This past October, on a warm fall day, I was walking with a friend discussing weddings. She was sharing with me about a wedding she just experienced without a loved one who passed away, as I was anticipating my younger brother’s wedding coming up in a few weeks. My family, especially my brother, would experience this joyous occasion without my mother. We talked about how hard it is to go through these big life events that should only be filled with happiness, and yet these moments are still marked with deep pain once you lose someone. The tears shed at these celebrations are not just sentimental, but are filled with grief as well. They represent what should have been and who should have been there. The only word I could come up with while we were walking was weird, even though the word was not strong enough to explain it all. It is a weird twisted experience of so many complicated emotions.
The day my brother, Matt, got married was absolutely beautiful. It started out with all five of my brothers coming to my dad’s house to get ready for the day. We laughed and had so much fun rushing around to get everyone looking just right. My son, Jonas, was the ring barrier. He looked so handsome and loved being a part of the celebration (well…maybe not all the pictures. Haha!). The ceremony was meaningful, and the reception was a big party! All the little nieces, nephews, and cousins were running around and tackling each other on the dance floor. My siblings and I were dancing and having a great time altogether. We even hula hooped at one point, and I have to say I can still last pretty long.
Throughout this joyful day, however, we all would get gentle reminders that my mother wasn’t with us to celebrate. She wasn’t there to help Matt get ready and give him motherly advice. She wasn’t there to receive her flower that Matt sat on an empty chair during the ceremony. She wasn’t there for family pictures. She wasn’t there for the mother and son dance at the reception. My sister and I filled in for my mom for this dance. However, instead of another joyful moment for the day, it was struck with sadness and grief. It felt less like a dance, and more of a moment my brother and I held each other while we mourned. I took a moment to talk to my brother after the dance. Then we returned to the party. Both of us were talking, laughing, dancing, and enjoying ourselves again. How is that possible? But yet, I find that it is.
Sometimes I feel guilty for being sad at these occasions, as if I should force myself to simply be happy during these special moments in life. I hear this message that tells me to get over your pain and don’t draw attention to it during a time of celebration. It is not wanted or needed. I wish that was true, but once your life is marked by a loss it is unavoidable. The reality is if you give it a little space, if you allow it to have a moment in the midst of the celebration, it seems to not hold as much power over you. You no longer have to fake your way through this happy occasion. You allow yourself to live in the joy and pain, the bitter and sweet. That is what life is made up of. Over and over again, I am taught when I leave space for both no matter the moment I live more freely. I experience joy and gratitude more deeply. It definitely still hurts. I will not deny the anxiety I had as I anticipated these hard moments at the wedding. I will also not deny the pure emotional exhaustion I felt afterward, but when we leave space for the pain it seems to destroy less.
I really did enjoy the whole day, because I felt present with all that I was feeling. This hasn’t always been true for me on days like this. I hate to admit this, but when you experience deep grief it teaches you to appreciate the joyous moments more. You know what it is like to live in both, and together life can still be very beautiful. I can’t say I understand this dichotomy or like it, and yet it seems to be true. I am thankful for all that I experienced on the day of my brother’s wedding. It is definitely a moment in life I will cherish.
Photo Credit: Silecchia Photography