First things first: Why is this even important?
The first thing we need to talk about is the importance of acknowledging all feelings in general. In therapy, we try to help people do that on a regular basis.
A lot of times, people feel they don’t have a “right” to feel a certain way and don’t allow themselves to experience an emotion fully. When this happens, we are repressing an important emotional experience and opportunity to process healthily and move on to the next thing. Often when we repress, it comes out later in an unintended form (e.g. lashing out with anger, crying over something “little,” accusing someone of something they didn't do, or maybe even having an inexplicable panic attack... to name a few!). When we acknowledge our emotions for what they are, we avoid that secondary unintended consequence down the road.
In thinking of this as it applies to wedding postponement, a common experience would be that a bride or groom might feel badly (or worse, be made to feel badly by someone else) about feeling sad about their delayed wedding, because “there are more important things going on in the world right now.” This is a repression of our own feelings or denial of someone else’s that could lead to increased distress later on.
Okay, I get it. But how can you even grieve "a thing" (as opposed to a person)?
This is a big one. Our conversations also have been thinking a lot about what it means to have a loss. And what it means to grieve a loss.
Most people associate grieving and loss only with death. Though that is one type of loss, us humans experience different losses of every kind each day. Some examples might be a breakup, a change in physical or mental ability, an estrangement of a family member, a loss of a previous stage of life (infant to toddler, adolescent to adult, college student to working professional, etc.). We can go through large and small grieving periods and stages for every kind of loss we go through in life.
A large scale event like a wedding being postponed or cancelled is most definitely among the things that we can grieve. Weddings are markers of time and transition and represent huge milestones and rites of passage for many people. When we plan weddings, our planning takes on so much meaning. Some clients have talked to me about how their wedding represented starting their life with their partner, starting to think about having children, being able to finally move out of a dysfunctional family home, etc. And when we plan them, we consider timing very carefully, so to push something out a whole year that holds such significant meaning in our lives, can be a big loss. Grieving usually incorporates a few different emotions such as shock and disbelief, anger, bargaining (“if only it could have been this way....”), sadness, and acceptance. We can feel all of these things at once, one at a time, and we can go back and forth between them multiple times. I say this because another thing people think about grief a lot is that it’s only sadness. But it can actually look like so many different things.
I'm afraid if I let myself grieve my wedding, I will be sad forever. Is that true?
Acceptance is an important part of that process. Acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting or not caring. Acceptance means accepting the new normal for what it is. As a therapist, I know people can get there. The other feelings we experience prior to that are a part of our process along that journey. Though they are necessary and imperative, they are not permanent. I know that acceptance is at the end of any healthy grieving process and that’s what we are helping people get to right now. Everyone at their own pace, in their own time, will get there. When people know that, they feel comfortable to allow themselves and others feel and grieve without being scared or avoidant of said grief. They know it is an impermanent, but necessary part of processing all our emotions honestly and authentically. And having a milestone life event that you’ve been planning for a year or more be abruptly changed, is absolutely something worth grieving.