Sure, I’ll be honest. I began planning my wedding before I was even out of the womb. From the dress, to the walk down the aisle with my dad, to the entire town of guests, to my first dance, to the party favors– it was all orchestrated (in my head) like a master card commercial directed by Donna Reed. But then things changed.
Paul proposed two weeks before Christmas. Two months later, my father lost his year long battle to cancer. The timing sucked, and rightfully so, this devastating event left us all exhausted and grieving. Though I’d looked forward to planning a wedding all of my life, for months following my father’s death it felt difficult and awkward to even attempt to muster excitement about doing so. Conversely, I also didn’t want to put off my wedding simply because I wasn’t in the “planning mood.” Paul had seen me through the most difficult year of my life, and I was ready to officially begin our journey together.
So, with the exception of one or two contributions (Okay, okay, four. Four contributions), Paul planned our wedding.
Bear with me while I quickly set the scene for this arrangement:
My (now!) husband and I are, well, VERY different. He’s a pacific islander (born and raised in Tonga) and fully embodies the spirit of the islander. “Laid back” doesn’t even begin to describe it. In contrast, I’m a landlocked Montana girl who would plan my own surprise birthday party if people would let me. By that I mean I would actually LEAD guests in the birthday song if no one appeared to be making it happen. In every task we’re presented as a couple, from the significant to the nominal, he prefers to simply let things play out; to “see how it goes,” if you will. I lean towards a more commandant approach.
Given that information, it came as a surprise to some (hi, Mom!) that I was willing to give up control and hand the reins over to Paul. Sure, I fought back a grand mal seizure when my husband said we didn’t have a guest list, but it got easier. No limo? Who needs it?! We have a minivan. No flowers? No problem, we’re in Hawaii! No rehearsal? Okay. No band or DJ? I guess that’s fine. No party favors? WE DON’T NEED PARTY FAVORS!!! (Deep breath.)
So what did I do to contribute to the day? I bought two plane tickets to Hawaii (where the majority of my husband’s family lives), invited our closest friends and family, rented a big beach house that I hoped we could fill with anyone willing to come that far, and said a Hail Mary that at the end of the day, Paul and I would end up husband and wife.
Other than that, I really left it up to him. On the morning of our wedding, I woke up, showered, put on my make up, did my hair, slipped on my dress ($150 bucks, online), grabbed the bouquet my mom put together for me with flowers purchased the day before at a grocery store (contribution #2!) and said, “I’m set.”
(A quick side note: I LOVED my dress. But the online experience, albeit convenient, ended up being fairly lame. I was by myself when it arrived on a dreary November day, and of course I tried it on RIGHT THEN AND THERE, which resulted in my “say yes to the dress” moment happening while standing on my bed, bent over at the waist in an attempt to get a full view in my dresser mirror.)
At noon, a group of friends and family (who filled the beach house, by the way!), all walked down to the beach for some pre-wedding photos, which were snapped by an amateur (but very CHEAP!) photographer that I actually found on the internet about a month before the wedding (contribution #3!). When we’d gotten enough shots, we walked back to the house, had a beer or two to kill some extra time, and then took off in a caravan of cars to the church. (Paul and I led the way in our rented mini-van.)
I was fairly quiet on the way to the church as I pondered how this whole thing might come together. With the exception of my few contributions, I’d put the entire day in the hands of Paul and his very traditional Tongan family. To add to my brewing anxiety, Paul’s parents had never met my parents.
(Sidenote #2: The fact that our parents had never met is very strange, I know. But when “soon to be” in-laws are thousands of miles apart – both literally and culturally speaking – it’s difficult to set up a meeting time. Now, had I been in charge, they might have met at something called a rehearsal dinner…but I wasn’t in charge, remember? Needless to say, this added to my already brewing panic.)
Secretly, I wondered and worried if I’d be able to hide any disappointment I thought I was bound to feel by not having things go exactly as I’d always imagined. Already, I’d lost that special “moment” when the bride sees the groom for the first time by the casual way Paul and I had accidentally run in to each other in the hallway of the beach house just hours earlier. I’d confessed this concern to my mother the day before; I knew she had also struggled with the potential replacement of “our” traditions with Paul’s family traditions. Would I regret this later, I asked? Would I always wish I’d done it my way? She calmly grabbed my shoulders and whispered, “It will be glorious. It will be just as it should be.” She trusted him. I decided to follow suit.
When I walked into the church (for the second time in my life), I fought back tears as I took in the entire scene. There were flowers, and traditional Tongan tapa clothes lined the floor like royal rugs. The “pre-wedding” music (that, in a last ditch effort to garner control, I had thrown onto a CD) was piping through the sound system of the church (contribution #4!). There were bows on the end of the pews. The reception area was completely set up and more than 40 of my fiancé’s relatives were there to greet us warmly with welcoming smiles.
Before I knew it, Paul and I (and the couple standing up for us) were decked out in traditional Tongan wedding gear. I met our ring barer (surprise!) seconds before we walked down the aisle (who was basically the cutest kid EVER). I met our vocalist (surprise!), whom I later learned had been part of the Hawaiian Opera Theater. (There are no words to describe how good she was.) Then the music started, and it was show time.
Though it was a bittersweet moment without my father, my stepfather of twenty five years walked me down the aisle – and I was so happy to have him by my side. While we walked toward the front of the church, I thought to myself, “Holy shit. Paul pulled it off. He really did it. This is it.” My closest friends and family were surrounding me, the man of my dreams who’d made it all happen was waiting for me at the end of the aisle, and everything was just as it was supposed to have been. Paul and his family had given me the most wonderful wedding I could have ever imagined. THIS was the moment that mattered.
After we kissed, Bob Marley piped through the church stereo as guests congratulated us with flower leis. The reception followed the ceremony and included a full spread of Polynesian food, a cake that was completely made and decorated by my husband’s aunt, and young girls in traditional Tongan attire who danced in our honor. My quiet husband even stood up to brave a few teary words, which he delivered in both Tongan and English.
The wedding and reception were over by early evening. Because it all took place in the church, there was no alcohol, so by the end of the day many of us were ready to put up our feet and toss one back. The sixteen friends and family who were there when the day began joined us for a mai tai at a beach side bar at the hotel where Paul and I were staying for the night. The Hawaiian trio playing mellow island tunes at the bar offered us a dance while others – friends and strangers alike – looked on. Turns out I got my first dance, after all.
When our friends decided to head back to the beach house for the evening, I gave each of my girlfriends one of the leis I’d been showered with by Paul’s family immediately following the ceremony. Turns out I got my party favors, too.
On January 1st, my husband and I will celebrate our one year anniversary. When people ask me about my wedding day, I tell them that despite being unable to take credit for nearly all of it, there isn’t one thing that I would have changed.
So, thank you to my husband, Paul, for planning our wedding. It was nothing like I’d pictured it to be all of my life. It was better.
Photos by: Kim Sinton