In the months after my mom died, one of my first regrets was not telling her that I’m queer. I’ve known that I’m romantically interested in people of all genders since I was around 10, and my mom unexpectedly passed away from complications after a non-epileptic seizure when I was 11. When I came out to my dad at 13, I asked him, “Do you think she would be happy for me?”

What it's like planning a wedding after your mom dies

My mom was one of my best friends and biggest supporters, and I wanted to share my coming out with her, to introduce her to my girlfriends and crushes.

The year after my high school girlfriend, Macey, and I started dating, I asked her to spend my mom’s death anniversary with me. My heart raced and I tried to push back thoughts about how she would find this depressing and boring, how she might not show up last minute or would cancel on me. Spending my mom’s anniversaries (her birthday, the day she died) with someone was a big deal; I’d had friends back out of plans and leave me feeling completely alone.

When I decided it was time to ask Macey to marry me after almost 10 years together, I knew it might be a rollercoaster of emotions. Planning for the proposal this year got me through the rough mid-August days when I usually reflect on my mom’s death. But I still found myself drawn to open up the burgundy photo album with my mom’s handwriting on the inside cover, to look at photos of her and my dad at their courthouse wedding, complete with his very ’90s plaid button down shirt. I wondered what she’d think of Macey—as I wrote in my proposal letter, Macey hates Seinfield, which was one of my mom’s favorite shows, but she could probably match my mom drink for drink with whiskey. They might bond over their hatred of the cold, but disagree on which season in New England is best (my mom always said fall, and Macey’s a summer loyalist).

What it's like planning a wedding after your mom dies

Several weeks after the initial excitement of proposing to the love of my life wore off, I found myself feeling sad. It was the same kind of ache I felt while preparing from my graduation from college or graduate school—wishing I knew what my mom would say if she were here, all the ways we’d celebrate, the laughter we’d share. Just as I wanted to look for her jean jacket and signature bangs in the stands on my graduation day, I tear up when I think about the fact that she won’t be in my wedding photos. I’m also grateful to have a dad who always encouraged me to feel my grief and remember my mom in whatever way I need to, and I know I’ll be hugging him and crying in those moments.

My mom wasn’t someone who was obsessed with weddings. She and my dad had a simple courthouse ceremony a few weeks after I was born, wearing comfortable clothes and smiling. My dad can’t remember the details of how he proposed to her, only that he did it after they had a romantic dinner together. My mom probably wouldn’t have many opinions on my venue, dress, or floral arrangements, but she would give a heartfelt toast as she did at my aunt and uncle’s wedding, which is on a VHS tape at their house that I’ve watched a few times. She would crack jokes and make puns. She would love me—and my wife-to-be, and our two cats—absolutely fiercely.

I haven’t decided exactly how I’m going to honor her at our wedding, only that I know I will. Maybe I’ll make a table of photos and memories of the people who have died. Maybe I’ll mention her in my own toast. Maybe I’ll bring along a photo of her and have our photographer take my picture with it. There’s no doubt I’ll be wearing something purple, her favorite color, and dancing to her favorite Fleetwood Mac songs.