I got married last summer and our wedding weekend was perfection with just one exception. My mother wasn’t there to see me marry the man who was making good on a promise he had made to her just before she passed away. He told her she didn’t need to worry about me anymore and that he would always take care of me. I’m certain that seeing me walk down that aisle towards him would have been one of the greatest joys of her life and I hope that the words my husband left her with gave her the ability to dream about it a bit as she drifted in and out of drowsy consciousness.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we could honor her and incorporate her memory into our wedding celebration without making her absence a major focus. Someone made the lovely suggestion of leaving an empty chair in the front row and placing the petite bouquet she would have carried on the seat (she once told me that she wanted to carry a bouquet at my wedding. Okay, Mom. Whatever you want). We considered that and then decided that it would make us sad when we should be anything but elated. Also, the seat next to my dad couldn’t be empty since his new wife would need to occupy it.
A few months before the wedding I realized I had the perfect solution. I should wear her wedding dress.
She was very proud of her wedding dress. It was a designer gown but it didn’t have a label in it and I never thought to ask her so who knows who actually designed it. She purchased it right off a runway model at a trunk show for something like $250. That seems like a steal compared to the average cost of a wedding dress in 2017. Clearly she was a bit delusional when she snapped up that gown (aren’t most brides?) because even though it was beautiful and completely on trend for the time, the dress had long sleeves, a high collar, and was made of the heaviest satin fabric I’ve ever touched in my life. I mention this because my parents were also married in the month of August – in HOT Alabama. She must have been so uncomfortable in such an unseasonable dress but pain is beauty, people.
I think about what it would have been like had she been alive. She would have helped me deconstruct and redesign it to feel more modern and age appropriate. She would have taken my measurements, added more sparkle, and she would have stitched it back together herself. It would have consumed her and, truth be told, caused several classic mother/daughter fights, but she would have been so proud that she made it and I was wearing it. Since she’s not here, my hope was that another incredibly gifted seamstress in the family would jump in and offer to help me. I dropped a few hints without any bites and eventually knew it was time to move on to Plan B.
Plan B: I found a dress shop on the UWS of Manhattan and asked them to turn her dress into something I could wear to my rehearsal dinner. The women all gasped and started clapping when I pulled it out of the box and one sweet little (she was tiny) dress maker squealed “Vintage, oh how beautiful!!”. Initially I was delighted at their response and then I quickly realized that the dress being vintage could only mean one thing: EXPENSIVE. Cha-Ching!
We removed the sleeves and set them aside to work into baptism outfits or something special for future children. They took most of the length off but left some of the train coming from the cape in the back because DRAMA. The back of the dress was arguably the best part of the whole thing. The collar was removed and it was the perfect width and length to wrap around my bouquet (we fastened it with my late maternal grandmothers beautiful purple brooch).
I felt beautiful and special in my mothers dress and it felt so good to incorporate her memory with something that was so special and precious to her. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry so much about how I would honor her and make her presence felt at the wedding. It was just there. I felt her in the love that was shared by everyone in that room. I saw her in the details of the decor and heard her in the notes played by our string quartet. Every person who held a microphone mentioned her and spoke of her as if she was standing right there in front of us. I remembered how she warned me that I would need to practice walking down the aisle with my dad because he’d probably never make it in one piece if I didn’t (he was just fine), and I could hear her laugh when my adorable flower girls acted like 4 & 6 year old girls.
It was never really about a dress. It was about making sure I honored my mother and made sure she knew that I hadn’t…and never will…forget her, stop missing her, or stop needing her.
I plan to wear it again on our First Anniversary.
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