My wedding dress and veil hung off the back of my closet door for four months until I finally got my act together and donated everything to Brides Against Breast Cancer. It felt like the right thing to do. After all, I hadn’t loved the dress in a weepy way that so many brides do about their gowns; it was flattering, it got the job done, but I didn’t feel a strong sentimental attachment to it. I knew I’d never wear it again, although my husband suggested I save it to wear to the opera, and I had to remind him that we’d both slept through the only opera we’d ever attended together. Plus, the fabric couldn’t be dyed, so it was never going to look like anything but a wedding dress. I also had no illusions about saving it for someone else to wear on her big day, knowing each of my nieces will find her perfect style and silhouette when her time comes.
So I was unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me when I decided to look at it one last time before tucking it into the shipping box. I stood in front of my full-length mirror and admired the gently gathered folds of satin that accentuated my waist, the slightly dipped sweetheart neckline that flattered my bust, the long bands that my sister and best friend spent half an hour braiding in and out, adjusting just so, to create a romantic corset down my back. I tucked the comb into my hair and floated the cathedral-length veil around me. The moment was my own, just me and my ensemble, and that’s when it hit me.
There will be no daughter or granddaughter to share this with in years to come. No one will ask to take my gown out of storage, to reminisce, to ooh and ahh. No one will care to find out if it still fits me in 10 or 20 years, and no one will join me a generation from now as we double over laughing that this was considered “in style” back in my day, like I did when I revisited friends’ gowns from the ’70s and ’80s. No one will slip tiny feet into my wedding shoes, disappear under yards of tulle, and giggle as she imagines how one day she might walk down the aisle to marry the love of her life.
It’s not so much the gown that causes me grief, but the cold, hard loss of the future memories I’ll never have. It’s not the giving away of a treasured thing that hurts, but the giving up of so many other dreams.
Shannon is now writing an insightful column for us about facing the grieving process that comes with being childfree. She’s a brilliant and compassionate woman, and I encourage you to check out what she has to say. In a recent column, “How Does Grief Feel to You?”, she invited us to share what our grief looks like. I had to sit with that for a while, to let it sink in, but now I can answer: My grief is a small girl draped in layers of ivory satin and tulle.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.