“I would like to welcome the father of the bride to the floor for a special dance with his daughter on her wedding day.”
Anytime I used to hear a DJ say those words, it was my cue to excuse myself from the party and head to the bathroom for a while.
I was fourteen when my dad passed away. My dad had a heart attack, so his death was very sudden and unexpected. One day he was taking my little brother and me on a day-trip to Seattle, and the next day, January 4, 2004, he was gone.
Ten years would pass before I got engaged and was trying to plan my wedding. I had no idea how to make a traditional wedding work for my family. How could we cope with the loss of my dad in the midst of such a big celebration?
My biggest fear about the wedding was that grief about my dad would inevitably cast a shadow over the whole day. I worried that when everyone saw that he wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle or dance with me in my wedding dress, they would just be sad about all the important things that he was missing out on. It was hard enough for me to privately grieve the fact that my dad would never have a chance to meet my husband. If my wedding day was doomed to be a public display of all the things that my family has lost, I didn’t think I could handle being a part of it.
But when my wedding day actually came, it was nothing like I had feared. My mom and my brother insisted on walking me down the aisle together. Right before we started the ceremony, my aunts from my dad’s side surprised me with a special picture of my dad that I could hold with my bouquet—it was perfect!
The moment that the three of us walked together during the wedding felt so complete to me. I was with my mom and brother—the family that I love so much—going towards the man I was about to marry. We were able to remember my dad too, but it wasn’t at all in a sad way. There was so much healing for me in that experience. I know I will remember that beautiful moment with my family forever.
And later on, during the reception, I couldn’t contain my joy when it was time for the special dances. Right after my first dance with my new husband, my “little” brother (who, to be fair, was by then at least five inches taller than me) came up for our special brother-sister dance.
As we made our way across the dance floor, I realized that—for the first time at a major family event—I didn’t feel a gaping hole for my father during the celebration. I had picked out a special song by my brother’s favorite band (an acoustic version of “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters), and we sang the lyrics together as we danced. Dancing with my all grown-up best buddy in front of our family and friends, I couldn’t have wished for anything better or more special on my wedding day.
For so much of my life, I was worried that my family would never feel whole again without my dad. It seemed like we would always be lacking or incomplete when we encountered life’s important moments and celebrations. What I learned from my wedding was that I was wrong not to dream about a future full of happiness and completeness for my family. I agonized for so long about how my wedding would go, but when the day finally came, it was simply full of love and support. My little family—with all their quirks—turned out to be exactly the people that I needed with me on that special day.
I know that I will miss my dad for the rest of my life, but I also know there really is so much hope for the broken, grieving, and non-traditional families out there. I only wish that I had dared to believe in that hope for my family much sooner.
Photo by Sara Garcia