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Planning Your Wedding When a Loved One Passes Away

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Wedding experts share insight on how to throw a wedding while coping with the departure of a loved one.

By: Stefania Sainato, Bridal Guide blogger

One of the most frequently-asked questions we receive from brides is how to plan a wedding when life hits you the hardest. Google "wedding ideas" and you'll get about 9.89 million results, but there's no guidebook for what to do when you don't have a mom to wedding dress shop with you. The lack of information out there on how to plan a wedding during tough times led us to some of our favorite wedding pros for practical advice that will not only help you get through this challenging period, but also find some joy in the process.

Photo Credit: Christina Kiffney Photography

Should I Cancel, Postpone, or Move Forward?

The first challenge that many couples face is determining whether they should cancel, postpone or move forward with their wedding. "The right decision needs to be made by the couple based on their means; [determine] if rushing the nuptials [if your loved one is deathly ill] will cause them too much stress," said Sasha Souza, a celebrated California-based celebrity wedding planner and author of Signature Sasha: Magnificent Weddings by Design.

Souza has guided clients through this difficult process for Wish Upon a Wedding (where she's the Founding National President), a non-profit that grants weddings to couples faced with terminal illness and serious life-altering circumstances. So far, they've granted 50 wishes to very special couples: "The adversity they overcome each day and the level of faith they have that they will overcome whatever obstacles are placed in front of them is incredibly inspiring." (Find out how you can donate to this worthwhile cause here.)

Although your first inclination may be to just throw a quickie ceremony followed by a larger reception at a later date, Souza's clients tend not to choose this option since it can also be quite stressful. Be flexible -- Souza recommends asking vendors in advance if they will credit you for a sooner date (most likely a weekday) should you need to change your plans on short notice. If you've already hired vendors under contract, you may be charged cancellation or postponement fees, so in some situations it may be smarter to stick to your original wedding date. If, for some reason, a loved one can't make it to your big day, talk with your photographer and videographer about providing footage that they can see quickly once it's over.

Allow Yourself To Grieve.

It's devastating when someone you care about deeply is taken away from you -- no matter how joyful getting married can be, it doesn't negate this loss. Grieving reminds you of the important things in life that sometimes create a shift in your planning.

Bride-to-be Michelle Taylor thinks of her late mom at every step in her wedding planning. "Your mom is supposed to be there when you find The Dress, she's the one who calms you down when you freak out over your budget, and, most importantly, she nags you about what she feels is right for your wedding. It might sound weird, but I actually wish that my mother was here to nag me." Taylor and fiancé Wesley have been together since they were just 14 years old (they're 23 now), and she's grateful she got her Mom's blessing before she passed away three years ago.


Michelle Taylor and fiancé Wesley.

Honor Their Memory By Including Them In Your Wedding.

There are many ways to honor a lost loved one at your wedding: big and small, private and public. Taylor's wedding will incorporate purple (her Mom's favorite color), New Orleans' architecture (her Mom's favorite city) and even a heart-shaped swatch of fabric (from her Mom's clothing) hidden in the folds of her gown. Instead of buying a new wedding band, Wesley will place her mother's ring on her hand at the altar. Souza tells us she's had clients whose mothers have read the speech that their father would have given (incorporate it in the wedding program, instead, if you feel that the potential for tears is too high).

Stop Feeling Guilty.

After Taylor's mother died, "I felt like I didn't even want to eat, let alone think about planning a wedding. So often, when people lose someone, they feel as if life shouldn't be happening, and they forget to live, or feel guilty for having wonderful experiences happen to them, because they feel that if their loved one can't enjoy it, then they shouldn't either."

Don't Underestimate The Power Of Weddings.

In the book A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene, the author describes how during a painful moment in her own wedding planning, she came across a passage from Elie Wiesel's A Jew Today that forever changed her perception of weddings. It says that when a wedding procession encounters a funeral procession in the street, the mourners halt so as to allow the revelers to proceed -- the wedding takes precedence. Weddings serve as a symbol of hope and promise for the future, and give families a chance to heal.

"Weddings are a brief shining moment in the sun. They are a little bit of magic. Often, as a bride, you don't know this yet, but every elderly person at your wedding who dressed up and got themselves there knows it well...we need moments where we can get together and celebrate someone's joy. So in that way, a wedding isn't just yours. But this time, it's your turn to host," said Keene.

Leave a comment telling us how you're honoring a departed loved one at your wedding.

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