March 4th. I was out of town, sitting on the edge of a hotel bed in Lawrence, Kansas fixated on the screen. The news channel was blaring: Coronavirus Outbreak Update: State of Emergency Predicted. My phone was lighting up one text after another: “Is the wedding still happening?”
I held on as long as possible, certain we could contain the spread, hopeful that the wedding we’d spent 18 months planning would in fact go on. But, Mother Nature had other plans. It spiraled quickly, first with the Europe ban, then the gathering limitations, the Olympics cancellation…until finally we had no choice. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve postponed our original April 4, 2020 wedding not once, but twice, due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. We felt there were too many hurdles. Collective sacrifice holds energy and vigor. Social responsibility comes with thoughtfulness. As the main act of the show, it has become our duty to protect our family and friends from an invisible enemy that has turned our world upside down.
The postponement of any life event has ripple effects that can’t always be seen on the surface. Celebrating, culminating, grieving, caring, planning: for the moment at least, these things aren’t permitted in the ways we once knew. In order to cope, we must remember our reason behind the vision.
The greatest risk of this virus, aside from its inherent danger, is the way it disrupts our lives and emotional well being. That said, we have a choice in the way we respond. Instead of holding resentment against COVID-19, the year 2020, or our current climate, we can focus on the fact that our lives, in all of their fragility, are fleeting, precious, and uncertain. No matter the world’s limitations, any occasion will most certainly present its own set of issues. Therefore, we have actively chosen to continue living our lives the best we can; to celebrate our union in our own special way, and to lean into gratitude.
Through the process of pivoting (and pivoting again), I’ve learned the art of reimagining a wedding. If you find yourself at any point in this journey, I hope these learnings may alleviate even a tiny drop of stress.
all photography by Ryan Chard Smith
You can still get married…and celebrate later.
Our second wedding postponement was pushed to the fall of 2021. Our wedding planner, Jill Remy, advised the later date. She felt that things might not settle in the spring and wanted to protect us from further delays.
Jack, my partner of 11 years, and I were on a walk with the dogs in our neighborhood. We have some of our best conversations while walking. I looked at him and asked, “Should we just get married?” There was a distinction in that moment: the concept of marriage separated from the vision of a wedding. I thought it might be sweet, intimate and romantic to run off to a place neither of us had been before with an officiant and a witness we loved dearly (it was.) Big Sur, an otherworldly place filled with redwoods, coastal views and breathtaking biodiversity, seemed like the perfect place to tie the knot.
So, on October 20, 2020, Jack and I walked to the edge of a cliff to proclaim our love. We had always wanted our parents there, at the very least, but with them living across three states, it just wasn’t worth the risk. My sister, our officiant, surprised us with letters, quotes and poems that each of our family members mailed in before our date. We will cherish them forever. And we can’t wait to have the wedding we planned, with those we love, to celebrate our union one day soon.
A supportive team goes a long way.
This process was alleviated by love and support from an incredible team of people. My mom and sister have been my co-pilots and our wedding planner, Jill Remy, built the plane making it (relatively) easy to fly. We have a running Google document filled with ideas, expenses, guest updates and much more and during the mayhem of difficult decision making, we set up Zoom meetings to talk it through. Our Zola site keeps our guests informed and our vendors have been understanding and flexible with every change we’ve made.
I did most of the planning for our elopement but it wouldn’t have come true without our photographer, Ryan Chard Smith, who not only archived our day but also led us through the mystical land of Big Sur. Our florist, Jo Birns with Wilder Flowers, drove our flowers all the way from Santa Cruz. And Lola Varma provided the most beautiful gown that I’ll never forget.
Intuition is a powerful source.
When it comes to deciding how to make a decision about your big day during these unprecedented times, I truly believe there is no right answer. There is only so much analyzing you can do. It’s hard to say what is reasonable or practical in the present day. You have to tune into your intuition and let it guide you.
Comparing yourself to others is a waste of precious time.
My dad once told me, “You can’t just have one piece of someone else’s life. It has to be an even trade. You acquire every element of their life in exchange for every element of yours. They get your family, your partner, your dogs, your talents, your body, your mind, your past, your future. And you get theirs. Now, think about that. Do you really want to give up all you have and all you are …in exchange for where you think you should be?” Without hesitation, I gave him a resounding “no.” I didn’t understand the saying: ‘comparison is the death of joy’ until that conversation.
We are all interpreting COVID-19 and its repercussions in different ways. I’ve seen people carry on with the weddings they envisioned wondering if I could have done the same. But no one circumstance is equal. We have to embrace the yin and yang of life, to accept that all light has a shadow; that ’should’ is dangerous, illogical, superficial; that everything evolves and is constantly in flux; for to truly live is to enjoy the peaks and embrace the valleys. Because the joy does not lie in haves and have nots. The joy lies in you.
Weigh the pros and cons.
When considering our options (proceed with the wedding, decrease our guest list, elope with immediate family or elope with the bare minimum), we really thought through all of the elements. Ultimately, we felt like there were too many hurdles with the former options. Our immediate family is spread out geographically and a wedding abundant with plexiglass and masks; absent of dancing and cake; bolstered by missing loved ones waving to us through a buffering screen just wasn’t appealing. In life, there is always a tradeoff. We know we are risking time: that confusing, changeable entity that is, now more than ever, completely out of our control. We are at peace with that and hopeful things will take a turn soon.
Throughout all of the postponements and decision making, we made sure to communicate with each other, our families and our guests. I took the reins and kept our guests informed on a regular basis via email. I also updated our wedding website and followed up via text and call as much as possible. There is a balance with protecting your time and making sure your guests stay informed. Support from our wedding planner and family members was key.
A lovely San Luis Obispo based artist created a complementary digital reschedule we included in both of our postponement announcements. It was downloadable and save-able which allowed guests to have an easily accessible reminder.
Your feelings matter.
At times, I attempted to put off my disappointment and sadness. I did that thing we all do: it could be worse. But, it could always be worse. Minimizing your own pain out of guilt and self judgment doesn’t make any of it better. I have since leaned into my emotions, let them simmer and watched them go. Doing that made space for joy, appreciation and creativity; allowing me to dream up a whole new vision.
Life is unpredictable and largely uncontrollable.
I’ve learned this lesson before, but it has been ingrained into my being. My biggest takeaway from this pandemic and all it has caused: nothing is certain. With that truth in mind, I dove into what I could control with love, while relinquishing what I couldn’t control with grace. That act of surrender brought so much peace.
Lean into gratitude.
I don’t have enough hands to count the things I’m grateful for, but in the moment of marrying the one I love, all I could think of was him. Getting married and having a wedding are wonderful events, but at the end of the day, it boils down to your union. In the midst of looking him in the eye as we committed the rest of our lives to one another, all I saw were the memories we’ve had and the future we will build. The answer and the beauty that surrounded it became so simple. And all of that combined looked just like gratitude.
Image by Ryan Chard Smith
A list of my favorite resources:
Jill and Co. Events: Highly recommend having a wedding planner or at least an appointed wedding manager!
Brides.com: Dive in for useful tips and tricks on everything weddings.
June Bug Weddings: They have a great Facebook community.
Reddit Forums: Proceed with caution.
Zola: We used their wedding website.
Bliss and Bone: Dreamy for wedding invitations.
Artifact Uprising: Beautiful paper holiday cards. If you’ve postponed, a cute idea is to make your greeting a reminder/announcement!