My mum had cancer twice. The first time, I was six. We were living in Minnesota and would go to the Mall of America. We would window-shop at the Disney Store and eat at the Rainforest Café. It was magical. It was distracting. And most importantly, it made positive memories.
I was 23 when she started chemo the second time. We were living in Ohio and we would go to Target. We'd buy silly things: sandals, mixing bowls, superhero pyjamas. It was more practical. But we laughed and smiled, and it made positive memories. Honestly, retail therapy was as important as the medicine and way more fun.
When we couldn’t go out, we would sit side by side and shop online. We bought matching bracelets. We both wore them until the end. Wedding-dress shopping was our favourite. We would sit in bed and scroll through pages of dresses. We looked at every wedding dress we could find on the internet. The good, the bad, the ugly — we looked at everything. I wasn’t even engaged then. It didn’t matter; we had been talking about that dress since I was a little girl. It was our dream to go dress-shopping. We had had a plan for as long as I could remember: Go to New York City and try them all. Plain and simple. Just the two of us versus every dress in the city.
She passed away before I got engaged. Everyone says being engaged and wedding planning is supposed to be the happiest time in your life. I don’t think I've ever cried more. How was I supposed to plan a wedding without my mom and best friend? How in the world was I supposed to find that dress without her? I tried to find blogs, forums, wedding websites, anything that explained to me how to plan a wedding without a mom. Nothing seemed to fit. I don’t have a squad of girlfriends, I’m not close with my sister or cousins, and my mother-in-law is the farthest thing from being into bridal.
So I did it my way. I did it alone. I decided I didn’t want extra eyes on me, reminding me. I didn’t want to try to fill the void. I decided to accept the void, and try to embrace it.
The wedding industry isn’t set up for "alone." The first dress shop I went to, I lied. I said I was on my lunch break and that I wanted to figure out my style before bringing in everyone else. There were so many other girls and their mums in the store. I ended up crying on the floor in the dressing room in the terrible sample mermaid slip. I snuck out of the appointment while the saleswoman was getting more dresses.
The second dress appointment wasn’t better. I didn’t want to tell anyone why I was alone. I was too afraid of getting what I call “Dead Mum Eyes.” It’s a look people give you when they find out you lost your mum and you're in your 20s.
I was doing the exact opposite of what my mother would have wanted. She never would have wanted me not to have my moment because of her.
When I met with my florist, she said it was refreshing that I was alone — that she could really help me figure out what I wanted because there wasn’t a roomful of opinions. So I told her. And it was fantastic. She helped me work out beautiful, quiet memorials for my mother, including rosemary in my bouquet for remembrance, and using the same kinds of flowers that were in my mom’s bouquet at her wedding.
But still no dress. So I ordered some dresses online. J.Crew, Zappos, Nordstrom; I tried them all. I would get a box, try on a wedding dress, and go to my night class. I would get a box, try on a wedding dress, and run to the store. There was no pomp and circumstance. It wasn’t special. They were great dresses, but not only did I feel alone, but I felt like I was hiding. I was doing the exact opposite of what my mother would have wanted. She never would have wanted me not to have my moment because of her.
Finally, I was at the point when I had to find a dress. A new shop had opened in Pittsburgh. Its website looked amazing. It is a really small shop with select (fabulous) dresses. Better yet, it was appointment-only, meaning no one else would be there. No other mum-daughter relationships staring at me. It would just be me and dresses and an amazing shop owner. It was fun. It was quiet, private, and thoughtful. And the owner was beyond wonderful about matching my energy, and understanding and respecting why I was there alone. It helped more to talk about it. To say out loud, “I think she would have liked this one.” To talk about sewing lace from her dress into my dress. To talk about wearing her earrings.
I found a dress that day. The perfect dress. In the end, I stood on my own two feet, and my mum would have been proud.
The day I found my wedding dress, I wore the bracelets we had bought during her chemo. They had a quote from Winnie the Pooh on them: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.”
This story was written by Lauren Everett and originally appeared on A Practical Wedding. It is reprinted here with permission.