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Navigating Love & Loss

By Courtney Hogan

Grief, not normally a word that springs to mind when we think of weddings. Unfortunately, this is something a lot of couples have to deal with when heading towards one of the happiest days of their lives. Some are approaching their wedding day with newly found grief, while others have had more time to sit with it and are in a different headspace. In both circumstances, grief can be very present and very real, and it’s important to acknowledge this. For some people, wanting to include and have our loved one/s present in our day is really important.  Some will choose to do this in obvious ways and others in ways maybe only a select few will see or understand. There is no right or wrong way to bring your loved one into your day; you should do what best suits you, what makes you most comfortable, and what honours that person best. 

A little backstory on me: I’m Courtney, one half of The Hogans - wedding and family photographers based in Geelong. I’ve been shooting weddings for seven years and have seen people honour their loved ones in many ways in this time. 2023 also marks 10 years since my Mum passed away, 10 years of memories and milestones she has missed. So, when my partner and I got engaged, I put a lot of thought into how we could honour my Mum on a day I know she would have gotten so much joy out of. Shit, I’ve done a lot of therapy to be comfortable crying in front of others about my Mum and knowing that it’s ok to be both happy and sad at the same time. When we started planning our wedding, I knew I didn't want the focus on Mum to be really sad moments - she wouldn't want that, my family wouldn't want that. I knew I wanted to be able to feel the absolute high of our wedding day without the constant pain from the grief of her not being there. So how did I find that balance? 

I think you will be surprised in just how many ways I was able to add my Mum into our day. In fact, she was involved even before the big day, including Jake calling my Dad from her resting place to tell them he was going to propose and that was just the beginning. Mum got a huge shout out in our ceremony, we believe she helped us find one another with our first unofficial ‘date’ being on mother’s day. This wasn't a sad mention of Mum for us, this was a thank you - a high five to Mum and such a nice way to mention Mum for the first time on our day. Sure, my family had spoken about Mum all morning, and Jake, Annie (our daughter) and I went to visit her in the morning; but for our guests it was like that deep breath moment of “it’s ok to mention Ann” that cut out that awkward and uncomfortable feeling a lot of us have around grief and death. I think that ice breaker really helped everyone to see and feel that joy and love can sit alongside our grief and not take over the good feelings. 

A lot of my nods to Mum throughout the day were not obvious. A lot only myself, family and a select few friends would have picked up on. This is what I wanted; I wanted to know she was there without everyone constantly bringing it up or being upset themselves. Clothing was one way I really incorporated my Mum. My Dad wore his wedding jacket that he married my Mum in, so when he walked me down the aisle, I felt like they were both there with me. I wore velvet shoes as Mum was pretty famous for wearing matching velour tracksuits (it's ok to laugh), and on Mum's spot at the ceremony I put a matching velour tracksuit; this got a few laughs from my friends - they definitely understood that one. Wearing items from our loved ones is not a new idea but knowing that you can be subtle and have a laugh with it is definitely something I enjoyed.  My wedding ring was also made custom and has two of my Mum's diamonds from her rings in it; this is something I was so excited to do and have with me for life now. An added little touch was when Jake’s Mum gave us our rings she said “these are from both your Mums” - a small but powerful few words that really made that moment so much more special for me. The ceremony mentioned Mum, but I did in my own subtle way too. I ended my vows to Jake with "I love you, I love you, I love you like never before" song lyrics from a Fleetwood Mac song we played at my Mum's funeral. A song I listen to often, a song Jake knows the meaning of and how precious it is to me. I am not sure how many people picked up on this, but it really didn't matter to me if anyone did. I knew Jake would get it and that was truly all that mattered. These little touches, little gestures are my favourite; everyone didn't need to be involved in it but those who got it knew it's importance. This is definitely something I would encourage – finding something that’s just for you and your nearest, or just you and your lost loved one on the day. Like your own little secret, so even if they are mentioned in no other way on the day you know you honoured them in your own private way.

A few other things we did to inspire you: we had a floral piece made in baby's breath which was one of the main flowers at my Mum and Dads wedding. We mentioned her briefly in our speeches, ending our speech with "please make sure you have a hot jam donut, they are on Ann". Mum really loved hot jam donuts, we used to get them all the time at the Sunday market and have lots of childhood memories of going to the Geelong Show and getting them with her. This was a nice fun way to bring Mum into the celebration part of our reception and something she would have enjoyed 110% on the day. Whilst we had many tears across the day, I did not feel the sadness of Mum not being there as I had incorporated her in so many different ways across the day. I'd incorporated her in meaningful ways, in fun ways, in enjoyable and laughable moments. I was truly able to feel the light and shade of it all.

I hope in reading this, it inspires an idea or something you maybe hadn't thought of before. Just like weddings themselves you can do them your own way; either stick with traditions or throw them away. There isn't a one size fits all for the way we represent our loved ones on our wedding day either. You can do the traditional photo frame, or pictures on your bouquet or inside of your jacket, wearing an heirloom, putting a hat or flowers on a chair, or playing certain songs. You can celebrate them in whatever way feels true and right to you, a way that everyone will see and notice or just for yourself. Just like in all journeys of grief, there is no right or wrong way. Heck I am 10 years in and still figuring it out! 

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