul’ by Vonda Shepard. We grew up dancing around our kitchen to this song, and I can just see/hear my parents now when I listen to it. The video was a hit, and I am so grateful we have it to cherish and show our future children how lively their grandparents were/are. (To see the video: scroll to the bottom of the blog)
This is a common way to tie in a loved one that isn’t present on your wedding day. I trusted that my siblings would intertwine my parents in their speeches, but I also didn’t want it to feel like a memorial service. It’s a tricky thing to balance, but they both delivered such meaningful speeches with the perfect touches on my parents, me and Tyler.
Bouquet charms + Something Borrowed And Blue From My Mom
Through my wedding planning I began to LOVE flowers. My mom loved gardening, so maybe I subconsciously started giving flowers more attention after she passed. I was referred a florist in Charleston named The Moonlight Iris. I came to find out that she had started her business after her mom passed away and was inspired by her mother’s artistic talents. Wow, can we talk about FATE?! She was so thoughtful and went above and beyond for us.
I got a charm off of Etsy and put a photo of my parents printed in it. I can just feel their joy through the picture — and it’s how I imagined they’d be on my wedding day.
Before our rehearsal dinner, Tyler’s parents pulled me aside and said they had something to give me. They gifted me a beautiful locket with two photos of me as a child with my parents. Their thoughtfulness for me during that time is something I will never forget.
Something borrowed AND blue. My mom had lots of bracelets but this was the one she wore the most often. It’s almost the same color as her eyes - light and bright blue! My mom was a big hand squeezer and embracer (of people). She was so good at tender, gentle nudges that made you feel loved. This was my way of incorporating that.
Dog Tags & A Special Date
I knew I wanted to get a special, personalized gift for my siblings on my wedding day. We had been through so much together as a trio and I wanted them to know that although I am starting my “own” family with Tyler, they are still a part of my core. I don’t think they ever doubted this (haha) but given what we had faced over the past few years, I knew I wanted to tie in a sentimental way of saying, “Our family tree is still growing.”
So the dog tags (gender neutral and can be put on a key chain, or worn around your neck) ended up being the perfect fit. On the front side, I had the artist etch our initials, along with my parents’. On the bottom are the coordinates of a small, white church in Woodstock, VT where my parents got married in 1988. You might wonder why I chose this date. I thought about what date I wanted symbolized and it kept coming to me to think bigger than the days they passed away or their birthdays. It finally hit me that our family tree really began on that day. That’s when the Hurley clan was bonded forever. So, giving by siblings this on MY wedding day, it symbolized a our journey this far with so much goodness to come.
The other side of the dog tag has this photo on the back. I wanted a photo that represented us as a “unit” as my mom always called us. Coincidentally, we got these photos taken a month before my dad passed away suddenly. I am so grateful for them now because most of our family pictures have been during our awkward stages with braces. I highly encourage spontaneous “just for the fun of it” family pics! They are treasures.
Rain Drops & Angel Kisses
This is not something I planned. During our ceremony, I heard what I thought were cannons going off . YES, cannons. You may be wondering why this was my first reaction.
Growing up, we visited a town called St. Augustine and would visit an old fort that blasted off cannons over the ocean. Naively, I thought that on our wedding day it was the same sound...which was a good thing considering it was actually THUNDER (apparently this is a wedding nightmare??).
After we kissed and started walking down (more like skipping haha) the aisle, I felt two very distinct drops of rain on my nose. I didn’t think anything of it at first but as we turned the corner I realized I hadn’t felt any other drops, JUST ON MY NOSE. Everyone has their own take on signs from our loved ones who have passed and I totally respect what people want to believe or don’t want to believe but you can’t make that stuff up. I like to think those were angel kisses from my parents. Such a sweet moment to “feel” them during.
It started drizzling in the next few minutes but held off during family photos (thanks mom and dad). I didn’t even mind it was raining because it made for a cozy evening with all of our people. There’s something about a rainfall that adds a renewed tone.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope these ideas helped spark some hope for you if you’re planning or will be planning your wedding day without a loved one.
Photos by Erin Wilson Photography
If you’d like to watch our wedding video & the memory video I created and played at our wedding, see below: