I have some wonderful news!

Nik and I are getting married! It is going to be a fall carnival themed wedding, with a petting zoo, carnival games, and hayrides around his family farm. Our colors will be orange and red. There will be pumpkin centerpieces and lots of orange and red fall flowers. And the booze will be free flowing, from beginning to end. His brother-in-law is going to brew a special sour beer for the occasion—pumpkin spice flavored, of course. And we are raising our own pigs to roast for the wedding feast. It will be October of 2018, the weekend before Halloween, our favorite holiday, so save the date!

Sounds like a pretty bucolic, lovely wedding, doesn’t it? Except that it’s never ever going to happen. Because Nik died in 2013.

Now you have just a taste of what it’s like to be “widow-ish” at the age of 36, seeing all your friends planning their gorgeous weddings and their happily ever afters, while you’re left thinking about what could have been but will never be.

Nik and I met in November of 2011. We were happy. Obnoxiously happy, for a short time, at least. Then in April 2012 Nik started acting off. He insisted that he was happy with me—that I wasn’t the problem, that something was wrong but we were good. After many trips to the ER and being brushed off as perfectly healthy but probably just depressed, my love ended up in a psychiatric hospital. While there, some angel of an orderly noticed that something wasn’t right, and after being transferred to another hospital, doctors discovered a softball-sized malignant tumor on his brain.

One emergency brain surgery, a few rounds of radiation, and another brain surgery later, my love finally let go three days after Christmas in 2013. I wasn’t there when he died, and that’s something I don’t regret. I was done. The Nik I knew had left me about a month before he left his body, when he truly lost his ability to communicate, feed himself, or use the bathroom. He was 30, strappingly handsome, and died where he loved to be: on his family’s 20-acre pig farm, in the house his mother and father had built from scratch less than a year before. I saw it all and experienced it all with him, witnessing the slow death of the person I had dreamed of since I was old enough to dream of boys.

Hey! Did I mention that Nik was painfully beautiful on top of being totally awesome?

I was there through everything—the treatments, the fear, the in-home hospice nurses—because that’s what you do, right? We weren’t married, but I can tell you without a doubt that I had that whole “in sickness and in health” deal on lockdown. Killed that shit. But I don’t ever, ever, EVER want to do that again. Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, if I had one. And had he lived, we would have certainly tied that knot. That damn fall Pinterest-worthy wedding would have been mine!

Which brings me to what’s supposed to be one of life’s pleasures: being loved by two people enough to be invited to the most important day in their lives—their wedding. I never really dug weddings, but now? Attending a wedding is a special kind of hell for the “widow-ish,” where you are reminded just how robbed you were of your future.

And yes, I’m still here. I have a future. But it’s a future missing one very handsome, six foot two inch farmer who, despite my shortcomings, loved me. The only guy to ever say so, too.

And what blows my mind is that some people actually think I’m just being “crazy,” that the world does not revolve around me, and that I should be able to put aside any emotions I have and celebrate and enjoy and bask in the love a wedding creates. I’m just being “selfish” and I should “get over it.” I’m not kidding, dear readers! I’ve lost friends over this. People have all said these things to my face!

To those people I say this: fuck off. My person is dead. Ceases to be. All I’ve got left is two shoeboxes of his pilfered belongings and some memories. I’m allowed to feel.

Would you expect a mother who lost her child to “get over it” at some other woman’s baby shower? Because, I got news for you. It’s the same. Exact. Thing.

Conversely, there are plenty of people who, while not fully understanding my pain, get why weddings might not be all that fun for me. I’m quite lucky to have a ride or die queen of a best friend who makes me brush the red wine off my teeth and runs the extraction team to take me home from a wedding reception before things go due south. Because one unfortunate thing about weddings is that the booze tends to be free flowing. And booze + extreme emotion = Drunk Stacey. And when Drunk Stacey gets on the Nik Train, it isn’t very pretty.

So, after seeing my good friend marry the love of her life this weekend, I’ve decided that Stacey and weddings just don’t mix. Yeah, sure, I could…oh, NOT DRINK… but really? That’s like putting salt on a pretty raw wound. I’d rather stay home and cuddle with my cats and relive the memories of Nik that I’m lucky enough to have. Because anyone who knows me and who respects me and loves me will understand why I can’t really hang at a wedding. Or, why I come for the ceremony and leave before the reception, which seems to be decent middle ground to alleviate all the guilt I feel about not showing up to a friend’s special day. Because the guilt I feel for feeling the way I do just adds to an already shitty situation that I start dealing with the moment a save the date announcement lands on my fridge.

Weddings are hell for the “widow-ish.” If you’re reading this and you’re “widow-ish,” as in, your love died before you could throw that perfect fall themed carnival wedding, know that you’re not alone, and that it’s OK to sit them out. Just make sure to send a nice card and a very thoughtful gift. The bride and groom, if they are decent people, will get it. And they will still love you.

Stacey Mankoff

Stacey Mankoff teaches high school literature from home. She is thoroughly convinced her cats know more about literature than most humans. In her free time, she enjoys dreaming about moving to Europe.