Planning to Love

Abby Nelson, Northwestern State University New Media student 

This article was written for a magazine class

The weather is perfect. It is 70 degrees with the slightest breeze coming in from the east. For a moment I think about how glad I am that my fiancé and I chose to take our engagement photos in Colorado instead of facing the hot July sun in Louisiana. 

Everything that surrounds us is beautiful. Wildflowers cover the ground, I can see mountains stretching for miles, and there is a stream gently flowing behind us. I turn my gaze back to my fiancé as he holds my hand in the beauty of it all. 

We got engaged just a month ago, but all I want to do is race to May 12 of next year. The day that we will get married. The day that our life together starts.

As our photographer sets us up in a different pose, I return to reality for a second. We’re on a schedule to beat the sunset, and only have one day to get our dream photos. Though we are on a time crunch, no stress enters my mind as I focus once again on the wildflowers brushing up against our feet. I think about how lucky I am to be here right now. How am I in this gorgeous place engaged to my favorite person? Everything is surreal.

 My mom planned weddings for a living when I was little. I went with her to many of them and constantly imagined what my day would look like. At the young age of four-years-old, I clipped out photos from magazines of dresses, cakes and venues and glued them into my wedding binder.

I’d been preparing for this moment my whole life, but I never knew what it would truly be until now. The sweetness of knowing that every day is leading up to the one I get to see all my planning in action. On that 26th day of July, I had no worries. Now looking back, I often wish I could go back to that day full of unknowing bliss. 

The fall semester was manageable. Though there was a lot to do, I found ways to plan my wedding while getting my assignments done. I had just switched to a new major in communications, and was loving my classes. By the end of it, I was already excited about the Spring semester because I knew that my wedding would be right around the corner once it was over. Christmas break began as a much-needed time to relax and finalize wedding details. What shoes would I wear? What about my veil? Will that centerpiece look nice? Little did I know that in a striking instance, the only question I’d be able to ask is why?

On December 29, 2022, I was in my bathroom doing my makeup. I heard the phone ring and answered it to hear my dad’s voice. 

He wanted to know if I was home; I was. Not sure how to say it, he calmly said the words to me that I replay every day in my mind, “Adam’s dead.” Adam, my big brother, the one who has always protected me, a 26-year-old who had just started his life. There is no way.

 I instantly thought he must have been joking. That is the only thing my mind could process at the time, so I laughed and said “What?” Beginning to tear up at this point, the man whom I had never seen cry, my father, said it again, “He’s gone, Abby.” 

The conversation ended and all I could do was scream. I paced around my house not having an earthly idea what I was supposed to do, so I called my fiancé and before I could look up again, he was at my side.

Seth, having lost a brother at the age of 10, knew exactly what I was going through and held me until I could catch my breath. 

Adam was snowboarding in Colorado when he had a massive heart attack. We had no signs that could have led us to even suspect that he wasn’t a healthy 26-year-old. Nothing made sense. 

My days mixed as we waited for Adam to get back home to us. I tried my best to help my dad and his wife, Emily, make arrangements, but I had never done this before. 

Over a week passed before we were able to lay my brother to rest; the steps of getting him back from Colorado felt impossible. Every day that went by waiting for him to get home felt like years. 

As the new year hit, none of us had any grasp on what day it was. We were all in a blur. Adam’s funeral was on a Friday, and I started back to school that Monday, so I had no time to process what had just happened to me, my family, or my brother.

What I thought was going to be another fun semester leading up to the happiest day of my life faded into surviving day by day. For a while, I couldn’t even think about getting married or being happy. How was I supposed to? How do you plan for a wedding when you just planned a funeral? 

Every day is different. Some days I wake up and forget about my life for a while, and I can just be the girl that was stressed out because I am planning a wedding in college. I get to be the girl that was optimistic about her future. On other days I don’t want to get up. Grief fills me with every emotion I can imagine, and I have no earthly idea how I am supposed to go out and act like I am okay.

 I can feel myself slipping deeper into depression at times, but I know I have to snap myself out of it because it isn’t what Adam would want for me. He would never want me to just be barely scraping by in life, to be stuck in my sadness.

Adam was the type of person that fought for everyone around him to live up to their best potential, and he would want me to do more than this: for me to learn and grow stronger from my pain. His voice runs through my head constantly telling me to do better, but it’s hard. Every day is so hard. 

What plagues my mind the most is that I never told my big brother the words “I love you.” I’m not sure why, but we didn’t regularly say it in our family. It was always just understood. I always thought it would be easier to tell him when we were older, so I waited. I just never said it. Right now, I would do anything to tell Adam that I loved him. I will forever wonder if he knew it. I hope he did. 

As February came, I realized the wedding was only three months away. I knew I really had to start getting serious about planning, but anytime I started to focus on what is supposed to be the happiest day of my life my mind was filled with the fear of what could happen next. My anxiety told me that anything that can go wrong will. What if Seth decides that I am too much for him right now? What if I lose someone else? What if the day I have dreamed of for so long is terrible? More questions popped up in my mind as I spiraled into doubt. Am I ready for this? How am I going to be a good wife when I am hurting so much? What if? What if? What if? In the next second, my fears are interrupted by the sound of Seth walking through the door. As soon as I see his face, I’m reminded of all the ways that he has loved me and supported me through every difficult season in my life. Since we were 17, he has been a constant in my life. Through every second that I was hurting, angry, or depressed he has been there holding my hand. 

Loving someone deeply can be scary. Walking into a new chapter in your life can be terrifying, but if there is anything that I have learned from my big brother, it’s that the things that scare us are the things that will grow us the most. Adam was never afraid to take risks. He lived such a full life in his short 26 years on earth and inspired everyone around him. No one could ever expect that we would lose him so soon. 

I have so many fears going into this new chapter of my life, but no one knows what lies ahead. Tomorrow is not promised so I can’t sit around and wait for the day when everything makes sense again to go after what I want. I can’t be scared to tell everyone I love them. I simply cannot put off the things I know I want to do because I think I’ll have more time.

It is now May, and after months of planning through my grief, I have only days until all my wedding planning comes to life. Soon, I will walk down the aisle to my best friend in my beautiful dress surrounded by love from my family and friends, and my big brother cheering me on from Heaven. We are saving a seat in his honor as well as for Seth’s brother, Samuel. 

I will spend the rest of my life telling Seth that I love him every day, and I won’t be afraid to say it to everyone else. Life is too short to not express how I feel to each and every person I care about. You can’t plan which words will be your last, but I can only hope mine will be “I love you.”