Yes, her late dad walked with her down the aisle
Looking back to the day my husband passed away suddenly from a heart arrhythmia, I remember every detail of the day as if it was yesterday rather than 28 years ago. The fateful day started like any other day – Rod, my husband, secured our 2-year-old daughter into her car seat as I prepared to drive her to daycare. All three of us kissed each other good-bye for the day. Less than 8 hours later, I received the alarming phone call that my husband was at the hospital. I had just picked up our daughter, Gretchen, from daycare and rushed to the hospital to be told the ill-fated news he had passed away.
During the days that followed, lost in my flurry of shock and disbelief, I found myself mourning more for my daughter that she had lost her daddy than I did for myself, who was now a widow at such a young age. While I barely had the ability to put one foot in front of the other, I found myself distraught over who would walk her down the aisle rather than grasping I was recently widowed with my future plans being cut short. I now slept in an empty bed and unable to swallow even a sip of water. Clearly, my logic was clouded by the devastating loss; however, as a mother, I was more protective of my “cub” rather than my own well-being. As I continued to share my concern for her wedding day, I was reminded by those around me that my daughter was only two years old and that time would find a path to her wedding day. The advice from my friends and family was always the same, “Rachel, start with one day at a time. You will be able to come up with a plan when the time is right.”
As the days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months and months turned to years, the picture became clearer. Time provided me with the strength I needed to add perspective to my circumstances, specifically my daughter’s wedding and my future. As time distanced me from the date of the loss, I was able to see more clearly through the clouds of pain, softening the distress I first experienced while adapting my viewpoint. I realized there was so much more I lost that day in April than just walking my daughter down the aisle: the responsibility of providing a connection to Rod forever was in my hands. I found that as the sole parent following a loss of a spouse, the surviving parent was accountable for engaging the memory of the child’s lost parent. This was and still is a job I take seriously; my goal has always been for my daughter to remain connected to her natural father. After all, she looked just like him, acted just like him and was my living connection to him. As a family, we set forth to always include Rod’s family in all aspects of our lives and with their help, we have provided Gretchen with a clear connection to Rod, his personality and his commitment to family.
Throughout her childhood and adulthood, I was never able to shed the thought of Rod not walking Gretchen down the aisle. I remarried and my “living” husband, Taner, adopted Gretchen – affording an answer of who would escort her as she walked towards her future husband. This created the next question, how would we represent both fathers at her wedding? A picture of Rod on the memory table was an option but just wasn’t enough of a true fatherly representation. After all, we had one natural father and one adoptive father, one living father and one who had passed. Both needed equal and respectable representation.
My daughter planned to marry in December of 2020, resurfacing my perspective of her walking down the aisle. How would Rod be a part of such an important life milestone 28 years after he passed away? We struggled with the tradition of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. The concept did not speak to either one of us. My family and friends encouraged me to join my husband walking down the aisle as a representation of Rod. To be honest, that approach was not on my radar as selfishly, I wanted to see her walk down the aisle through my eyes and not in a photograph. We tabled the discussion, adding the task to our wedding “to do” spreadsheet to revisit in the future. Without warning, our wedding planning was swept aside with the arrival of the pandemic. The priorities shifted, leaving us to scramble of how to reduce the guest count from 175 to 20 and most importantly, how to host a safe and meaningful wedding in the midst of a pandemic. From that day forward, the thought of Rod and the aisle were buried beneath the canceling of contracts, the planning for a smaller wedding including the writing of new contracts with vendors and contacting friends and family of the change. Our daily conversations were not about color of napkins, table sitting arrangements, bridesmaid gifts or the actual ceremony. Rather, we spent more time with safety protocols and hardships of the pandemic.
On the day of Gretchen’s wedding, the bridal party spent the morning dressing together, in between the sips of champagne and sharing wonderful stories and viewing videos of well wishes. Shortly thereafter, my daughter handed me a beautifully wrapped box with a card. I opened the card and read, “Mom, you always talked about how your first thoughts after daddy Rod died was who would walk me down the aisle. Can you believe that the day is finally here? It has been a journey, but we did it together ….” As I opened the box, I was greeted by a pair of white wedding shoes, the shoes my daughter planned on wearing under her beautiful dress. As I wondered why she would wrap the shoes as a gift to me, I noticed painted with beautiful calligraphy and flowers on the heels, the name “Rodney Ray.” She looked at me and said, “Daddy Rod and Daddy Taner will both walk me down the aisle.” I just stared at the shoes speechless; my heart was filled with warmth as the burden I carried for 28 years was resolved in such a meaningful and special fashion.
Like most things in life, we find ways to embrace our challenges. While often overwhelming, we create a path to help us follow through on our journey. There is no question that loss is complicated, loss is painful and loss is real – truly the journey is all about how we embrace the loss. Gretchen provided me with a great gift, the opportunity to be physically present during such an important milestone in her life, standing proud with her two dads. Thank you, Gretchen, for being so inclusive with both your fathers over the years, one that you can embrace in touch and the other you can embrace in memory.
Rachel Kodanaz is a heart-minded professional helping her audiences to Embrace Life’s Challenges. Rachel has been speaking passionately to national audiences of all sizes for over 20 years, addressing all aspects of change, growth, and acceptance that comes with life’s transitions. She is also available for virtual one-on-one consulting to help individuals with their current challenges.
Rachel has published numerous articles and has appeared on Good Morning America. Her published books Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time, best-selling Living with Loss One Day at a Time, and Grief in the Workplace have received international acclaim. Learn more at rachelkodanaz.com