Death and a Wedding

I lost my soulmate on February 20, 2012.

It was 4:16pm and my phone rang. One of my close friends -- the hardest person to get a hold of -- was calling. The phone rang only once before she hung up. I called her back immediately because if she's calling even for a second, I want that second to talk. She was mumbling, almost whispering, when she answered the phone.

"Hey, I have to tell you something. You can't tell anyone though."

"Are you pregnant? Are you getting a divorce?" I asked.

"Quddus killed himself."

Everything stopped. I froze where I was. I didn't want to move because moving meant that he was actually dead and that I would have to feel it. I would have to feel things that I never felt before because Quddus was "home" for me. What do you do when "home" no longer means the same thing?

The scream that left my mouth followed by uncontrollable sobbing coursed through me like a freight train.

I met Quddus when I was 7 years old. We were going to a religious conference together and since we were both the youngest, we got stuffed into the back of his dad's station wagon. He played with his G.I. Joes and I pretended to care. When I got home that night, I told my mom that I was going to marry him. Whatever marriage meant to a 7 year old, that's what I wanted with him.

I was in love with him for the next 14 years. At 21, though, something changed. I felt like I couldn't connect with him in the way that we used to and that he wasn't trying anymore. I was afraid that our constant connection had started to fade. I didn't understand that he just couldn't connect. It was almost as if he disappeared.

Quddus had been suffering from bi-polar disorder for 12 years. You know when you drink too much and you regret it because you know what it's like to be sober? Quddus knew that it was like to be his old self but he could never get back. Our telephone conversations would leave me exhausted. I couldn't always understand his frustrations but I knew he needed me. When he called, I answered. I get very primal when it comes to protecting people I love. I protected Quddus like a lion and her cub.

He called me the week leading up to his death. I answered the phone and he sounded like himself. The Quddus I knew 12 years ago. I immediately started crying and said, "Oh my God! Are you back?! Are you back?" I never thought I'd hear that person ever again. He said, "I'm feeling really good. I'm doing really well." He made sure to tell me how much I meant to him and how much he loved me. He said so many things that I already knew, because he never kept his feelings from me, but it was so nice to hear it from the "old" Quddus. I didn't know it at the time, but he was saying goodbye. He wanted to make sure that I knew how much I meant to him...he was protecting me.

I had been working with the sweetest couple for over a year and their wedding was the same day as his funeral. When I called the bride to tell her that my assistant was going to have to take over for me, I tried to ease her mind about the wedding. Wedding planners are supposed to take the stress away from a bride, not add to it the week of. The bride got off the phone but called me back 10 minutes later. It was obvious that she had been crying. She said, "I wanted to call you and tell you that I'm not mad. I know I sounded mad before but I'm not. If you need to talk or come over for dinner, you know you can always come here." The bride's kindness caught me off guard and I could only get out, "Thank you" before I began sobbing.

He left a very clear and detailed goodbye letter which was read at the funeral. He was tired of struggling. He wanted to be free and this was his way. He had a list of people who he wanted to know meant something very important to him. When my name was read, it was like getting the wind knocked out of me.

His older brother was engaged and getting married four months later. Wedding planning came to a halt for a little while but picked back up a couple months after the funeral. There is always a fine line when helping with a friend's wedding. You want to be as professional as possible but they want you to have a good time. The hardest part about this wedding was that I was the coordinator -- and the friend who had lost her best friend four months earlier.

Robert was the typical groom. He didn't know any details of the wedding. He just knew when and where to be. After the funeral, he became even more detached from the actual wedding. The only time we ever talked about it was to let him know when I was getting into town. I was worried that everything would remind him of his little brother and that the wedding would be more painful than celebratory. There were 400 guests, 17 bridesmaids, 17 groomsmen and no Quddus. That reality was paralyzing.

I hopped into planner mode immediately. I pinned boutonnieres on all 17 groomsmen and each of them also wore a button with a heart and a "Q" in it. There wasn't a lot of mention of Quddus that day except for the photographer who yelled, "Is this it for Robert's family? Are there any more siblings? Are these all of the siblings? No more siblings?!" I politely told him to stop asking that question and explained the situation. When Robert walked down the aisle, he had the exact same look on his face as he did at Quddus' funeral which stopped me in my tracks. I was able to get the bridal party down the aisle before weeping uncontrollably in the back room. I knew the day would be hard but I wasn't expecting this.

Seeing everyone come together in such a solid way for the family during a tragedy and then months later for a celebration really taught me some valuable lessons:

• As important as a wedding is, you can't lose perspective. You may have to make some adjustments to the wedding because of the unexpected expense of a funeral. That won't ruin your day.

• Step in and be of service wherever you can. Weddings are stressful enough without having to deal with death. Pick up the phone and call the florist if that's what the couple needs. The little things are what really count.

• The biggest lesson that I learned when dealing with death and a wedding is that it's okay to be sad and grieve and it is just as okay to celebrate and rejoice in the happiness of a wedding. I think some people may feel guilty enjoying themselves so soon after such a tragedy. Love and laughter are both good for the soul...I've never been to a wedding that didn't have both.


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