Trigger warning; the loss of a parent.
I want to start this by saying I chose to write about the loss of a father, specifically, because two of my friends (good friends - not just acquaintances) lost their fathers within a few days of each other. Both of those friends are engaged and planning weddings. & while my heart would break for them regardless of the timing - there's an extra special place in my heart for women who are close to their dads and lose them before their weddings. It's just as hard to lose a mother, or a grandparent, or a sibling. & I've encountered all of those scenarios.
That special place in my heart exists because for a long time I didn't have contact with my dad. When I was in elementary school / middle school and my friends and I would slumber party and talk about our weddings (yep - I was that kind of little girl I'm sure everyone who knew me then is JUST SHOCKED I ended up in the wedding industry) I would get teary eyed because I didn't know who would walk me down the aisle or dance with me during my first dance. & suddenly it wasn't such a fun game anymore.
When dad and I reconnected before High School there was a point I sort of breathed a sigh of relief he'd be at my wedding one day.
When I got married to my ex-husband it really hurt my feelings that my dad refused to come. He said he would come if I ever got married "for real," and at the time it hurt my feelings.
Looking back, though, I'm really thankful that he didn't.
Because I am glad the first time my dad (hopefully) sees me say "I do," it'll be real and for the rest of my life. I want my dad to see me in a wedding dress one day, and hold my arm tight enough I don't face plant walking down the aisle when I'm nervous, and I want to dance with him to a sappy song that makes him cry and I want to laugh with him through tears at what a sap he actually is even though he tries to comes off as a tough guy.
& it's those wants and wishes that crush me when one of my brides tells me her dad passed before her wedding so he won't be there. It's those visions of my own day that make it hard not to cry writing this thinking of Molly & Lindsay and all of my other friends who had to plan a day with a missing piece.
Their losses came immediately after my own dad was battling pneumonia in the hospital that caused AFib and an enlarged heart and while he was still not improving. I haven't seen him since before Christmas - and I've been incredibly worried about him (he's through the worst of it now). My grandparents had shown up at my house at 3:45 in the morning knocking on the door and when Nick opened the blinds and said, "It's your grandparents," I had a horrible sinking feeling of dread they were telling me my dad passed.
My mom has beaten cancer and the odds so many times that in my head she's invincible. The women in my family on her side live forever it feels like - but the men are a different story. & I worry about my dad as I pass milestones like the age my mom was when her own dad passed.
Which is where the rest of this blog comes in. The, "I don't know what I would do if my dad died before I got married," part. & some of these things are things I've seen couples implement and some are things I was thinking of on the way home the other day from buying take out. I randomly started to cry thinking about it and I'm crying now typing it.
I hope to never need these things - but so many of my friends and clients have and not just for fathers. For mothers and siblings and their own children and grandparents that raised them and best friends. I have been to very few weddings that aren't missing an important person in the life of the bride or the groom. It's the worst part about getting older.
1. Have a piece of your dad's favorite shirt sewn over your heart on the underside of your dress (I've seen this in various sizes, but always in a little heart - and a seamstress can do this for you). If your dress is sheer and his favorite shirt is red maybe consider placing it at the bottom of your dress or picking one of his lighter colored shirts if you'd rather have it by your heart.
[This was her Paw-Paw's shirt, her dad's dad]
2. Place your favorite picture of him in a picture frame "charm" and have it tied to your bouquet so he can walk with you down the aisle. This is the thing I see done the most, and there are so many styles of those charm picture frames in various sizes that even the most "aesthetically particular" brides will be able to find one that matches their bouquet.
3. If your dad was a "necklace" wearer (my dad has a peace sign necklace he's had since I was little) consider having it resized to fit you, or the charm placed on a bracelet, or having it tied around your bouquet stem.
4. Save his seat during the ceremony and/or a place for him at your family's table - you could place his photo in a chair, or a flower, or his dress shoes in it. (Not MY dad's shoes though - because man, they do not smell good which is an ongoing joke between us after a pair actually made me throw up once in high school).
5. If you've got cards with his handwriting and a talented enough seamstress you could have his, "I love you, dad" sewn into the lace of your veil or somewhere on your dress discreetly.
6. If you can - and I don't know if I could because I've cried shooting things like this at weddings - dance with your grandpa or your brother or your father-in-law to the song you would have danced with your dad to. Honestly, set time aside to dance with your new father-in-law even if your dad is still there and you get along/feel like family. He's your dad now, too. If you don't think you can actually dance to it - play it at the end of the wedding when it doesn't matter if you mess up your makeup crying and dance with your mom. I've also seen people dance with their moms to the song their mom/dad danced to at their own weddings as a way to honor their marriage and remember him.
7. Have his favorite dessert/snack at the dessert table with a little sign explaining it was his favorite (I would have to have a candy bar - because the man likes things like Hot Tamales and Lemon heads). Or his favorite sweet tea would be added to the drink table - because he goes nowhere without a jug of it.
8. Back to walking down the aisle - if you're the kind of person who likes the tradition of being given away (I personally think it's sweet, I know others think it is outdated - but this is specifically for the ones who like it) - please know you have someone. That someone could be your mother, brother, sister, grandparent, uncle, his best friend, YOUR best friend, or even the person you're marrying if you truly don't have anyone (I have attended weddings where no relatives were in attendance on one side for various reasons).
9. A slideshow with videos of you and your dad or pictures of him/the two of you can be played during the time you would have had your first dance if you can't see yourself having it with anyone else. Or during the reception.
10. Tables or countertops decorated with framed images of loved ones that couldn't be there are sadly so common, and always so sweet. I would encourage framing a favorite card/letter if you've got one from him next to his picture so that you can read his words and hear his voice on your day.
11. Frame a picture of him to hold during some of the family photos. Or have someone carry one in their jacket pocket. This bride's dad surprised her with a photo of his dad, her Pap-paw in his coat so that he was with them both all day.
12. Have his handwriting and whatever words mean the most to you made into a piece of art so that you can hold it if your dad wasn't a picture person (I would want to have a card I have from him that goes something like, "Vic, I'm so proud of you. Love you, me," because it's something I would know he would have said that day. I had one of these made for a friend after her husband passed and the lady who made it was so incredibly kind and easy to work with (you can find her here).
13. Use your dad's wedding band somehow. (If it's okay with everyone involved and with your mom/his wife) like to make your band/ring out of (a professional can do this). Or have it resized and let your future husband where it if he's okay with that idea or you wear it around your neck, place it on a ribbon and tie it around your bouquet stems. You can have wedding bands turned into heart pendants for necklaces (again, have a pro do this). If it's a solid gold band maybe have it melted down and turned into two tiny gold earrings.
14. One of my brides had a tree standing near her in honor of her dad (if memory serves, they planted it somewhere at either her home or her mother's home after).
15. Ask your photographer to incorporate tattoos with special meaning (like this one, that was for her dad) into your photos.
16. This sweet bride carried some of her father's ashes down the aisle with her. (Her advice to anyone who does this is to have a third party (like a family friend) be the one to add the ashes to the charm because it was very emotional).
There are so many ways to have your dad with you on that day, even if he can't be there physically.
I may come back to this and add more ideas - but honestly it's really hard to think of them because I have to picture what I would consider if my dad was gone which immediately makes me think of how hard it would be to be my friends on this day - and how truly sorry I am for their losses.
I'll take a moment to also let those of you (like me) who cry easily know that you can warn your makeup artist about this ahead of time. You can let her know you're going to cry walking down the aisle without him or dancing with his brother instead of him - and they'll have the chance to be proactive with the kind of makeup they use and the kind of makeup they leave you for touch-ups after if you're a makeup person or the kind of crier that I am where you get all splotchy and red.
Even without him there - and even without any of these things - your dad is still a part of your day because he's a huge part of who you are. He's a huge part of the person you became and he's responsible for helping make you into the person your future spouse fell in love with. He's responsible in some ways for your opinion on weddings and marriages and the things you loved about him are some of things you looked for subconsciously in a future spouse. Which makes him a huge part of why you're getting married in the first place.
To my friends who have lost their dads, he would be there on your big day if it was up to him. I promise.
PS; these shots of Jessica walking were very random and she was leaving her bridal session when this pelican soared past her. I snapped it and showed her and she started to tear up because pelicans were her dad's "bird." & it was like he was there. She had it framed and gave it to her mother and it hung at her wedding reception.
I think God lets people know they'll see their loved ones again in subtle, serendipitous ways just like that.
PSS; if you honored your dad (or another loved one) on your wedding day in a way I didn't include please tell me so I can add it.