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