Your gain: Learn tools for coping with the wedding process without a mother figure to enjoy your special day to the fullest, even without this ever-important person being present.

Not having your mom or significant mother figure leading up to/on one of the most momentous days of your life can be extremely painful, isolating, and lonely. It’s excruciating not having her to bounce ideas off of, vent to when something isn’t going right (or your soon-to-be partner is driving you a little batty!). When a vendor is giving you trouble, when Aunt Carol over in Florida can’t decide between chicken and fish, and those cousins from Missouri still haven’t RSVP’d. 

Your Mother Figure is Around… Seriously

Whatever role she would have played during your day, please know she was and is with you every step. Listen, I know that’s SO not the same… I know. I used to hate when people would tell me that. In fact, I still do sometimes because it simply doesn’t help. In some cases, it made me feel worse. Like, yes, thank you… I know my mom is “always with me” but not in the way I need her here right now, ya know? So yes, I recognize it’s a little funny and twisted that I’m saying this to you now!

It’s really not meant to bring you comfort, honestly. I know it probably won’t. But if you say it enough times, I hope you can begin to feel her around you if you don’t already. Be on the lookout for signs and little ways she’s saying hi to you and giving her opinion.

Pay Attention to Signs

When you hear that song your mother loved, when you see a coin on the ground just in the moment you’re thinking about her—embrace it and don’t question it. It’s not happening by accident, at least not in my opinion. Just smile and know your loved one is ALL up in your wedding business. They’re missing you, too. Know that they’re so disappointed to be missing your special day in person just as much as you.

To preface the rest of this entry, for the purposes of this topic I’m going to refer mostly to a mother/mom (or mama, as I like to say sometimes). But, please know this applies to any mother figure you’re missing. Maybe a stepmom, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother… I know there are so many kinds out there!

There are so many ways a mom can contribute to your big day, which means there are so many ways you could wind up missing her and feeling her absence big time. I found one of the most notable times I was missing my mama was during wedding dress shopping, so I really wanted to address that here in case anyone else is/will struggle with this.

Finding the Perfect Dress

Parts of finding that perfect dress can be very emotional, and I know in so many cases a mother figure is a huge part of that. For me, a trigger during this process was not having my mom with me to try on dresses. I would really love to share my story of finding and choosing my dress with you in case it speaks to you in some way. Maybe you can relate, maybe you just want a little insight as to how I coped. But more importantly, I truly feel my mom was giving me her approval from the spirit world. If this part isn’t of note to you, feel free to skip to “The Day of the Wedding”.

Choosing My Dress

I was at a bridal boutique with my best friends Sarah and Emma. Sarah had pulled aside a dress we all thought was beautiful and so unique, but I just wasn’t sure. I had my heart set on more lace detailing for YEARS, it’s just always what I saw myself in. Also, it would “match our venues” (both were wineries with vineyards/kind of rustic). This dress was complete and solid beading. Looking back I honestly think that notion is so silly. You don’t have to decide your dress based on your venue. Choose which dress speaks to you! Spoiler alert: this dress was a stunner at both venues.

Anyway, I was still intrigued by it so I tried it on. I truly almost didn’t know what to think about it at the time. It was the silhouette I wanted and, I must say, felt very flattering to my figure. But I couldn’t get past the detailing and how far it was from what I had envisioned.

In other words, I totally got in my own head and not-so-low-key talked myself out of it. Sarah and Emma, though… they absolutely fell in love with it. They felt it was avant-garde, something different. I felt that way, too, I just wasn’t sold because I couldn’t look past the no-lace yet.

A Mother’s Approval

At that moment of contemplation and wondering what the heck my mom would think, as I did with every dress, “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith came on. I can’t even explain how much of a die-hard Steven Tyler fan my mom was. She absolutely loved Aerosmith.

We’d sing it in the car together, she was constantly listening to them and talking about Steven… you get it. Even when she first passed and I’d listen to the radio driving her car, there Aerosmith was. It’s 100% something I take as a sign from her. I looked at my friends and told them that significance to me, and all they could really say was, “wow, Tara… okay, Lori approves! Just think about it.”

I didn’t walk away with a dress that day because I had two more stores to visit that I was really excited about. At the very last store, they too had this dress. The “Daxton” by Sottero & Midgley. It was one of the first dresses that called to me to look at on the rack as we walked in the store, and I couldn’t believe it.

Emma was with me yet again, and she said, “Tara, you have GOT to try that on again, it’s a sign.” I was beaming. There was something special about it, no doubt. You know how you always hear people say the dress will speak to you, don’t force it? Seriously, it will.

I put it on once again and it felt completely different, yet completely right and completely mine. I hadn’t yet cried at a dress appointment, but when the lovely bridal consultant and Emma stepped out of the room for a moment—the first moment I ever had to myself during the dress buying process—and I cried. The emotion overcame me.

The despair of not having mom and dad there and witnessing this in person, for sure. But I just knew that dress was it. I knew mom and dad approved and would love it. I know my mom would have though it was SO beautiful. Different in the most classic kind of way.

Here are some behind-the-scenes photos from the first wedding ceremony in Napa, CA, and a few from our second ceremony in Siena, Italy with the dress in action! 🙂

The Day of the Wedding

Little hurts more than not having your mother there with you on your wedding day… period. Missing her while you get ready, being there as crisis aversion. Or, maybe she’d be the one stressing you out yet somehow – ha! We still miss those moments and would give anything to have them back.

While my mom and I were insanely connected and close, we absolutely had our moments of butting heads. Really, though, those were so far and few between. I’m a very lucky girl. But man, what I wouldn’t give to have had her giving her two cents and being all up in my face that day. I laugh about it now, the way she would make her opinions and thoughts very well known.

Even things like not being in the family photos, getting me in my dress or tearing up the dance floor if her jam came on. There were countless times throughout the day where I had brief moments of sadness that I couldn’t go up to her, give her a huge hug, and thank her for giving me the life that afforded me such a phenomenal day.

In moments like that, I did a couple of things to help me through it.


This goes along with smiling, but allow yourself to feel that emotion in the moment. Don’t shy away from it, just be cautious of that beautiful makeup and have a hanky handy!


After you get grounded in the moment: smile. Yes, even if the moment is actively making you sad and feel longing… smile. Be grateful for everything and everyone around you. Be thankful for the people that have shown up for you that day and all love you so deeply.

Your mother’s love and support is an extension of everything going on around you. Allow yourself to feel that energy! If you force a lil’ smile, you’re less likely to lose it in a big way—especially if you’re trying to avoid major tears (again, makeup!). If anything, it’ll bring happy tears and enable that gratitude even easier.

Ways to Enjoy Your Experience (Despite Your Loss)

Below are some of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you to still find ways to savor and find happiness on your wedding day, and in every step leading up to it. With these tips, I was able to find some peace of mind in times of stress or sadness when my grief was rearing its ugly head.

Don’t Feel Guilty

Some moments you might be elated and laughing, one moment their absence can hit you really hard. Don’t feel guilty for finding happiness that day—you’re allowed to laugh! I had moments where I felt guilty for finding joy in the experience without my mom there, like I should constantly be thinking about her.

And trust me, I was. With every dress I tried on I wished so desperately to get her opinion. Thought about how she’d react. But it’s okay to give yourself permission to smile, relax, and embrace this very special moment in your life. After all, you only (hopefully) get one shot, right?!

Breathe (again)

As I mentioned in my own journey above, I found myself exceedingly emotional at one point standing on that podium trying my dress on. I felt pressure to get it together before my friend and the consultant got back. Which, I don’t even know why looking back on it. It’s not even something I was embarrassed about. Plus, I am SO entitled to cry whenever and wherever the heck I want to!

Guess what? I got my composure back for a minute, but then lost it again in front of them. I had zero shame in doing that. In fact, I started laughing through my tears because it was funny and I was a touch of a mess and couldn’t quite stop. But damn, I was goin’ through something, mkay?! They were happy tears at the end of it! It was relief, and it was something I hadn’t let out yet. This is grief, guys. It can come in some very obvious moments, and sometimes it surprises you.

The tears were acceptance and love and knowing mom and dad were seeing and putting their stamp of approval on it all. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, breathe. Take a step back, excuse yourself if you need to (everyone will understand!), breathe in for 4-5 counts through your nose, and out for 4-5 counts through your mouth. Do this as many times as you need to, but I would recommend at least three times through.

Surround Yourself with the Right People


This is super important when understanding my story and if you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. Y’all, I had zero family with me for my dress appointments. None. Both sides of my family live on the East Coast. While I have very supportive aunts and people I can lean on that are like mother figures, they couldn’t be with me during that process.

I even had minimal family at both weddings. One, because my family on both sides just isn’t that big. Two, virtually none of my mom’s family could make it to either wedding. Just one grandma was able to come out of everyone.

Truthfully, that hurt. Most of them had a good or “acceptable” reason. Some… not so much. What’s even worse, I have to confess, is the following thought crossed my mind: what if my mom had still been alive, would more of them make an effort?

Kind of horrible, right? I can’t even say that was the grief talking, that was genuinely how I felt. It was really sad, and I’m bummed I let my mind go there but I’m entitled to feel that way. Is there any truth to it? Who knows. But let me impart some wisdom that countless people said to me, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, too. The people that are meant to be there on your wedding day, will. Acknowledge and appreciate the people that are there.

This was really hard for me at times, truthfully. But remember that when you feel disappointed. Remember that when people are acting insensitive or being difficult or not responding. Or, back out at the last minute. Any of the above could happen, all you can do it handle it all with grace.


I’m extremely fortunate to have best friends that are like sisters that could accompany me. I’m one of those people that have 5-6 really close best friends that are my die-hards, and this process would have been indescribably different without them. I truly hope you have people like this in your corner, too. If not, start to think about that. If not for a wedding, for your happiness. It’s never too late to find your tribe! I’ve met some phenomenal people through the Losses Become Gains community that I’m grateful to be connected with. Just goes to show, people can come into your life and change it for the better at any state.

Losing Half of my Bridal Party

Fun fact: I was originally supposed to have six bridesmaids. Let me break down what happened, in case you’re curious or something like this happens to you, too.

Reason #1: Babies!

Two ended up being too pregnant to travel by the time the wedding rolled around. The beauty of being in our early 30’s, ha! One was finishing her graduate program and just couldn’t commit. That was a horrible pill to have to swallow, honestly. I was like, ‘HALF my bridal party, really?!’. It felt personal even though, earth to Tara… it wasn’t! Two of them were bringing LIFE into this world! The timing was unfortunate, but it happens.

They were super sad to miss it all, too. Although, one mama did make it to my bachelorette in Vegas at six months pregnant! Shoutout to my girl Charlotte for that one. It took a lot of time, but the happiness I felt for them would always trump the disappointment I felt.

For the ladies that could be more actively involved, when it came to dress shopping, I went to probably six or seven stores. One way or another at least one or two of them joined me in each one. I can’t say this enough, especially if you’re a bride without your mama here… lean on your girls or even best guy friends. Whoever that is for you. It will make the experience so much more fun, joyful and, quite frankly, be a good distraction from such a pivotal person missing.

Reason #2: Poor Communication

I feel like I should also note I lost another bridesmaid due to some other circumstances that I won’t fully go in to here, but let’s just say… the expectations weren’t aligning.

We weren’t hearing from her during critical times during the wedding planning process, and it was even stressing other bridesmaids out who were trying to plan things. I had to try and track her down for responses on multiple occasions which put me in a really awkward position… all the things.

It finally came to a head when two days before John and I were supposed to leave for Italy, I found out she wouldn’t be coming. Sadly, I didn’t even find that out from her. A family member informed me. It’s one of those things that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around since, but I came to realize I simply can’t lose sleep over the actions of other people.

To this day I don’t have answers. To this day I don’t know why she bailed and couldn’t tell me, and I don’t know why she hasn’t spoken to me or reached out since. No answers, no closure. And yes, it hurts.

The process of grief teaches you nothing if not how to be patient and realize that life—and the actions and choices of others—are more a reflection on them then they are of you. That if someone wants to make you a priority and is willing to show you, through action, that they are… they will.

Most importantly, you can’t expect yourself from other people.

If you’re struggling with this at all, I’d love for you to check out my blog post on coping with unmet expectations.

The Act of Being There

Outside of the dresses, all of my friends (with the exception of the one I just mentioned above) were a call or text away if I ever needed anything. Trust me, there were countless things I had to vent about during this process. They were there to listen, give guidance if I needed it, share a glass of wine and decompress—they were simply a total blessing. I feel like this is really an oversimplification but, without going into a ton of detail here, let’s just say they’re my ride-or-die’s for a reason!

I can’t help but share a few of my favorite photos with the girls that helped me choose my dress! Kudos to my bridesmaid Sarah, too—the petite brunette 🙂 She, too, was pregnant (didn’t drink, don’t worry!) but thankfully lived locally so she could partake. She was literally two weeks away from giving birth here. Total badass mom move, amirite?!

I did go to one appointment with my now mother-in-law which was so lovely and a great bonding experience. But…

I have a confession:

It made me so sad. It stung worse than any other appointment I went to, especially once I got home. I even cried to John about it. It just hit me really, really hard. This has NOTHING to do with how incredible my MIL is. She’s literally the best. She’s supportive, thoughtful, funny, helpful… the list goes on. But it hurt more than going with just my friends because it wasn’t my mom. It was such a one-on-one experience I felt robbed of with her.

I felt so guilty for feeling this way after my MIL made the effort to go with me. Again, this isn’t a reflection on her. It’s simply how I felt, and I discovered a trigger that day. Which, I see as a good thing because now it’s something I’m aware of and it helps with my grief and healing. Gotta find those gains where we can, right?!

My Gain

Here’s another important gain: I shared a beautiful afternoon with my new mother-in-law, and it’s an experience we’ll be able to look back on fondly. As my “new” family, and certainly having lost my own, I see so much value in those relationships with my husband’s family now. It’s not to replace what you had and will never replace having that experience with your absent loved one. It is simply to build on something new and meaningful. This is still something I’m working on, but please consider this if you find yourself in this position, too.

What (or Who) to Avoid

Bringing the right family and friends with you is critical. I would recommend avoiding anyone that can negatively trigger you. Anyone that could make you feel lesser-than, bring judgment to a dress or the experience without your asking for an opinion, or bring a negative attitude. Avoid people that somehow make it about themselves or what they like, or will be overly assertive with their opinion and not allow you time to think and feel. I mean really, this goes for coping with a loss or not. 

If you just have to bring that sister who can be *a lot* sometimes but would start an inner-familial World War if you don’t, set expectations. Be honest about what you want to get out of the appointment. Be upfront about wanting a beautiful, relaxing and fun experience and negativity won’t be tolerated. Do this beforehand, in the moment, or whenever you feel the need. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and be thoughtful and strategic with your guest list!

Find Ways to Work Your Mother into the Day

If you can’t have the individual(s) you’re missing there in person, why not find ways to make their presence felt, right?


If your mama has any special jewelry you’d be proud to wear that day—it doesn’t even have to be anything fancy—it’s a really special way to make her feel like she’s with you.

I love this tradition because it’s something she touched, something she wore. Something that was likely very special to her, or maybe even someone who wore it before her if it’s an heirloom.

But no pressure here! If she didn’t have a lot of jewelry, try finding something on Etsy or another fun website that simply reminds you of her. Perhaps her favorite stone, something with a butterfly or bird, or some other meaningful symbol.

For our wedding, I wore one of my mom’s favorite bracelets, a pair of beautiful earrings of hers that I always loved, and her wedding band.


What song could you possibly work into your big day that could honor your loved one? Whether it’s for your processional, recessional, first dance, bridal toss, grand entrance—the list is endless!

As I mentioned previously, my mom was a die-hard Aerosmith fan. We discovered Vitamin String Quartet through the show “Bridgerton” (lol), and we found out they did a beautiful rendition of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”. That was the song we walked down the aisle to.

We knew mom would have loved it, and if you know the song or have seen the movie Armageddon, it can be a very emotional song. We just felt it was a beautiful way to acknowledge them, and how they truly wouldn’t want to miss a single part of this day (and I don’t think they did!).


Flowers are also a colorful, elegant way to work your mother figure into your day. It’s a subtle (or maybe not so subtle, depending on how many you have!) tribute to make sure you feel their presence all around you. If this feels out of budget, don’t worry—flowers can be expensive! Maybe just work them into one aspect of your wedding, or just your bridal bouquet.

I know so many people are against faux flowers, but I think if you can find high-quality ones, they can be just as beautiful and no one would know the difference.

In my case, my mom absolutely loved roses. We’d always catch her smelling them if we happened to pass one, she took us to a rose garden several times, she had rose water she’d use on her face, you name it. While roses can be very expensive, we were strategic about which kinds we used, made sure they were in season, and how many we used. Our color scheme was ivory, blush, and champagne with a hint of sage green and gold.

We used a mixture of white and blush roses for the dinner tables, my bouquet, and the bridesmaids’ bouquets. To lessen the cost a bit, we also used some olive branches and leaves sporadically, along with some other greens and small votive candles to fill it all out a little.

We also used some of these flowers for our dessert table. I also had the amazingly talented woman who did our cake add a few white roses to the side to tie it all together. In the end, it was exactly what we (I, let’s be real) envisioned.

Have Fun!

No matter who isn’t with you, there’s no way your loved ones who passed wouldn’t want you to have fun with this experience. Pop those bubbles or sparkling cider, be sure not to spill it all over a dress, and enjoy your gosh darn day. It’s too exciting of a time in your life not to.

Get Your Freebie From Me

I have THREE free tools you can take advantage of if you’re ready to step up your grief work. I’m so excited to share these with you! My Gratitude in Grief Journal Prompt, From Grief to Grinning Toolkit, and A Practice in Presence Toolkit are ready and waiting for you to download, all you have to do is click here or the button below.

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