Wedding with Terminally Ill Parent?

This guest post is from Kristine Bentz, Life-Cycle Celebrant® and Home Funeral Guide in Arizona. I’ve dealt with this a few times and it is never easy. 

Should we wait or should we hold the wedding with this special person present?

First, I acknowledge this is not an easy conversation to have or even a consideration any couple wants to make. And yet, with a growing number of mature people becoming wed later in life, aging parents are part of reality. I witness couples making decisions intrepidly, when situations unfold around a terminally ill parent or other family member. I’ve led brief ceremonies in ICU units or at homes — when the timing is urgent — yet perspectives are grounded. Since I’m finding little written on the topic, I hope this post will add to a dialogue that hopefully grows.

Candle light and shells were important elements in the ceremony.

Candle light and shells were important elements in the ceremony.

This month I led a living room wedding ceremony with a brave and brilliant Mother of the Bride present, who was living her final days in home hospice care. The experience felt surreal at times. It also prompted me to share a few ideas about what I respect as a very personal decision making process. These are relevant questions if you or someone you know is wedding planning in the wake of terminal illness:

Do we choose love or fear? The family with whom I led this recent wedding stared this question right in the face. They chose love; to have a wedding with those they hold dearest, along with a healthy dose of respect for an inevitable course of events they could not change. Choosing love meant asking each other tough questions about who needed what and how they would each be involved.

Whom do we ask to be present? Simplicity reigns supreme here. Keeping the guest list limited to the utmost inner-circle, especially when the person nearing the end of his or her life needs minimal to no external stimulation, is key.

When do we move a set wedding date forward? Do we cancel or keep the original date?Obviously, this involves countless variables. Venue reservations, vendors under contract, guests’ travel plans and so on might be just the beginning. Moving a wedding closer in time to involve an intimate circle of people — most importantly the person who is terminally ill — does involve being creative and taking risks. If a true ceremony is held where the couple and everyone in attendance knows marriage occurred, not just a ‘show’ for the sake of photos or egos, then another wedding ceremony itself may not be necessary. A wider circle of family and friends attending a reception and celebration later, though? Could be just what everyone would appreciate and enjoy.

What kind of ceremony or celebration is fitting? Again: think simplicity. Involving soft music and the elements (candles, water, soothing scents) may be more appropriate than usual. Keeping voices soft and messages brief are also important aspects. For the ceremony I mentioned earlier, I shared a family poem of deep meaning, written by the Mother of the Bride and read by her at previous family weddings. Then we shared short albeit heartfelt vows, a ring exchange and pronouncement. Simple. True. Real.

Beyond a home wedding, people may choose to hold ceremonies in a hospital or other care facility. With the presence of compassionate staff, many possibilities for families do exist. This article highlights an example where a couple and their families acted swiftly, in a hospital environment. The Mother of the Bride was failing quickly and the wedding was held very quickly to honor her presence and daughter’s wishes.

This is not easy terrain to walk. I wish you a calm heart and steady vision, based in love, if you or someone you love is walking it now. Feel free to contact me anytime for further conversation.