27 Feb

Grief on my wedding day, what I wish I had known

This post is a personal snap shot of part of my wedding day, a glimpse into how spontaneous and out of the blue grief can be stirred. 

As I sat in the back of the limo, swigging my champagne flute, a song suddenly flooded the air waves that sent such a sharp and debilitating stab to my heart, that it brought an immediate flood of tears to my eyes. I don’t remember the song, but I overwhelming recognized its message; his presence was so strong it was impossible to dismiss, and I was left trying to both salvage my expensive bridal makeup, while at the same time hold the embrace I knew my father was sending me. 

He may not be physically here to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, but he was telling me he was indeed still with me, and even if no one could see him, he would be right beside me anyway.

His presence was so strong, and the immediate swell of grief so powerful, and confusing all at the same time.  My heart wanted nothing more than to have some time to savour, digest and hold this moment, to hold the embrace I could feel wrapping around me, but as present as my heart was my mind was equally trying to get my attention.

Not now, you are minutes away from the church, minutes away facing family and friends, and it would be useful to keep that eye makeup intact for the pictures!”

Both streams of thought raced through my mind, and ached in my heart, as I dabbed at my eyes, trying to hold back the wall of grief that was itching to explode.  My bride’s maids went into immediate rescue trying to understand what had happened in the past few seconds to switch this happy bride so suddenly into a state of panic and tears.  I tried to explain the song, the immediate resonance of its lyrics with my dad; I think someone shouted to the driver to change the radio station, before this bride had a total melt down in the back of the limo.  

 The driver drove around the block a few times, circling so I could catch my breath, and walk to the church as a jubilant bride instead of a sobbing mess.  

His kind and diligent stalling gave me the space and time my body needed to come back into balance and stomp the flow of tears.

Schedules needed to be met, start times heeded, my mind raced with all its rational pep talks, trying to soldier me up, assuring myself I had nothing to cry about, admonishing myself for crying, when my dad was already 12 years gone.  “Don’t be silly, don’t be childish, pull myself together, and get out of the limo and into that church!”

The tears started to dry up, and with Kleenex in hand, I existed the limo, and the wedding party assembled inside the vestibule of the church waiting for the ceremony to start.

But the bells started!  

Not regular bells of a church but bells from the music we had chosen to walk down the aisle, the bells that rang out to announce the beginning of the bridal party, the bells that rang out as an announcement, a broadcast for those assembled in the church to look over their shoulders as the show was about to start.

Those bells, didn’t just resonate in my inner ear drum allowing me to hear them, no, those bells vibrated through me, those bells pulsed and pounded my body and touched a part of me that was beyond words, beyond logic or reason. Those bells were striking an unnamed rhythmic chord that reignited the previous waves of wailing.   

There was a consciousness moving though me, an intelligence that threw open the ajar door of my grief to let it pour and flood with absolutely no concern for the circumstances or timing of the moment. 

Grief was doing what grief does, it shows up to release what can’t be articulated, it is  not an emotion of words, or linguistics, it is an emotion to be felt, experienced and released.   

I don’t know if it was the residue of swelling grief from the song episode in the limo, as the bells didn’t have this effect on me when we choose the music in the first place, but whatever was happening in my body, it was pretty clear I no longer had any control over its movement. My body was responding to the vibrations it felt and and with each tone, my body obeyed with releasing grief I hadn’t even known was there and never expected to be releasing now.

The wedding coordinator waves for the first bridesmaid and groomsman to walk down the aisle, she sees my alarmed state but we have to move, we have to keep moving. The first pair goes, I am crying, I am heaving with grief, my body is wracked with sadness, and loss for not having my father here with me at this moment, but I am still shocked at how not one but two moments of music have possessed my body to move into grief and to mourn a loss I had not allowed my rational mind to dwell upon leading up to this moment. 

 The intelligence of the body is truly an awesome but unrecognized and appreciated power. It knows what we need and when it has its chance will over rule our logic and take control to allow our emotions to do their job which is to move and flow. It doesn’t ask for permission or consent.  

My mind is still trying to make logical sense of the situation, as if being rational will pull my body out of its primal urge to purge what I cannot articulate or express with words. It seems each new bell chime slams right into my body,  sending  waves of unspoken grief to the surface, it’s my body that is responding to this trumpet of release, the wisdom of my body responding to the tolls of the bells not as sound, but as a command as a language of discharge that my mind cannot understand.  My body and mind are at war, I see the next bridesmaid go down the aisle, the next bell toll, wracking another sob, the remaining bridesmaids wondering what to do. 

I assure them I will be okay, just go, there is no more time, and yet I have no idea how I am going to shut down this torrent and flood of tears. I don’t feel I have any command of my body.  The last one leaves and  walks down the aisle, I have about 60 seconds left before the wedding coordinator is going to send me willingly or not through the vestibule door. There is nothing more to do, I bow my head and take my steps with my shoulders heaving, with tears streaming down my face, I can barely see from crying and I desperately need to blow my nose, but about half way down the aisle I see my groom waiting for me, I can see the joy of our future together, and while it doesn’t stop my tears, no they continue on through most of the ceremony, I can hold in the same moment, the heavy regret of my father’s absence with the joy of my future.

After 23 years since this day, and now working with clients who are managing the experience of death and life loss, I have learned just how much wisdom our bodies hold, and how necessary it is for our bodies to grief.  I was caught off guard by this emotional release on my wedding day, but I know now there are steps we can take to help our bodies prepare for such emotionally sensitive events. 

Grief obeys no time lines, it is commanded by neither the clock nor calendar, it abides by no etiquette, rules or authority, and respects no command. It simply responds to emotional stimuli that are outside of our linear, rational minds, it responds to what must be felt, and released. It has no master, and yet is masterful in its ability to express and discharge the expressions of love, sorrow and sadness that accompany any type of death or life loss we experience.

By Gail Carruthers