I zipped up my sister’s wedding dress in quiet company, with only a camera lens, digital recorder, and each creative conductor looking on. It was hard to tell where her gown began and ended- The room shimmered in the bright sunlight and created cream waves, whitecaps rolling from the ivory curtains, to a long, blush bedazzled train, pooling at the edge of the bed to meet fresh-pressed pristine linens. It felt like my sister and I were standing on a cloud, and when I fastened her upper clasp and watched her turn around, she took my breath away.
I look at the photos, even now, in awe- My little sister’s wedding day was one of my personal favorite memories and it brings me so much joy to play the movie reel in my mind, relive the magic again and again. But each time, a lump forms in my throat when I think of her and I, in that heaven-inspired room, knowing that on my wedding day, it was my mom who zipped my wedding dress.
My mother, our heaven-sent guardian angel.
She was so looking forward to my sister’s wedding day: It was the reason for her fight. When naturopathic treatments stopped working, my mother looked to chemotherapy to treat her aggressive Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer, something she previously swore off after living through, surviving such harsh conditions once before. I remember when she first told me that she was going to begin treatment after all, growling, “I’m too close to quit now. Not making it to Ashley’s wedding… it would be cruel, at this point, to give up or lose the fight.”
She was so close. She wrestled so hard with cancer’s demons.
All I wanted to do on June 22nd was suppress the feelings of sadness I had, pretend that nothing was wrong as my sister walked down the aisle, as my father represented a party of one in formal family photos, as toasts were given and songs were played- But I ached in my bones and there were tears in my veins. The only way to rid myself of the pain was to tilt my head toward the sunlight and feel my mother’s warmth.
The absence of a loved one on a special day may dull the occasion, as living parties struggle to sort through coping and healing mechanisms in their own way. But now, with my sister’s wedding behind me, I think that subtle or evident portrayals of my mother’s presence moved us all through the day in a healthy manner. We connected over beautiful observances and celebrated her life, along with ours.
| Memorial Bouquets |
As part of my Maid of Honor duties, I was tasked with creating my sister’s bouquet for her wedding rehearsal. I opted out of the traditional “paper plate” craft and pre-purchased silk flower bushels at Michaels, secured them together with chicken wire, burlap ribbon, and embellished boutonniere pins. I matched the flower colors with the ribbons and bows my sister received, then stuck some of my mother’s symbols, cardinal figurines and pennies, inside. The keepsake came out perfect and it was nice to know that my mother was present on not only the wedding day, but walkthrough as well.
For my sister’s wedding bouquet, we attached small lockets to the base with resized photos of my mother and grandmother inside. It was a beautiful tribute to the generations of women, still with us in spirit.
| Presence Pins |
My mother passed away right before my sister’s bridal shower. We moved the date and assembled all logistics in an expedited fashion; everyone knew the circumstances and remained incredibly accommodating but it was difficult to change the tone of the engagement. I therefore wanted to do something that highlighted my mother at the shower in a positive way and decided to purchase ribbons for guests to wear in her honor.
While passing around the little mementos and explaining their purpose, there was not a dry eye on the backyard patio. But it felt right… to connect our closest family and friends in a way that addressed a monumental void and mustered strength from our little community.
| A Spiritual Sanctuary |
When researching wedding memorial ideas, I noticed that setting photo frames on empty ceremony seats was a popular way to commemorate lost loved ones. Some people also opted to make memorial shrines, photos scattered across tree limbs, tables or single display frames.
My sister assembled a memorial arrangement across the grand piano at her venue, but collected a diverse mix of items such as my parent’s wedding album, cardinal- etched candles, floral crafts with quote displays, etc. I adored that the eclectic assortment evoked diverse memories, were tributes to various points in life, and were made or purchased with love by different people.
| Unforgettable Florals |
One of my mother’s favorite hobbies was working in her garden. She nurtured the most beautiful, fragrant beds and my sister and I both used some of our childhood favorites in our wedding florals- Snowball hydrangeas, dusty millers, white roses, sweet peas, and lily of the valley. Seeing her garden come alive at each venue made the best statement pieces and were so sentimental- my bouquet is now a dried shadowbox display piece in my home.
| Musical Memories |
There weren’t very many single ladies at my sister’s wedding, so she opted to host an “anniversary dance” instead. The idea is that the DJ or emcee invites all married couples onto the dance floor. After a few minutes of dancing, the DJ asks all couples who have been married for five years or less to leave the dance floor. Then ten years, fifteen years, and so on. My sister chose my parent’s wedding song as the tune, which definitely induced a few tears but succeeded in honoring a love that was truly endless.
| Other Popular Symbols |
There is no one way to appropriately honor a lost loved one, whether it be through song, heartfelt words, photos, objects, etc. As a gift I purchased a necklace for my sister, with my mom’s thumbprint and handwriting engraved. On her wedding day, I wore a cardinal two-tone bracelet that I found serendipitously on Instagram. Both of us now can wear the matching mementos daily in remembrance. The symbols are about evoking a sense of peace; finding comfort in each mention of a memory.
(Other ideas: Bridal shower faux-flower centerpieces with little mementos inside; symbolized wax-seal stamps on invitations, photo frames in the wedding-eve bridal suite, pictures on photographer ready flat-lays, etc.)
We included our mother in our family’s special union, and her presence was felt. Each family photo included a peculiar, gorgeous ray of light and we are certain that the miracle was her.
She’s with us always- and that, in itself, is cause for celebration.
Professional Photo Credit: @rowanberry_lavender