Viv & Len


*Viv, Wedding Photographer & Len, Lawyer/Musician*

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

As we explore the ways that past, present, and future intersect this week, Vivian’s post feels like a perfect fit. Her story is a reminder that sometimes very big things do go wrong at weddings (like, say, having to spend the night in a hospital waiting room while your partner undergoes emergency surgery kind of big) and it can completely uproot us from all of our carefully laid plans. And when that happens, it’s perfectly okay to mourn for the wedding that wasn’t, while still being grateful for the wedding that was. Because either way, it’s yours. 

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

You can’t avoid a certain level of expectation when planning an event as iconic as your wedding day. Especially since I work in the wedding industry, Len and I had a very clear idea of how we wanted our wedding to go. With only four months to plan, we knew that to keep my sanity I needed to be realistic with my expectations and prioritize what was important to us. We envisioned a relaxed and fun celebration. We purposely chose locations that were naturally beautiful, saving us a lot of work. And I made sure I didn’t overwhelm myself with too many DIY details that I foresaw myself scrambling to finish at the last minute. I didn’t want to fixate on the little things and lose sight of what was most important: celebrating our love and commitment.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

Len and I decided to have a small, intimate wedding with close family and friends and extend the party for a long weekend. To facilitate this, we rented a large house in Sonoma (complete with a pool, hot tub, tennis court, and large backyard) so that we could host a relaxed wedding weekend. Our families would stay with us at the property for four days and we’d invite our friends to come hang out with us at the house. We had a packed schedule of events starting with a Friday night family dinner, a Saturday ceremony in the backyard, reception lunch at a restaurant in downtown Sonoma, dinner back at the home Saturday evening, and a Sunday catered brunch and BBQ. And after all the wedding fun, my husband and I planned an easy five-day honeymoon in Palm Springs for some well-deserved R&R.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

Well, as life would have it, things didn’t go as planned.

We made it through our morning ceremony and lunch reception without a hitch. It was a gorgeous sunny Sonoma day and Len and I had a wonderful time with our small group of guests. The ceremony was sweet and personal (both of our parents as well as Len’s niece shared words of wisdom, and my sister played guitar and officiated); the reception lunch was simple and elegant, just as we imagined; and the food was absolutely delicious. After lunch Len said he started feeling a little funny, but he chalked it up to residual wedding stress and pushed through a post-lunch photo session with our photographer. But when we returned to our rental house for an after-party dinner, Len started feeling worse.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

He attempted to mingle with our guests but had to excuse himself by the end of the night. Around one in the morning, his pain was so unbearable we decided to go to the local emergency room. When my husband was diagnosed with appendicitis at four on Sunday morning, my mind froze. Up until this point, we had accounted for all the important details for the wedding. We had a plan. But now we were thrown a curveball. All my expectations for a beautiful, fun, relaxing wedding weekend and honeymoon were replaced with a surreal mix of emotions.Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

At seven in the morning, we took an ambulance to the Santa Rosa Kaiser where we were told by the surgeons that Len would be third in line for surgery. It was Sunday and we were planning to have friends and family over at the house for a catered brunch and BBQ. Len insisted that I head back to the house and enjoy myself with our guests, but there was no way I was going to leave his side. (And my extremely caring friend and college roommate, Rachael, refused to leave my sleep-deprived side. She knew I needed a second, more functional brain while navigating the hospital that day.)

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

I sat in the waiting room in a daze. Maybe everything was going to be okay. Maybe he would be out of surgery by the early afternoon, and maybe he would bounce back and recover in time for our honeymoon on Tuesday. (Oh, how naïve I was.) I didn’t know what to do besides try to move forward according to our plans. It felt like it was too late to call the caterer and cancel everything. I alerted our guests and begged them to show up to eat our catered meal. (What were we going to do with all this food?) But as the day dragged on, it became apparent that his appendectomy wasn’t going to happen as quickly as the doctors predicted (in a hospital full of emergencies, an appendix removal is pretty low on the list of priority surgeries). Reality started to hit and we had to make decisions.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

Our Sunday BBQ was cancelled. Our Palm Springs honeymoon was cancelled. Len and I spent the rest of our stay in wine country at the hospital. My number one priority became making sure my husband was okay. (And he was/is.) When he was released from the hospital on Tuesday, I moved into autopilot to help him recover post-surgery, taking the week that should have been our honeymoon to nurse Len back to health.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

It wasn’t until I had to go back to work the following week that the sadness sunk in. Len and I had worked so hard to plan an enjoyable wedding weekend, and both of us have jobs where time off is difficult to come by. Our wedding celebration was cut short; and we didn’t get the relaxing vacation and honeymoon we were looking forward to. I felt shafted. I felt disappointed. I felt angry. I felt depressed. And then I felt sheepish and selfish for feeling so negative. Trying to keep a brave face, I told myself the same thing countless other people told me when they heard what happened, “What a story! At least he’s okay! You have your whole lifetime to plan a honeymoon!” And while these big picture statements rang true, on the inside I still felt like crap.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

I was tossed into a whirlwind and the dust hadn’t settled yet. Trying to process everything that happened was difficult. To pair such an emotional high immediately with a devastating low was overwhelming. My logical mind wanted me to feel okay, to be positive. I kept thinking about what everyone was trying to tell me. To see the lighter side of things. But I wasn’t ready yet. The more I tried to push away the negative thoughts, the worse I felt. I found myself invalidating my own emotions when I needed to just let them be. Because the fact of the matter was, I was barely married for six hours when the post-wedding bridal glow was overshadowed by a medical emergency, and two days of wedding activities, plus our honeymoon, were cancelled.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

I couldn’t help but think, “Why?” and other existential thoughts that arise when a circumstance is out of our hands. There was nothing we could have done before the wedding to plan for this. Yes, it could have been worse. It could always be worse. But that’s not a thought you want to think. I am thankful that his appendix waited until the day was over to give out. I am thankful that this turn of events brought both of our families closer together. I am thankful for all our friends that showed up and supported us by helping out in anyway they could. But it still messed up our original plans. Our wedding day will always be inextricably linked to my husband’s appendectomy. C’est la vie.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

As the weeks have passed since our wedding/appendix day and as Len recovers, the confusing emotions have slowly sorted themselves out. It’s easier to look back and separate the two events. Having beautiful wedding photos definitely helps jog my memories and awaken the warm fuzzy feelings I felt that day. I don’t see my husband in a hospital bed when I look at the wedding photos. Instead, I remember how Len and I shared special moments together all day long. And I remember how we were both overcome by feelings of love and gratitude in profound and powerful ways that we hadn’t expected. Because we really did have a wonderful wedding day. Just like we planned. And I married my perfect match. So I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Viv & Len | A Practical Wedding

The Info—Photography: Josh Gruetzmacher / Venue: Private Home / Saturday Lunch Reception: El Dorado Kitchen / Cake:  Soul Desire Bakery / Sunday Caterer: Soul Desire Bakery

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  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    Those are definitely some circumstances you can’t plan for, but the way you pulled together through them you surely started your marriage with a huge show of your love and commitment to each other, through the good and the bad. I’m glad you’re both ok now.

    An aunt and uncle in my family had a similar wedding story, where a medical emergency interferred with their wedding. My uncle was having a kidney stone (I think his first) and just barely made it through their ceremony before they had to rush together to the hospital.

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you! I really was a huge “marriage test” of sorts. But I know in the end, only good can come out of this. :o) And your aunt and uncle’s story is wild! I hope they are okay now! I’m just paranoid about my own appendix now…

  • http://safarimama.blog.com Manya

    A bit off subject, but I am a big fan of extended honeymoons. Brian and I didn’t really have a real “honeymoon” as such, right after our wedding. Instead, every year we have a long weekend of honeymoon-level extravagance somewhere special. We tell everybody it’s our honeymoon, and make sure to act like honeymooners too–smooching in the street and all. The first one was in Rome, this year it’s London, next year will probably be Dubrovnik. We live on the side of the world where these destinations aren’t SOOO crazy, but our honeymoons have become something that both of us really treasure and look forward to all year long. Long live HoneymoonS (plural!).

    • Jo

      What a wonderful idea!

    • Kat

      LOVE THIS! Our honeymoon plans became this major sticking point for us… we could not agree on where to go/what to do… it’s all sorted out now, but we also have lots of ideas for other trips/honeymoons which what the hell, lets have a honeymoon every year!

    • http://safarimama.blog.com Manya

      Actually, just to add to the fun of this, we have a coffee table with a display drawer inside divided into compartments. We call it the Honeymoon table because we’re filling each compartment with special souvenirs from each honeymoon (plus the trip we fell in love on and our engagement trip). Even the trip to the tchotchke-filled tourist traps has become a tradition that we love–because we love to pick out the perfect things for the table to add to our ticket stubs and found objects.

      • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

        What a wonderful way to build memories! :o)

    • http://byjacki.com Jacki

      What an awesome idea, Manya! I want to do this someday.

      Viv, I am so glad your husband is all right, and that you’ve been able to let yourself process what happened. Your wedding photos are beautiful and based on your words here I think you have the makings of a beautiful marriage, too :)

      • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

        Thank you! :o)

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      We’ve never taken a honeymoon and now at just over 3 years I fear it’s too late. But maybe we will do it anyways and even call it our honeymoon! You are inspiring me! :)

      • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

        Do it! Adventures with your husband are priceless. It’s never too late to “honeymoon”. :o)

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      I’m a fan of extended honeymoons too! Since we can’t take that much time off, my husband has been planning a bunch of little weekend getaways for the next few months. All I really want is just some alone time with him in a fun/relaxing setting, away from our everyday lives!

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA (who is now PW)

    The more I tried to push away the negative thoughts, the worse I felt. I found myself invalidating my own emotions when I needed to just let them be.

    Beautiful line. I imagine I would have gone through almost exactly the same stages you did, especially the, “Well, maybe this will be all cleared up by Tuesday” part!

    I am so glad that he’s okay, and I just want to say that the wedding looks really, really lovely!

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you! I’m glad he’s okay too. ;o)

  • Blair

    Viv-
    I am sorry to hear this happened at such a precious time. I guess that “in sickness and in health” thing decided to test you soonest!

    I had an unusual thought as I read your story. I really hope the caterers and vendors really worked with you once you had to start cancelling plans. It seems you had enough to deal with so I hope that the folks supporting the event were sensitive to the financial burden as much as the emotional and physical ones.

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      That’s what I kept telling the nurses and doctors… “in sickness and in health” isn’t a joke. ;o)

      Everyone involved, caterers, friends and family were all super understanding and supportive, which made everything a lot easier. Everyone pitched in with helping to clean up, return our rental chairs etc. Took a huge load off my shoulders. And I am so thankful. It was an outpouring of love and support and we are lucky to have all those people in our life.

  • Chalk

    Your story really resonated with me. I’m two weeks post-wedding, one week post-honeymoon, and although I didn’t face anything as dramatic as you did, I’m finding myself up against a lot of the same emotions you described here. I’m hoping a little more time will bring me to the same conclusion you came to!

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      I think with any large iconic event, especially your wedding, there is just so much pressure and emotion tied into the day. All the time leading up to it, it’s all you think about! And once it’s over, there’s this huge space in your brain where wedding plans used to be and it can be a little “shell-shocking” to figure out how to go back to non-wedding planning life. I think it just takes time to decompress from it all. Don’t fight the thoughts, just let them ride out. :o)

  • http://bettencourtchase.com Helen

    Wow! Well, I’m glad he’s okay, and your wedding was absolutely stunning. Congratulations, even if it didn’t work out exactly as you’d planned. :)

  • http://turningtoward.blogspot.com Kara H.

    I’m so glad your husband’s okay. Medical emergencies are hard- I know that feeling of “maybe he’ll be okay by Tuesday.” Because my FH has a chronic illness, we’ve spent a number of major milestones in the local ER- holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Plans get interrupted and rearranged or cancelled. I know in the back of my mind that a medical emergency could very well change our plans around our wedding. It’s tough when it’s something you don’t have much control over.

    I’m glad you are sorting through things and that you remember all of the wonderful parts of the day. Your photos are absolutely stunning. I hope the two of you get some time soon to celebrate together and do something honeymoon-esque.

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you Kara. There is a large element of having to let go, when it comes to plans, that for me (and I’m sure lots of other people) is hard. You plan and you plan, and after awhile, you just really can’t plan anymore because there is so much that IS out of your hands. That’s when you just have to have faith that whatever happens, will happen. And learning to roll with those punches is all you can do. In those moments, it helped me to focus on the good every now and then so I wouldn’t be forever drowning in the bad. I’m so grateful I had a friend videotape our ceremony. We watched that clip a bunch in the hospital and it was like a life raft of warm fuzzies that took us out of the hospital for a few moments. :o)

  • http://www.caseyandterrence.com casey

    As one of the guests at Viv and Len’s wedding and a long time reader of APW, I am so EXCITED that Viv shared their story here! Viv, Len, and their families (and vendors!) handled the situation with grace, and Viv’s right, the entire wedding day was a meaningful event for all those involved.

    I do think that everyone goes through a “regret” phase post wedding – mine was about how it was raining (boo hoo, poor us) – and the best way to get past it is to acknowledge the emotions, look at the fantastic photos, and remember all the parts that were good and happy and wonderful. And of course, as APW reminds us, to remember that your marriage is not defined by The Day. The Day should be a celebration of love, and Viv and Len certainly accomplished that. An annual honeymoon would be a great way to continue that celebration – of health, emotional strength, and love.

    YAY VIV AND LEN! :-)

    • Amanda L.

      “I do think that everyone goes through a “regret” phase post wedding” – THIS!!

      First, Viv, my condolences to you for the loss of the day/weekend you had planned. I cannot imagine how that feels, but know that grieving that loss is a very real thing.

      And Casey is 100% right, even if the day goes off EXACTLY as you had planned, like mine did, you still have regrets. Part of the WIC-induced craziness is that you want ALL THE THINGS. Or at least MOST OF THE THINGS. And really, you can only have a couple of the things, so there is sadness and regret there even when you had a gorgeously sunny day with all of your loved ones around and no one got sick. All of that to say, I’m glad you are now giving yourself the time and space to mourn that lost part, and still focusing on the good parts…

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you CASEY! I loved your wedding too! Rain or not, it was wonderful, fun and no amount of crazy weather was going to stop your celebrations. <3

      Part of my regret was not being able to spend as much time as I wanted with my guests, especially the ones from out of town, like you and T. I hope we'll all be able to hang out soon enough in the future… maybe another wine country trip out West? Len and I will also be on the East Coast this upcoming June/July, so hopefully we can see each other again. Miss you guys!

  • http://explainingitall.wordpress.com Clarissa

    Viv, I am so sorry that this happened to you when it did. My husband was in the throes of a major depressive episode during our wedding and honeymoon. And even though both still had wonderful moments, it became much more complicated and less enjoyable than both of us had anticipated because of what he was experiencing. I definitely went through periods where I felt robbed of the blissful bridal experience, times when I thought, “This is so unfair, why me?” It takes time to work through that stuff. It sounds to me like you are making peace with it. Best wishes that all continues to go well!

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      It’s funny how our brains work… like we feel bad but then we feel bad that we feel bad. I’m definitely learning that it takes time to process everything, the highs and the lows. There is a part of me that is impatient and I just want to “feel better” now! But I’m learning it doesn’t work that way, because I’m human. Thank you for sharing your experience too. Best wishes to you and your husband as well!

  • KB

    My automatic reaction to the phrase, “Well, it good of been a lot worse” has always been “Yeah, it could have been a lot better, too!” That’s awful that you had to go through that kind of stress on a day you were looking forward to – hopefully you will get to the point where it becomes a funny anecdote of the day as opposed to the overshadowing event.

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Yeah, I haven’t really figured out what to say in response when people say that to me. It’s just awkward and I understand people are trying to make me feel better. It was the worse when I had to go see the dentist on my first day back from my “honeymoon” and I had to tell these strangers what had happened. I almost cried at the dentist’s office because I felt like I had to put a brave face for them! Like yeah, it’s a sad/crazy story and how ARE other people supposed to respond. It was like I was trying to be positive so they wouldn’t “pity” me so much and make me feel even worse. It was all so confusing… Not the kind of state of mind I want to be in at the dentist of all places!

      But yes, I do have faith that as more time passes, it will be that funny story we share with the grandkids. :o)

  • Beth

    “To pair such an emotional high immediately with a devastating low was overwhelming”
    Intense is the word I use when people ask about our wedding. My grandfather died three days before. My whole family traveled from Mass to New York for our very DIT wedding. We knew when we left that he would not be there when we got back. We all said our goodbyes and left my grandmother in the care of her sister and tried to be happy and sad at the same time. I told myself that we had all known for months that this would probably be how it happened. That at least we could console each other. Being around loved ones was important. But still it was hard. Hard to feel everything at once. Hard to see my dad not really there on my wedding day because his thoughts were with his father. I let myself feel bad that his death and my wedding would always be tied together. We hadn’t planned on going on our honeymoon right after- good thing because we had a funeral to get to. I got a lot of practice introducing Jim as my new husband to second and third cousins, and old family friends and people that I hadn’t seen in years. I was glad then that I had that- my new husband by my side.
    Through all that though, we still had an amazing wedding, almost everything that we wanted. And it might not have been exactly how we imagined it but that was our wedding.

  • ellie

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    A similar experience happened to me– my husband and I could not get much time off from work for our wedding, so we planned a one-night stay in a lovely hotel. He had an allergic reaction to something, and we spent the night being reassured over the phone by urgent care nurses that we just had to wait it out and that it seemed a lot scarier than it actually was.

    A few months later we traveled cross country to a friends wedding. “This will be kind of like a honeymoon,” we thought. Alas, we got a phone call that night about a sick family member and spent the reception huddled off to the side, ignoring all of the friends we were seeing for the first time in 5 years, and trying to navigate the hospital world via cell phone.

    I love my husband more than anything. I’m immensely grateful that we navigated these things together and that we had each others support though them. I’m still a bit resentful that we haven’t been able to get away without some sort of crisis, and I feel a bit guilty for that resentment because I have so much to be grateful for. I try to be grateful instead for how many blessings we have in our day-to-day lives (and hope that our special occasion lives aren’t jinxed forever! :-)

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      I’m sorry to hear that you had two unfortunate experiences with your husband. There definitely is an element of resentment paired with the feeling of needing to be positive and move forward. I’m learning that the phrase “time heals” is so true. But I am also an impatient person so sometimes it feels like I’ll never feel better or feel as positive as I want to be about the whole thing. Even if you can getaway for just one evening, or even plan a nice dinner, having that special alone time with your husband will be great! I have faith that your and my special occasion lives aren’t jinxed forever! :o)

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    Reading your story and imagining what it might have been like to go through made me all teary several times throughout your post. I am so sorry that your wedding weekend and honeymoon were not the way you dreamed it would be. When you try to dream realistic dreams and set realistic expectations, it’s so hard when even those go unmet. I vote for a take-two honeymoon as soon as you can arrange it. Or a couple honeymoon weekendS or tripS…like Manya was saying. Maybe even host brunch in your home for local friends and family and share wedding photos then… Take the time to celebrate in your own time, as you can and as you feel inspired. And yes, it’s okay to mourn the wedding experience you didn’t have because that would have been a difficult experience, especially given the extreme distance between the emotional highs and lows.

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you Jenny! “When you try to dream realistic dreams and set realistic expectations, it’s so hard when even those go unmet.” That was the thing, I thought I was doing everything to make it easy to have just the wedding I imagined! Big life lesson learned. You can’t plan for everything, learn to let go and go with the flow. And trust where the flow is taking you. :o) Giving permission to myself to feel sad was key. I was worrying too much about what other people thought, which wasn’t fair to myself. I need to learn to cut myself some slack!

      We are planning some small weekend getaways in the meantime… It’s not the same as the official honeymoon, but the essence of a honeymoon (adventures and sweet time alone with my husband) is the same. :o)

  • http://www.KatesShortandSweets.com Kate

    oh, I know this is entirely *not* the point, but, oh, the dress! You, it, and all the photos are gorgeous. Congrats on getting married! (which really *is* the point)

    • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

      Thank you Kate! Props goes to my fabulous photographer Josh who I am forever grateful for capturing all these moments!

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  • H

    How long have you skip Jayakarta Restaurant in Berkeley?