My Wedding Dresses: Healing by Marking Milestones

Apr 6, 2023 | Humanizing Medicine, Thriving

My husband and I are downsizing; meaning, we are looking to move to a smaller place—a home where the kids won’t have designated rooms. As with past milestones, like turning 40, the day my firstborn left for college or when the youngest learned to drive, I have found it incredibly helpful to see the occasion as a new chapter in my life.

When I was younger, being intentional about milestones was less important, since most of them felt purely positive: graduations, my first job, getting married, the birth of my children. In later years, it has been necessary to balance an awareness of the losses associated with the milestone with a clear acknowledegment of the gains.

Because downsizing involves a lot sorting and letting go, I was recently faced with a dilemma I had avoided for many years: what to do with my wedding gowns.

I own two. I never expected to keep either, yet found I could not let them go, even after my first marriage ended in divorce. It’s not that my daughters have any interest in them, I just hadn’t needed to look squarely at the feelings I had tied up in those beautiful dresses. Preparing to move changed that.

Last week, I pulled the acid-fast preservation boxes out of storage and held each gown, reacquainting myself and admiring them. I remembered how happy and alive I felt at both weddings, what a high point in my life each represented. I snapped a few photos.

And then I lay the two next to each other. A sense of peace came over me.

I knew it was an important moment, symbolizing a reconciliation. The two major romantic relationships in my life were sharing air space. It was incredibly therapeutic—and I had no idea before that moment that I needed any healing.

I packed up the dresses for donation.

I felt ready. Especially because I found a charity that re-purposes the gowns as burial dresses for families who have lost a newborn or infant. Having experienced miscarriage myself, it felt completely right. I was able to let go.

Not only did I free up a good nine square feet of storage space, but I found closure that I had not expected and felt the satisfaction of providing some small comfort to a family I’ll never know. All of this began with a willingness to notice and honor an important milestone in my life.

What milestone in your life deserves notice? How might you mark the occasion? How might owning the losses as well as the gains lead to greater fulfillment in the next chapter of your life?

If you’d like to bounce some ideas around, just message me!

[ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ]

Diane W. Shannon

MD, MPH, ACC

Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, PCC

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