Today I woke up and the reality you would not be here on my wedding day weighed so heavy on me. I am so excited to walk down the aisle to my future; a man I love so much. A man you would have loved so much. You didn’t get to meet him but you have the same sense of humor. You both like beer a little too much. Sports would have been a focal point in your conversations. Watching the two of you would have been such a joy. As I think about what today will bring, I can’t help but think of the dread I have felt leading up to it.
For 18 years of my life, you were always there. I never had to question whether my daddy would be at the choir concert or the marching band performance; you made sure to embarrass me by bringing the most cutting edge camcorders and yelling my name from the audience. You let me watch the most gruesome, frightening movies with you even when I went back on my promise to be brave and sleep alone after most of them. Especially The Exorcist. You never questioned me when I went through my emo phase, wore all black, and listened to screaming music. In fact, you brought the Three Days Grace and 30 Seconds to Mars albums on all of our drives. I truly found peace and acceptance in the presence of my dad, and I couldn’t ask for a better childhood from both of my parents.
I remember that day in August of 2010 so vividly. You called me, asked me very calmly to come home so we could talk as a family. I knew. I felt it in my gut and in my heart that nothing would ever be the same. We sat around in the living room and with tears in your eyes and with mom holding your hand, you said, ‘I have cancer.’ I remember you telling my brother and I we would fight this as a family, and we would win. I still sometimes wonder if you truly believed we could. I have never been so angry in my entire life; at God, at the world. A blinding rage. I kicked the coffee table and ran out of the house. I wish I had stayed with the family but everything in me told me to run. I ran to my best friend down the street, collapsed in their driveway, and part of me never got up.
You fought valiantly and courageously. But the cancer was stronger, faster, and all-consuming. A few weeks before you died, you told my brother and I not to let your death define us; to continue to follow our dreams and become the people we were always meant to be. And just a few short weeks after that talk, you left this world. I’m sorry to tell you, that when your soul left your body, so did a big part of all of ours.
Since 2011, I have been to many weddings. I was always filled with so much happiness for my newly-wedded friends but I have never made it through a wedding without escaping to the restroom to sob during the father/daughter dance. I could not comprehend how I could possibly be happy, even in the midst of married bliss and surrounded by so many loved ones, when the most important man in my life would be missing. I’ve been planning this day since I was 4-years-old. I have daydreamed of the dress, the flowers, the cake, and of course, my partner. There was never a moment in any of those dreams that I even considered I would not get my moment on the dance floor with the man who raised me. Since the day you died, the daydreams of my wedding turned into nightmares of loss too great to face. And yet there I was, engaged, finalizing the timeline of my wedding day.
Yesterday at my rehearsal, I had a panic attack. It was not because I was scared of marriage. It was not because the vendors were not prepared. Everything was perfect. Everything except that you were not there. My fiancé held my face in his hands and assured me I would be okay, that our day would be full of joy, laughter, and more love than we had ever felt. Most women lose sleep the night before their wedding because they are so excited and so nervous; I was restless as I felt the wave of grief that has threatened to drown me for 7 years crash over me. It felt as though I had just lost you all over again. My anxiety was screaming at me that I would not be able to make it down that aisle, that what was to be such a happy occasion would be ruined by my tears of loss. I would be sucked into the void of emptiness I have carried with me for so long and it would finally take the last part of me that fought to rise above.
The wedding day chaos had begun. It was snowing; definitely not something I had planned for but something I had hoped would happen so we could have wonderful, snowy pictures in true Colorado fashion. The calls, the text messages, and the agenda kept me occupied. I have heard your wedding day is a blur and it certainly was. People were curling my hair, applying my makeup, zipping me in my dress. Suddenly, I stood there with your son, my brother, behind the door that would open in a few moments to the aisle that has scared me for so many years. The aisle that was a physical reminder of where you were not. He was wearing your watch. We linked arms and he held me steady. And instead of panic, grief, and dread – I felt pride. I was so proud to be standing there in my wedding dress with my little brother. My little brother who has also been fighting the same dehumanizing battles with grief and depression. Regardless of everything we have been through and everything you have missed, dad, we had made it to this moment. As I walked towards my husband and found his eyes, I was filled with excitement. There was no urge to turn around and break down. I found the eyes of your wife, my mother, beaming with beauty and radiance as they always have, but in this moment, they were devoid of pain. I was married to the man of my dreams, in front of our friends and family, and while it was not okay you were not there, I felt a profound sense of ‘okay.’ There was peace in my heart as we walked down the aisle together as husband and wife.
The pain I was so sure would be weighing me down in that moment was not with me. As dinner and speeches came to an end, the moment of truth had arrived. The moment that fathers and daughters usually share together, the moment I have spent countless hours weeping over, was finally a reality. I had decided that instead of skipping it, instead of avoiding the elephant in the room, I would dance with my mother. You would be so proud of her. She has been the rock we have stood on and she has been unfaltering in her love and support of the family you created together. We swayed to ‘Mama’s Song’ in front of a room I knew was aware my dad was not there with us; but that was okay. We laughed. Embraced. Enjoyed our moment in the spotlight. She has become my best friend and together, we are two pillars of strength that your death built.
I made it through my wedding day without you. It was beautiful. The snow stopped for our outdoor ceremony but started again just in time for breathtaking photos; was that you? Were you the snow? Were you the unexpected resolve of peace that I felt the moment I woke up today? Since you left me, I have not gone a day without feeling a void in my heart but today it was full. I looked around the room and the love I was missing from you was found in the faces of our families and friends. I missed you. So much. But I felt you carry me through the day. You allowed me the strength to conduct myself with grace and gratitude instead of bitterness and sadness. I thank God for your life and although the world is darker without you, I also thank God for the lessons your death have taught me. I have many more milestones to face without you, each coming with its own unique form of grief. But as I continue to walk with grief on my left and you on my right, I am confident that in times of sorrow, I will find that same wedding day peace you gifted me with today.
Your Little Girl.”
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