Planning a wedding without your mom

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Every day, I think about my mom. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and see a resemblance — the same high cheekbones, the same thin lips. Or I’ll hear a song she liked and start singing along to it.Love shack, baby love shack!

Other times I’ll see material things that remind me of her — her old eyelash curler, which I admittedly still keep in my makeup bag. The crosstitch she made that’s now hanging in my home office. The small sterling silver bracelet she once wore that I now wear every day.

Mom died of breast cancer 16 years ago this Saturday. I was 11 when she died — old enough to tell her about my first crush in the third grade, and old enough to go dress shopping with her just before my first middle school dance. I never got to ask her for dating advice, though, or tell her about the night in October 2012 when my fiance Troy proposed.

I’ve gotten used to Mom not being here for the big moments. But a wedding without a mom is different. You can’t help but feel the loss. You can’t go wedding dress shopping with her or ask for her opinion while planning for the big day. (“What do you think about this venue? … “Should our floral centerpieces be short or tall? … How do you think I should address the ‘we-can’t-invite-everyone-even though-we-wish-we-could’ situation?”) It’s not to say I’d even ask my mom all of these questions if she were alive, but I’d like to know I could.

Weddings aren’t just about brides and grooms; they’re about mothers and daughters. Mother-daughter traditions make way for assumptions that pop up in wedding magazines and in conversations with acquaintances; it’s in our nature to assume (and hope) that if you’re a young bride-to-be, you must have a mom.

On more than one occasion, people who don’t know me well have said something to the effect of:

“Your mom must be so excited for you! Are you going to go wedding dress shopping with her?”

“Actually, my mom passed away when I was younger,” I kindly tell them.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Then, they switch to the bridal party — something seemingly more fun.

“Who’s going to be in your bridal party? Your sisters?”

“Actually, I’m an only child.”

“Oh…”

Cue the awkwardness.

These conversations are a reminder of what I don’t have. But they’re also an opportunity to think about how I can incorporate what I do have into the wedding: memories.

I’m going to put one of the costume jewelry pins my mom bought me on my bouquet, and see if the priest who’s marrying us will say a prayer for her during our ceremony. I’m also going to ask our DJ to play “Love Shack” during the reception. “Everybody’s movin,’ everybody’s groovin’ baby!” (As for the lack of sisters? My cousin and close friends make up for that.)

My dad and I can’t help but think of Mom when we talk about the wedding. Recently, he found Mom’s wedding dress in the attic of my grandma’s house. It had been there, wrapped neatly in a box, for nearly 30 years.

“It still looks brand new,” Dad said. “It’s yours if you want it.” I contemplated wearing it, but decided I want to shop for my own dress. It’s possible I could take a piece from her dress — some lace or ribbon — and add it to my own.

The last time I was home in Massachusetts, my dad showed me their wedding album. As I flipped through the yellow-tinted pages, I held my camera up to the pictures. Snap, smile. Snap, smile.

“Wow, look how beautiful Mom was — and how skinny you were!”

“Yep,” my dad said, a look of nostalgia in his eyes. “Mom really was a beautiful bride. You will be, too.”

Ever the sentimentalist, Dad got an emotional look on his face. He went on to tell me about his special day with Mom and how right it felt. Then he reached for a wedding CD he had made me. He stuck it in his CD player and skipped to no. 2 — Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter.” “I thought this would be a good father-daughter song for us,” he said. As we listened to it, he started to cry.

I’m gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you’ll always know
As long as one and one is two wooo
There could never be a father who loved
His daughter more than I love you

I wish Mom could have been there with me to hug my dad — and poke a little fun at him. I wish she could be here to help me do all the stuff that moms are “supposed to do” for weddings. But she can’t, so I have to find other ways to fill the void. I know that on the big day — October 19, 2013 — Troy and I will be surrounded by people we care about; family members, friends and coworkers have all offered to help us plan and celebrate our wedding. I feel lucky, and loved.

For as much as I think about the past, I get more excited when I think about my future. Troy and I have a lot to look forward to as a married couple. We’ll carry on some of the pastimes we’ve shared with our families and start our own traditions. We’ll share new experiences — and we’ll create new memories, together.

Here are some photos from my mom and dad’s wedding album. (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Pretty mom.

Mom, the beautiful bride. I love how elegant her dress looks.

Mom and dad.

Mom and dad.

gazing.

Love.

Dancing

First dance. (No, they didn’t dance to “Love Shack.”)

Howl

Mom and her bridesmaids. (That’s my aunt, second from the left.)

Howlands

Mom and Dad with my maternal grandparents.

With family.

Mom and Dad with my paternal grandparents.

Grandparents

Gramz and my late grandpa (or Pop-Pop, as I used to call him). The height difference is striking. I know my Gramz would like to be at the wedding, but her health has declined. (She’s going to be 90 in March!) I’m keeping my fingers crossed she can make it.

Howlands

Grandma and Grandpa. Gramps died about 10 years ago. Gram is alive and well. Just this week, I talked with her by phone about the wedding. “What kind of dress are you thinking of getting, Mal? A topless one?” she asked. “Well, I’m sure Troy would like that,” I said, jokingly. “But I think you meant to say a ‘strapless one’!” Whoops. We couldn’t stop laughing.

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