Wedding planning without a father. There isn’t a lot that needs explaining, because weddings are so patri-centric and you don’t really notice it until you don’t have one anymore.
I had a lot of questions. Who will walk me down the aisle? What about the father-daughter dance (you know, because there isn’t one?) Who will my mom sit with? Will this be weird because my fiancé and his family never met my father? Oh boy, we need a memorial table. Will I be upset? Will I be fine? (Mostly, I was okay. I just don’t think about it and therefore don’t get upset about it. Now that my wedding is in less than a month, however, I’ve started to get that creeping feeling again — jealousy that my friends have their parents, and sadness that I don’t).
If my father had not been already gone 9 years ago, this would be a lot more difficult. I am grateful that I’m not the messy, sordid and melancholy person I was in 2010 or even 2011 when the wound was so fresh. The first four years or so were like, being drawn and quartered and then attempting to put myself back together again.
There isn’t a lot of advice for fatherless brides. Pinterest has a couple things, including this letter that helped me a bit, but certainly nowhere near the hundreds of thousands of pictures of gifts to give your father on your wedding day or how to have a “daddy first look.”
My friends still move plans because they want to spend time with their fathers on their days off, and they will never fear that their father won’t be there on their wedding day in the next year or two. Their fathers were never not there, and they will always be there — for their wedding, their first house, their first child, their children growing up.
Their fear is that grandparents might pass away before their weddings.
Patrick and I closed on our first house in November. With his parents, we worked on the house for a few months and finally moved in early February. It was another thing that my dad missed out on.
Patrick and I have very specific roles in our household — while we both have full-time jobs, we divide care of the cats equally. However, I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, while he does most of the everyday cleaning, and we both do a deep clean once a week or every two weeks. He mows the lawn, but I do the lawn care — the raking, the seeding, the gardening. My dad was always obsessed with trying to get that perfect lawn and I guess I sort of inherited it.
So, we were now in our new house and the wedding was fast approaching —
Then, a wrench got thrown in, and everything took a turn for the very dark.
On March 6, four months before the wedding, Patrick and I were woken up by knocking on the door.
“Patrick, someone’s banging on the door,” I said. The knocking persisted.
The clock read 2 a.m. Now I was alarmed.
We unlocked the gun safe as the banging continued on the door.
Luckily, I peeked out the window and saw police lights in our driveway.
I opened the door to two policemen who told us that Patrick’s father was dead.
If you have never received news like this, the feeling is very strange. My head gets very heavy and muddled and the room starts to spin like I’m going to faint. I have to grab something, like furniture. Your brain kicks in to protect you in this moment.
In an instant, just like that, Patrick was fatherless too.
We had to drive to his house, to show the police his prescriptions, then had to go pick up his car at his friend’s house, where he died. We had to start making phone calls at 4 in the morning, to get his mom and sister on planes immediately, because a big snowstorm was coming the next day and they wouldn’t be able to fly in.
Jack died in the early morning of Tuesday, March 6, and my dad died on Monday, March 9. We had just seen Jack a few days earlier — we went out with my mom and booked the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner on Wednesday, and on Friday we saw him while setting up the generators for their tenants during the big wind storm on March 2. And Jack was beginning to plan a stag for Patrick with his best man, which never came to fruition.
The first thing that happened was that wedding planning completely halted. I mean, for at least a month neither of us were interested in moving forward. All the plans I’d begun to make based on things I saw at the bridal expo, we put those aside. Pretty much everything was already booked, of course, but we didn’t send payments in, and we didn’t start gathering details for decorations. Things like my bridal shower and bachelorette, which were also already in the works, were put on pause, as well as my maid of honor’s engagement celebrations. She got engaged on March 2, and everything happened right after that.
Before anyone was ready, we had to plan a funeral. And a reception. And figure out all of that within a couple days. We went to see Jack’s body in the middle of a snowstorm. The roads were closed with power lines down, everything coated in fluffy white and dead quiet.
His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
There were more responsibilities that needed attention immediately — and it hasn’t escaped me that there still are. Progress happens slowly.
Patrick suddenly was left running the family business, there were multiple properties to maintain, and he needed help — to delegate work, to tow when called, to mow lawns at multiple houses, to sort out paperwork and titles to vehicles, to manage the business and clean out all his father’s possessions, which were stored in multiple barns, offices, and houses. Unfortunately, while I can do some mediocre landscaping, I can’t help with all the other stuff.
There were money stressors, like whether the business would succeed on its own. There were questions of who was responsible for what — not everyone in the family lives in our state, where much of the work needs to be done. There are properties in multiple states that need to be sold or cleaned out. There were legal issues, like changing roles in the business and trusts and wills to discuss with lawyers. There are big lifestyle changes for Pat’s mom, who typically stays at their Florida house in the winter and it is Jack who would care of everything else because he likes to stay busy.
When it finally picked back up again, because like it or not we were getting closer to the wedding date, we had more questions to ask, like whether his mom should have a date, and who would walk Patrick down the aisle, and now we had an addition to the memorial table.
When asked by the florist if I wanted boutonnieres for the fathers, I answered no.
My depression and, to a lesser extent anxiety, returned and made it nearly impossible to look forward to the wedding or get excited for my newly-engaged friend. I had nightmares about attending Patrick’s funeral next, of being left alone, because I feel destined to lose everyone I care about. I feel like bad luck, or something. I feel like something is going to happen to Patrick, and I know my friends with significant others don’t go about their day worrying about things like that, because it’s so far out of the realm of their reality that anything could.
Death is such a done-over topic in literature and songs because even though it’s still so common and part of life, especially in the past, nothing makes it hurt less or feel normalized. It is still confounding and catching people off-guard regardless of how much it’s discussed or understood. We are taught from the beginning that everyone dies. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences existential crises that yes, everything I know and love will be taken away — or perhaps I will.
Jack’s legacy was not his monetary success. Therefore, I remember feeling really confused at his death — should I celebrate hard work and doing well at my job? Should we celebrate being homeowners? Does any of this even matter? As I get older, everyone I know will start to die. What have I achieved? Sure, I’m happy, but am I happy enough? What’s the point of life if it all just ends and it’s all irrelevant anyway? Is there a point to it all?
These aren’t easy questions. Yeah, some of them might be even borderline suicidal. But I was just asking honestly — what is the point? And eventually, I got out of the funk. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live comfortably, and sure it won’t be my legacy, but it will help me be less stressed now and live a better life knowing I have achieved a lot through hard work.
Jack’s legacy came down to his relationships — he was a friend to the world. He helped those in need, he was lenient about getting paid back, and he was successful because of it. He enjoyed his toys, sure — he flew planes and had racecars and boats, and loved hockey, and while I’m sure the meaning of the word “excess” can be used to describe the things he couldn’t bear to get rid of (that generation…), no one would argue that he did not live in excess. He worked all the time, whether down at the lake house, or on his farm, or at his business. And he conducted business from virtually anywhere he could. He knew a lot of people and a lot of people knew and loved him. And that’s what he is remembered for — being an active and caring member of the community.
We are now less than a month away, and Jack’s death is part of reality. Patrick certainly rose to the challenge. Last year, he took the Protective Services written exam and found out not long before his dad died that he passed. He recently passed the physical test (with only 10 days notice to prepare) and took an interview. It’s always been his dream to be a police officer, and his dream of working for the DMV police is getting really close to becoming true. He has succeeded in running the business and bringing in customers, providing estimates and billing, and even found someone to take over his towing days so he wouldn’t be tied down with that.
I of course already graduated last year and landed a full-time job as a digitization librarian at a small very prestigious college, so I simply continue to work away and succeed and try to work my way up by doing all I can.
Next week, we will apply for and receive our marriage license, and then the wedding is nearly upon us. I’m sure it will be bittersweet. We will see distant friends and relatives. We will see Pat’s cousins for the first time since we got engaged last April. We will be happy, to have each other, to announce our love to our witnesses, to make it final. I will gain an older sister (and brother-in-law in her husband), and Patrick will gain two younger brothers. We’ll eat a delicious meal and cake, spend time with our loved ones, and maybe dance a little (that’s not our forte). After that, we’ll spend a week back at work before leaving for our very deserved honeymoon. We haven’t vacationed or relaxed in over a year. All our hard work is paying off in more ways than one.
Withered and ablated way past anything like what might be fair, they curl up in their fire or else they rise.
Celebrate, we will, for life is short but sweet for certain.