my father's last wish
January 21, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

My father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He cannot receive treatment or transplant. My father is going to die in 4-8 months. On new year's eve I got engaged and now my father wants me to get married soon. March soon so he can walk me down the aisle and maybe even dance with me.

I live a 4 hour plane ride away. I just gave my two weeks notice at one job and am supposed to start another one next week. I am planning a last minute wedding. I am completely overwhelmed. I have a wedding planner to help me out.

I want to do something very special for my dad. We are super close. I just moved away from home this summer and had spent the past two years working with him.

We are not doing a honeymoon, but are thinking of renting a boat with my dad after the wedding for a few days. He does not want people to know, but if you see him, you know. I need help coping with all of this. I read this and it has helped, but i need more.
posted by octomato to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Step one is that you need to tell your new job, as soon as you actually start, what's going on. There may be bereavement benefits available to you. If nothing else, your boss can cover for you or work with you to manage expectations appropriately.

Step two is to figure out how much money you can throw at this problem, because the planning problem is one that can be solved with money. You have a wedding planner: use it. Travel agents can help planning the boat rental.

Step three is to sleep. Seriously, stay rested.

Step four is to exercise. Never done it before? Now is the time to start. It will help keep your head clear and your energy levels up.

Good luck, and godspeed.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:48 PM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

One idea that might help is having a small, very simple wedding and then perhaps planning a larger party later to celebrate with more of the extended friends and family? I planned my own wedding in about 2-3 months and it was relatively easy (had to get around a few things like buying sample dresses instead of ordering them, not being picky about the venue, etc), but that was because I planned it as a little outdoor semi-formal get together for my closest friends and family (about 35 people).

It would help to clarify your question a little bit, it sounds like your question is how to cope with the situation you are in, but you also mention wanting to do something special for your dad, and other things, and I want to make sure I/we are answering what you are asking.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:48 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Do you have to have a big wedding? (Maybe you do, I don't know.) Would you guys want to elope to somewhere beautiful, but bring your dad and maybe your fiance's parents? And have dinner at the fanciest possible restaurant you can find, that maybe has live music and dancing?

I'm sorry about your dad and wish you the best.
posted by Aquifer at 7:57 PM on January 21, 2013

I'm so sorry for your impending loss and the strange light it casts on the rest of your life. Regarding the wedding, trust me that the time-consuming stuff that gets emphasized--choosing flowers, making invitations by hand, obsessing over the menu, the dress-- doesn't result in cherished memories for either you or anyone else: it's spending time with people and fulfilling your father's wish that counts. The other stuff just falls away. If you let go of any urge to fetisize the trappings, you can plan a wedding very quickly; it's just a big party. I planned mine in 1.5 days by choosing to trust: e.g., that the bakery where I enjoyed a tasty muffin knows how to bake a cake. Put your sourcing effort and energy into the photography and be sure to include casual photos of people interacting as well as formal, posed shots; the photos will help you access memories for your whole life.
posted by carmicha at 8:06 PM on January 21, 2013 [34 favorites]

Very good advice above. I just want to caution that even under the best circumstances people spend a lot of time stressing out over making sure it's "special", then they stress out too much to enjoy it. This should be a happy, carefree occasion full of love and laughter. That will be a very special thing. Aim something simple and fun and everything will come together.
posted by bleep at 8:13 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

When my dad died, I can look back on a couple of things that brought him comfort. They're kind of related. Mainly it was a final family reunion, where we were all together with him for the last time. Kind of related, he liked to talk about his life and memories and the things he'd done.

Maybe you could plan the wedding around a reunion, rather than a reunion around the wedding? At some point it's probable that you will feel that much non-dad related stuff is kind of irrelevant.

My sympathies and thoughts.
posted by carter at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wish I could offer more direct advice.

My cousin and his (new) wife just went through this with her mom. She walked the bride down the aisle, celebrated with the family, and passed away within the month. It was the most beautiful thing to be able to celebrate with her there -- she and her daughter were so close, and being able to be at her wedding made her so happy, she was glowing just as much as the bride. But man, the death was still hard. No matter whether or not you know it's coming, dealing with the death of a loved one is a terrible thing to go through. All you can do is make happy memories while your dad is still here.

Anyhow, they had about 50 people at their wedding, mostly family with a few close friends. They held it at noon, and the ceremony was in a garden attached to a restaurant. The reception was in the restaurant. It was simple, elegant, and a celebration for both families. Her mom, despite the illness, looked wonderful that day simply because of how proud she was.

So I think my advice is just do your best to enjoy the process -- you're getting married and your dad will be there to walk you down the aisle! What a beautiful experience to have with him in his last few months. Don't focus on his illness -- just treasure the time you have with him. Good luck.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:43 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Coming in to send my thoughts and agree that a lovely wedding can be planned very quickly. The "wedding machine" wants to make it seem much more complicated. Use who you trust, get family to help but do invest in a really good photographer. Those pics will be priceless to you. And give several trusted folks the job of taking more pics for you. Best of luck, remember the meaning of the day and enjoy this time with your family.
posted by pearlybob at 8:49 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You just got engaged.
You live 4 hour plane ride away from your dying father.
Father wants to walk you down aisle so figures March is when this needs to happen.
Hopefully your father will be able to enjoy the wedding and even maybe dance with you.

Does your father live in your hometown or where you want to get married or do you? Does your father care about how big of a ceremony or who should be there?

I see this as two issues. One, the immediate requests above about walking down the aisle and being able to dance with you. It sounds to me that before he goes he wants to symbolicly hand you off to your new family, your husband. I think, as a father myself with a daughter in college, although it sounds protective and sexist, if I were dying, I would want to know my daughter had someone else to watch after her, to always be there for her, to love her unconditionally. I think walking you down the aisle and seeing you get married will be both a joyous moment and something he can now relax about. The dancing is all about celebrating with you and having a good time.

Two, is how you and your father deal with and reconcile the fact that he is dying quickly. I know you are supposed to start a new job next week, but I would ask for an additional week or two, explain the circumstances and then I would fly the 4 hours to spend 10 days to 2 weeks with him NOW before the wedding, just the two of you spending time together and talking or engaging in activities you both love. Sounds like just spending time with him is important to you both.

I would also plan a smaller wedding with close family and friends for March. Have music and celebrate. To be blunt, when giving a time frame for living, it could happen anytime. If he were to die right before the wedding, would you cancel, want a subdued wedding, go on with a big party or to something else? I would also plan a bigger party for your one year anniversary which can serve as both a celebration of your marriage and a sort of reunion and remembrance/celebration of his life.

If while you are visiting in the next few weeks you get the inkling that he is not doing well, I would ask him if he wants you and fiance to get married in a small ceremony immediately with party to follow at a later date.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:01 PM on January 21, 2013 [20 favorites]

JohnnyGunn's advice is good.

Again from my experience, which is not necessarily everyone's experience, dad's health would plateau for a while, then go over a cliff, then plateau for a while, etc. There were a number of cliffs, and we didn't know when they were coming, or how serious they would be.
posted by carter at 9:20 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess that as a person who is neither you, nor your fiance or you father, my instinct is to say… is this what a wedding is about? I'm sorry if this is grossly insensitive of me, but it sounds like the ceremony is turning into something that's more about your father and you, rather than about you and your partner. And it's completely up to you how you feel about that.

Have you been able to have a frank talk with your partner about this situation? It may be that your partner is in total agreement with you and I'm just talking nonsense here. To me it feels like you have certain obligations to your partner, and your partner has obligations toward you, but your partner's obligations to your father don't add much extra. Your father isn't owed anything more than what you are owed.

It sounds like you are intent on making your father's remaining time happy. How familiar and comfortable is your father with your partner? Have they been able to get to know each other? Has your father spent much time seeing the two of you interacting and being a couple? I hope that this by itself can go quite a ways toward making your father happier and more fulfilled.

I understand that these are his wishes and that they have deep symbolic significance. On the other hand, I personally find it hard not to think that the circumstances change the symbolism in a very big way. I imagine planning a wedding can be very stressful and complicated, but that's a surface challenge. On a deeper level, what emotions do you want to associate with your wedding day: obligation, duty, and obedience, or something that's more about you and your partner?
posted by Nomyte at 9:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

You have a wedding planner. It's going to be fine. In fact, it will be "easier" in some ways, because your priority is clear now; you don't have a year to plan this, so you don't need to worry about Finding the Perfect Venue or Maybe We Should Do a Star Trek Theme Thing or any other randomness. You need it fast; you need there to be dancing; that is it.

Knowing the parameters of your date basically narrows everything else down very nicely, because there will only be a couple of venue options, and one of those will come with a caterer attached, and one of them will have a 30 person limit, so that will tell you your guest list... etc.

Just sit down with her and a calendar and let her do her thing. It'll be fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:24 PM on January 21, 2013

I want to do something very special for my dad.

You are. You're getting married and he's going to walk you down the aisle. Frankly I have tears in my eyes even thinking about it.

This is going to be a supremely intense experience, a thousand times more intense than a typical wedding. Focus on calming yourself; simplify your life; remove things that stress you out or deflect them to friends and colleagues. Pay people to take care of problems if you can; the wedding planner is a great idea; a cleaning service might help you out as well. These stressful tasks things are like leaks in the pipe that sap your inner strength and emotional reserves, and you are going to want yourself to be whole. Spend some time on self-care practices like yoga or meditation or exercise or whatever feels right to you; these fill you back up. A therapist could help you with this, if you don't already have one.

It is an amazing thing you are doing. Truly amazing.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:06 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Exactly this happened to me two years ago.

My dad, who was living in upstate New York, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 3 to 6 months to live in August, literally 4 days before I was supposed to start a new job. My now-husband and I were already engaged and had planned to get married in late October in North Carolina. My father's doctors advised us that it was unlikely he'd be able to safely travel such a long distance by that time. But he was determined to walk me down the aisle.

And he did.

First off, I pushed my start date for work back by a week so my brother and I could drive home and spend some time with our mom and dad. This was crucial.

Next, my fiance and I scrapped our original wedding plans, changed the date to mid-September, and relocated the venue to the home of some family friends who lived a 45-minute drive from my parents. Everything was planned over the course of 3 weeks. There was no wedding party. We had about 15 guests. Invitations were by word of mouth. The ceremony was officiated by a good friend who got ordained on the internet. The only flowers were my bouquet, corsages for the moms and my best friend, and boutonnieres for the groom, the dads, and the officiant. We had food for a self-service buffet delivered by a local restaurant, and cupcakes from a local bakery. People served themselves beer and wine from the bar. Music was my iPod hooked up to a speaker system.

It was simple, inexpensive, and perfect (yes, even the part where the wrong song played during the recessional). My husband and I did little of the planning ourselves; we gave our hosts free reign and let them take care of the details, with a few exceptions: we picked the restaurant from a few they'd predetermined were available and in budget, chose all the music, and designed the ceremony. In fact, I'd say the music and ceremony were the only things we worked really hard on because those were the things that made the wedding ours. Everything else was just stuff. (I will advise that you make sure to get a decent photographer, for obvious reasons.)

You have a wedding planner and several months. Logistically you can totally do this, and it will be beautiful. I am very sorry about your dad, and am really struck by the similarity of our circumstances. Please memail me if I can help somehow.
posted by purplemonkie at 10:16 PM on January 21, 2013 [50 favorites]

Now there are tears rolling down my cheek. Wow.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:18 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am so sorry. I agree this is a challenge you can meet. Prioritise what is important in the wedding (location, time, invitees for example) and let the non-priorities be someone else's problem. So for example, if you want flowers but don't really care as long as they are alive then direct the wedding planner to spend $X on flowers and have either the planner or the florist stress about the perfect arrangement.

I hope you have a compassionate workplace, hopefully one that will allow you to push back your start date by a bit and allow you a few extra long weekends.

Do you really want to wait until March though? I would be inclined personally to have the wedding soon (I'd suggest around Valentine's day but it might be tough getting things booked at that busy period). When it comes to planning weddings the length of time is not that important (either you need a long lead time to book your preferred location or you can use a short lead time to take advantage of recent cancellations); a couple of months is no more advantageous than a couple of weeks in most cases. If your new work does agree to push back your start date they may find that more agreeable then you starting late and then also taking extra time off in a couple of months. Weddings aren't too insane to plan/pull off unless you choose to stress over every detail. If the goal is to have a memorable day then the colours of the placemats just aren't important.

I wish you a beautiful wedding and a wonderful marriage.
posted by saucysault at 10:36 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts: 1) Yes, talk to your partner and make sure his is on board with this, 2) the simpler your wedding, the easier this will be.

Bless you and good luck.
posted by LarryC at 3:29 AM on January 22, 2013

I'm going to speak to just one part of this question: I need help coping with all of this.

If you need help, hugs, support, and none of the snark and unhelpful armchair philosophy which can come from many online wedding planning sites, your own family and friends and yes, even here on AskMe, may I suggest you sign up to be a member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe?

One of the hallmark features of their members-only forums is that only support and mild criticism is allowed between members and everything you post is confidential to Tribe members only so you can vent all you want about the unfairness of your situation in your Tribe journal and no one is going to give you grief about it.

Also, like purplemonkie, there are probably several other people in the Tribe who have been or are in the same situation you're in and can be your support group as well.

I wish you, your father, and your family well and offer my congratulations on your engagement.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:02 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

but are thinking of renting a boat with my dad after the wedding for a few days.

Be careful about scheduling a celebrator boat ride for a person who will potentially be weakened and/or have stomach problems. I have no idea how old your dad is but even healthy older people may have problems boarding/exiting/enjoying a small craft experience.

...and god forbid he fall in.

Good luck with this, we just finished our wedding planning, feel free to poke around in my askme as I posed several planning related questions to the hivemind here and they were always helpful.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:07 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a fairly stress free wedding, and I didn't have a wedding planner, here's how I did it.

Don't give a shit about the small details.

Give your wedding planner and idea of what you want, but let him/her make all the arrangements and the decisions.

The wedding cake, who cares? It's fucking CAKE! The flowers, whatever they are, they'll be fine. What your attendants wear? It doesn't matter. Nothing matters except having a lovely, family experience with your fiance/husband and your Father. Nothing.

There is so much emphasis on planning the perfect party and it's all crap. The party is a party. The important thing at YOUR wedding is having your Dad there for you, and marrying the person you are in love with. End of story.

My wedding cake ended up being hideous. The florist, who took it upon herself to orchestrate my reception did something weird with the tables. At the end of the day, we all had a blast because I was having a fun party with my friends, and Husbunny and I were officially hitched.

Make sure that in addition to your official photographer that other folks are taking lots of pictures. You are going to treasure those pictures for the rest of your life.

Hang in there, get massages, facials, and lots and lots of rest. This is stressful for you because you are grieving for your Dad. The wedding. That's child's play.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:38 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I did something similar when my Dad got a very aggressive Alzheimer's. I planned it in 8 weeks.

My dad wasn't well enough to travel but if he was I would have done a destination wedding. I don't know if this is an option for you but there are so many places that take care of all that stuff for you.
I don't know if your Dad likes to travel but my Dad did and I know I really would have liked to take my Dad one more place.

My wedding wasn't perfect BUT it was great. My flowers were a little weird and my cake wasn't even what I ordered. We hadn't really rehearsed anything and I let every kid that came to the wedding be in it so things were a little crazy but it was fun.

So the most difficult part for me was a dress. I couldn't order a dress in my size in time so I went around and tried on the samples that were for sale (that was close to my size). With the time constraints the dress was the only thing I found difficult.
posted by beccaj at 3:17 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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