This week, we wanted to explore a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: how we navigate weddings, and our relationships, when our health interferes. I think this topic is profoundly important, not just because loving our partners in “illness and health” is such a huge part of our lives together. I think this topic is important because there are so many ways that life can deliver hard and unexpected blows, and catching each other when we fall is what marriage is all about. So for me, this topic is hard, but hopeful. We’re starting this week with Kristin & Laura, whose wedding night ended in an emergency hospitalization, and who have so much to teach us. (And, an update, these days Kristin & Laura have landed on their feet and are doing ok.)
We had a two year long engagement. While this seemed a bit crazy to many of those around us, it made sense to us because A) I was finishing my graduate degree during the first year, B) I was converting to Judaism prior to the wedding and wanted to give that process the deep thought it deserved, and C) we were planning a Maryland wedding from New Orleans.
We are both from Maryland, so every trip home for the holidays became a wedding planning weekend. In late August of 2010, I turned in my final paper for my MBA, and Laura and I flew to a friend’s wedding. On the way, I got sick. So sick, I missed the wedding. So sick, we called an ambulance. So sick, I was admitted to another hospital once I got out of that one.
We now know this was the first episode of a rare disorder called Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. It struck again in October, leaving me in the hospital for eight days. Then again on Christmas day on a family trip to France sealing the fate of my diagnosis. Despite the team of doctors I put together, all of my research, and the new medications I tried, I continued to have episodes of CVS, and the breaks between getting sick got shorter. I already had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so it felt like when I wasn’t sick with one, I was sick with the other.
I had felt so zen about wedding planning in large part thanks to APW. I was reading APW before getting engaged, and it was like Meg had warned me about and taught me how to deal with any wedding dilemma headed my way. But the last month was hard. First, our photographer bailed on us… then city hall changed our civil ceremony day… then they changed it again… Meanwhile, all the normal problems were also happening. Friends we were counting on to fill roles bailed at the last minute. Guests made all of the RSVP mistakes that drive sane brides crazy. And I was so sick… and now so stressed… and then sick some more.
One day Laura came home during her lunch break and I dictated what wedding stuff had to happen that day while I laid in bed and she called vendors. I wished I hadn’t taken everything on myself because now it was nearly impossible to pass on to anyone else to do. If I planned the wedding again while being chronically ill, I would have done it in such a way that someone else could pick up where I left off seamlessly—even if that meant more notes and more work. Mostly though, I tried not to worry that I would be sick at our wedding or on our honeymoon despite two of my triggers being “positive anxiety” and traveling.
Our wedding day was the most joyous day I’ve had in a long time… followed by the sickest I have been since being diagnosed with CVS. Kelly Prizel, our amazing photographer and APW sponsor, saved the day by swooping in at the last minute of planning. We loved spending the weekend with her and her wife. One of my favorite moments was when we were waiting for the judge for our civil ceremony, and Kelly strongly suggested that everyone give us a few minutes alone together. We were so thankful for Kelly in that moment.
One of my favorite details from the wedding were the balls of paper flowers hanging from the ceiling over the dance floor crafted by me, my dad, and mostly my amazing mother. The idea for this was inspired by stories of my mom’s fabric wedding flowers, handmade by her and my late grandfather.
The handpicked dessert, beer and paper stuff were nice, but it wasn’t what mattered. What mattered, what I recommend highly to the wedding undergrads, is this: built in alone time together. The morning of our wedding was just the two of us, and I’m so glad I insisted on wedding sex just in case we were too drunk or too tired later. After group pictures and couple shots but before guests arrived, we took time to reconnect and recenter ourselves alone together. And, after the ceremony we followed the Jewish practice of yiccud (fifteen minutes alone as newlyweds). These breaks ended up being some of my favorite, most emotional moments of the day.
The morning of our wedding, time seemed to slip quickly through my fingers. I felt a bit rushed and a little crazed. Then, guests started to arrive and finally I got my wedding zen back. I was beaming and nothing could touch my happiness and joy. Not even when I went to take my first bite of our carefully selected food and felt the sudden rush of symptoms that meant only one thing—CVS! Now! Bathroom! I missed the rest of the cocktail hour and all of dinner, while my mother and wife held my hair back and sat with me while I waited for my meds to kick in.
Soon, our closest friends and family surrounded us for the Ketubah signing. And, magically I was beaming again, like nothing ever happened. Our Rabbi helped us slash our long ceremony down to about twenty minutes. Someone ran and told the caterer we needed two chairs under the huppah. My closest and oldest friends helped me out of my heels and into my converse sneakers (intended for dancing), and my new sister in law tied her shawl around me to cover the back of my dress which was completely unbuttoned.
And, then I went outside and saw the glowing huppah in the garden and heard Led Zepplin’s Thank You start and held my bouquet, arm and arm with my parents… and I was a bride and CVS felt so far away. When we walked in, our guests spontaneously cheered us. The words that were said were the heart of our ceremony, and the readings and extra words weren’t missed.
Laura cried as she felt the gritty emotion of the wedding. I, on the other hand, shed a little happy tear but mostly felt a kind of inexpressible joy that seemed so normal and so extraordinary at the same time.
The party was everything I hoped for and I was just so happy I got to show up for it.
I sucked in the moment for as long as I could, and about 15 minutes before it ended, I knew I couldn’t stay any longer. The respite from CVS was over.
I told Laura to stay and enjoy it, and drink a beer for me at the after party. Then, I hurried back to my hotel room to try to stop the episode. At 2 am, I knew I was in a fight I couldn’t win, and told my parents to call an ambulance. Laura was told, and rushed to the room, ripped off her wedding dress, and got ready to jump in the ambulance with me. My last memory of our wedding night was getting an IV while my wife told the EMTs it was our wedding day and pointed at her updo as proof. A couple days later and I was still in the hospital and we cancelled our honeymoon. That should have been as bad as it got. Then, it became clear I was still sick—too sick to travel back home… or anywhere… indefinitely.
During our first week of marriage, we should have been lying on a beach in Maui. Instead, we decided at the hospital that we couldn’t follow through on our plans to move to the Rockies, our great big out west adventure. We had to move home immediately until this illness was under control. I couldn’t even return to New Orleans to say goodbye to the life we made there. After a week of nearly daily CVS episodes and many tears, she left to pack up our lives alone. We whispered through our tears about the APW couples who had lost a child, or had a partner leave for war, and tried to count our blessings. Again, I credited my sanity in part to APW.
At the end of that hard first week of marriage where our life plans were turned upside down by my illness, we both realized that while we thought we wanted a wedding, really, we needed a wedding. If we had to be apart for a while, if I had to be so sick, if we had to give up some of our hopes and plans, at least we were married and a whole support system of friends and family was waiting here to catch us. I knew Laura was going to be my rock and thoughts of whether I could or should drag her through this didn’t apply anymore. Promises were made on May 21, 2011 to sustain us through just such a challenge, and I believe we are stronger for it.
Photos by: Kelly Prizel (APW Sponsor)