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What It's Like to Plan a Wedding When a Family Member Is Seriously Ill

Two women share their experiences.

Contributing Writer
julianne aaron wedding couple hands rings
Photography by: Rachel May Photography

As most people have come to learn, life is unpredictable. The fact that you—or someone you love—is getting married doesn't change that. Whenever a loved one becomes seriously ill, family and friends will feel that pain profoundly, but the situation is especially difficult for a bride- or groom-to-be. When you're in the thick of such a high-stress experience, the fear that a loved one might not be present on the biggest day of your life only makes the pain and worry more acute.

 

Brianna Steinhilber, an editor in New York City, knows this only too well. The summer before her September wedding, she and her now-husband were shocked to learn that he had a cancerous kidney tumor that would require major surgery. With just four months to go before their ceremony and reception, the couple was juggling doctors' appointments with typical planning to-dos, like the cake tasting and dress fittings. "We went back and forth deciding if we should schedule his surgery before or after the wedding, and with the doctor's guidance we decided that waiting a few months wouldn't change much since his type of tumor was slow growing," Steinhilber says. "After we got married, my husband had his right kidney removed, and they confirmed that it was, in fact, a cancerous tumor. We caught it so early that it was completely removed, and he is now cancer free!"

 

Luckily, the situation had more than one positive outcome. In addition to keeping her now-husband healthy, it also helped the couple stay focused on what really matters. "When you hear the word 'cancer' it rocks you to your core, and it was a huge reality check that kept me focused on the real reason we were planning this day: to celebrate our love and the joining of our two families—not about the small details," she adds.

 

Related: Health Checks to Have Before Getting Married

 

Molly McCauley, a California-based wedding photographer, also gained perspective, appreciation, and focus while dealing with her father's illness as she planned her own wedding. "He had a rare genetic disease called Familial Amyloidosis and was nearing the end of his eight years of diagnosed symptoms," she says. "While he was mobile for my wedding and could walk me down the aisle with a cane, he was wheelchair-bound just two-and-a-half months later for my sister's wedding. He passed away five days after her wedding."

 

McCauley and her now-husband always thought they'd have a smaller, intimate wedding, but the decline of her father's health made it all the more important to them. "His illness put so much into perspective—I had my fair share of bumps in the road with planning, but in the end, none of it mattered and I was fortunate for the support of my family and friends during that process to remind me of that," she says. "Wedding planning can be messy, even without a dying dad, so, in a strange way it made me focus, reassess, and create a day that will forever live in my memory as perfection."

 

If you're coping with serious illness in the family as plan your own wedding, both brides stress the importance of remembering that you will get through it. For Steinhilber, continuing to take care of herself helped. "Exercise gave me a chance to process everything that was going on and do something healthy for myself, which left me in a more clear-headed mental space," she describes. "During the whole process, I always made room for that 'me' time to release the stress." Another big emotion that continued to pop up for her was gratitude. "When you're going through something so difficult, it's hard to see that silver lining, but I encourage everyone to do it, whatever that silver lining may be for you," she says. "It allowed me to be grateful for my partner, not take any day for granted, and truly enjoy every step of the wedding planning process."