7 Days of Pride: When Grief Shows up to the party



Jodi, officiant with Tori & bride Katie
photo credit: cassidycrowephotography

Whenever we meet with clients, there are two questions we always aim to ask: 1) How would like to be left feeling at the end of your wedding day; and 2) Are you holding onto any concerns about what or who might get in the way of how you’d like to be left feeling at the end of your day?

The first question is probably pretty typical for wedding vendors to ask. It’s the second question that holds the possibility of hearing from LGBTQ2+ folx the hurt they’ve experienced within their familial or other significant relationships.

There’s little doubt that when people are planning their wedding day, they do so with images of being surrounded by their most beloved family members and friends, glasses raised in celebration and embraces shared freely with congratulatory words. However, alienation, stigma and judgement leave painful traces on the hearts, minds, and sometimes bodies of those in our community. Some our clients may be estranged (by choice or not) from their family of origin, that they may be experiencing ongoing harassment or may even have guests in attendance who do not support their relationship but are attending out of some sense of ‘obligation’.

Circling back to our earlier post on how ‘language matters’, it may not be appropriate for all wedding vendors to ask clients about lingering interpersonal concerns, but you can still be sensitive during your interactions, and make room for a wide range of emotions to be articulated or displayed. A wedding signifies a major life transition, and as such, can bring to the surface complicated dynamics within families. While this isn’t unique to LGBTQ2+ folx, it’s worth raising here so that we don’t unintentionally add to people’s pain through our own ignorance or assumptions.

TIP: You can adopt language that doesn’t imply specific people will be invited or welcomed at your clients’ wedding or if attending, will be fulfilling traditional roles. For instance, instead of asking “Will your father be walking you down the aisle?” you could simply ask, “Are you having a processional, and if so, will others be involved?” Some clients may choose to elope. Other clients may choose only a select few people to celebrate with them, opting for a more intimate ceremony to ensure everyone in attendance is there with the best of intentions. While these are potential solutions, these are emotional decisions, and can mean grieving the loss of long held dreams of what their wedding day would look like.

Chosen family can play a central role in the lives of LGBTQ2+ folx and insulate people from the hurt, abandonment and feelings of isolation caused by family members they were raised by/with. When it comes to weddings, ensuring each person significant to the couple is recognized without creating a hierarchy, can be challenging for our clients to navigate. As officiants, this is where we get creative. We assist our clients to identify any person of significance, and help them determine what roles they’d like for them to play during the ceremony. Together we craft a ceremony that gives a nod to all ‘their people’ in ways that are meaningful. This can mean someone sings a song, someone does a reading, others are witnesses, and others can help with elements such as the ring exchange, presentation of the married couple etc. Really, the sky is the limit.

Remember, the entire wedding industry was constructed around heteronormative and patriarchal traditions that center the nuclear family structure, so it is going to take some concerted effort and time to reimagine wedding ceremonies that do not reinforce the status quo.

With that being said, a wedding is ultimately a choice to become family. Like you choose your partner, you can chose to be surrounded on the day of your dreams by the people who love and support the well-being of you and your marriage. As your officiant, our goal is to take our support beyond the pragmatics of planning your ceremony to help make your dream a reality; however that looks and feels best for you.

Tomorrow's post for Pride: Own Your Own Learning