How a wedding dress helped Tanya connect with her late mum

Published: 8/6/2023

When Tanya lost her mother to cancer at the age of six, she faced her toughest ever battle: to journey through life without her beloved Mum.

Later in life, Tanya discovered her mothers memory and connection could stay a part of her, by including her in life's special moments. Walking down the aisle in her mother's wedding dress, the most powerful of them all.

"I could almost picture her standing right there next to me and smiling..."

Losing a loved one is never easy, but losing a parent at a young age can be especially difficult. Being such a little girl, Tanya reflects that although she was too young to fully grasp the gravity of the situation, she still remembers the profound impact of the loss, and the permanent void it left that nothing could ever fill.

Shelley Andreetta, Grief Counsellor and Trainer at GriefLine says it's never just about the initial loss.

"When we think about losing a loved one, we think specifically about the initial loss, but it's never just about that loss. It's the loss of the relationship, it's the loss of the lifestyle, it's the loss of the future and so much more," she explains.

For Tanya, her initial grief at six never really went away, instead her relationship and understanding of her Mum  evolved over time beside her.

Ms Andreetta echoes this, explaining the notion that our loved ones are forgotten is a myth, that these special relationships are not static, but instead evolve and mature together with us.

As Tanya grew up and explored the world, she learned different ways to honour her mother's memory and stay connected to her.

Participating in the Conquer Cancer Charity bike ride for three years straight is a lovely example. A deeply personal journey for Tanya, she admits the rides were long and gruelling, but whenever she felt like giving up, all she had to do was remind herself of the battles her mother fought as a young mother of two children.

"It was a timely reminder of the struggles that cancer patients go through, and it gave me a renewed sense of purpose, " she says.

As much as the bike rides were a powerful and meaningful experience for Tanya, nothing would come close to the feeling of connection she experienced when she walked down the aisle in her mother's wedding dress.

"My dad, a sentimental soul, kept many keepsakes of my mum. Among the treasures was her beautiful wedding dress which he preserved inside a wooden chest until I was old enough to have it," Tanya recalls.

As fate would have it, when Tanya was preparing to marry her soulmate, Chris, in 2017, she met a wedding dress designer while working at a boutique hotel. Sharing a picture of her Mum's scalloped chiffon wedding dress, the designer was immediately drawn to its beauty and insisted on working with Tanya to bring it to life again.

Despite the wedding dress being a symbol of the love and commitment that her parents had shared decades earlier, Tanya began to feel a sense of melancholy, for as happy as she was, there was also a deep sense of sadness that her mum wasn't going to be there on her special day.

American PhD, Dennis Klass's Continuing Bonds theory helps to validate these emotions, reminding us that not only do continuing bonds with our loved ones validate that grief is ongoing, but that we remain connected with them, often for our entire lives.

Initially Tanya felt nervous about entrusting someone with the dress, but she soon found comfort watching the dressmaker's skilled craftsmanship at work. As she continued her visits to the dressmaker, Tanya could feel her mum's loving presence beside her, reassuring her that everything was going to be ok.

The feeling was so powerful that she could almost picture her mother standing right there next to her and smiling with pride and love in her eyes.

When the time came for Tanya to put the dress on for the final time and she saw herself in the mirror, she was hit with a powerful wave of emotions.

"It was overwhelming to see myself as a bride, wearing the dress that my mum had worn on her own wedding day. And when my dad walked into the room and saw me, he didn't have to say anything, for the love in his eyes said enough," she recalls.

It was only after the wedding that Tanya learned from her aunt that her mum had always hoped her daughter would wear her wedding dress.

"My wedding day was a moment of pure joy and I am so happy that I made mum's dream a reality," says Tanya.

To honour her mother, Tanya and Chris chose a heartfelt gesture at their wedding. In lieu of traditional wedding favours, they donated to Cure Cancer Australia on behalf of their guests. Each table was adorned with a place card and charity pin, to raise awareness and support for the Cure Cancer cause.
To honour her mother, Tanya and Chris chose a heartfelt gesture at their wedding. In lieu of traditional wedding favours, they donated to Cure Cancer Australia on behalf of their guests. Each table was adorned with a place card and charity pin, to raise awareness and support for the Cure Cancer cause.

Tanya's story is a wonderful reminder that the passing of a loved one may end a life, but it does not mean we have to end our connection with them. Tanya's treasured items that her father kept of her mother, the dress, old photographs, high school report cards, engagement ring (which Tanya's brother now has) and other small treasures, all helped create a vivid picture of who her Mum was.

Studies surrounding grief agree that we have come a long way in our understanding of grief and bereavement, but agree that we still have a long way to go.

Ms Andreetta says, as a society we really don't grieve all that well.

"We don't give room and space for that, we're not comfortable holding that emotion, let alone holding it for someone else," she explains.

"We are so conditioned to go up into our logical brains, that's our safety mechanism and that's the way we like to work in the world, that's what we're taught to do really. And there's a need for that too, we have to get stuff done at certain points."

She adds however, if people continue to fight their internal conflict between what they feel they need to do and the pressure their environment or society puts on them - or they put on themselves - they in turn ignore the possibility that their hearts might be saying something else, like: "I am hurt, I am feeling tender and I need to.. It's really about listening to our hearts and honouring that."

Grief is uncomfortable but inevitable. It becomes a part of us, whether it arrives as ripples or tsunami waves. However, by being open to the idea that grief can become more peaceful and positive in a world where memories and connections with our lost loved ones have space to grow, even in their absence. Perhaps then, we might learn to acknowledge the pain of grief, while also celebrating the presence of those we have loved and lost. Tanya's connection with her mother is a beautiful testament to that.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

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