When tragedy strikes

Today’s topic isn’t the most pleasant or uplifting, but it is important. And I am well aware that I have been accused of often being ‘too serious.’ Is that a bad thing? But here’s what I want to talk about, in light of recent events: What happens if just before your wedding a local, state, national or personal tragedy strikes. What do you do? There are many ways terrible events can impact a day that was supposed to be about love and should be full of joy. And there are many ways to respond.

When I was very young, my cousin was getting married – it was a big deal, especially because we’re a small family – and right before that happened, the father of the groom committed suicide. The wedding celebration was cancelled, and the couple married instead in the private study of the person who’d been set to officiate. This was an appropriate and proportional response.

Anything can happen, and in these turbulent times, they happen more and more. Whether it is something like the recent mass shooting at the synagogue, or a personal event in your own family.

There are two elements that come into play – that your response be appropriate and proportional. And any decisions made about it are always subjective. Only the couple and perhaps the immediate family can decide if or how to respond. But most importantly I urge you not to ignore what is going on, whether in your family, circle of friends, or in the world.

And now a small plug for hiring well-trained officiants: those of us with training and lots of experience can help couples with this. We can help find the words and actions to express what you are feeling. This is done most often, at the opening of the ceremony. So speak to the person or people you lean on, talk about it and talk to your officiant.

Ritual acts could include lighting a candle, tossing pebbles or stones into a nearby lake or river, a butterfly release, placing a flower in a vase. Some people like to have an empty chair, often with a photo or flower but I must confess this is not my favorite thing. Consider having the person’s favorite song played by your musicians or DJ, carry or wear something that belonged to your loved one. A memorial table with photos and artifacts is always appreciated and works well whether it is for personal or a community tragedy. But do not turn your wedding into a funeral. Again, proportion is important. A statement along with a reading and/or a moment of silence is always appropriate.

Transitioning into the joy of your marriage is the harder part. Words that remind us all that we must live our lives bravely and recommit ourselves to loving and gratefulness will certainly help, while acknowledging that it doesn’t change the fact that it’s difficult.

Cancelling a wedding is a tough decision. However, if there is a death in the immediate family it may have to happen. It might be you go from your planned ceremony at a lovely resort to a ceremony in a hospital room.

There is such a thing as wedding insurance, and if you bought it, you can recoup most of the costs. If you are considering cancelling, call your venue as soon as you possibly can.

The timing is important. If a death is a few weeks before your date, try to go through with your wedding plans. And don’t feel guilty! Think about what your loved one would want you to do, and most likely, they’d want you to be happy. Just acknowledge them at the ceremony, even with the simple lighting of a candle.

When community tragedies strike you may want to give part of your wedding over to dealing with it. Take a collection for a reputable charity. Give your gifts to victims. I wonder what it felt like for couples getting married on September 12, 2001 – the day after that terrorist attack?

Dealing with death is never easy, but it is a part of life, and we don’t get to choose the timing. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or secular, whatever your beliefs are about death and after-life, a loved one always lives on in your memory.  When you think about them and talk about them, they are with you. So don’t ignore it. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to laugh, and it’s wonderful to celebrate love.

Death is not the opposite of life, it is a part of it.

 

 

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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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