Our Wedding Completely Fell Apart in the Best Way


We still hugged so hard that my dress ripped

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“You know, it’s no coincidence that we find ourselves here. While our backyard isn’t a destination for most weddings, it is for this one. That’s because this is where their story began. It’s a story that’s eight and a half years, two states, hundreds of miles, and now two rings in the making. And it’s all led back to here. It’s a story that began right where we now stand.”

Ask any happily engaged couple planning an intimate backyard wedding about how they envision their day. They probably wouldn’t say, “You know what I’d really love? Rain. And not just drizzling, like, a downpour. Unmanageable amounts of rain. Lots of mud everywhere. Also, wind would be great. And I would love it if it were unusually cold, despite being the middle of summer! Most of all, though, I’d definitely like it if the wind blew so hard, it would send a tree crashing through our tent, potentially nearly killing or severely injuring our beloved friends and family!”

I know I sure didn’t wish for these things. But they’re what I got. And somehow, the day was amazing.

Let’s rewind.

The week before our wedding, unbridled joy frolicked hand in hand with nearly unbearable stress, a confounding and exhausting combination of emotions that only a handmade wedding can give you. Despite the stress, countless unfinished projects, and a couple total failures, the week could not have been more perfect. My fiancé and I watched every day as the vision for our simple, intimate backyard wedding, which we’d had for years, started to become reality. We had always wanted a laid-back, low-maintenance but beautiful backyard wedding—barbecue food, good beer, great music, extraordinary love—and that was what we were on track to get in spades. Family drank cold beer and sat under the tent, marveling at the lights we’d all worked together to string up (using lots of determination and even more duct tape). Aunts stopped by with samples of the baked goods they had been eagerly whipping up. Toddlers danced and played together in the yard. We blasted music as we sung and sweat together as a family, working toward an increasingly daunting and fast-approaching celebration of the love Aaron and I had shared for eight years.

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Every day the temperature swung between 70 and 80 degrees while the sun beamed brightly. Every evening, we were greeted with a breathtaking sunset. It was exactly the kind of beautiful summer Michigan is known for. The kind of summer you’d be foolish not to celebrate an outdoor wedding in; the reason a backyard wedding at my childhood home would be foolish not to have. Despite weather so beautiful that it’d make Hawaii blush, the day before our wedding, we could no longer ignore the wedding day forecast: we were going to get rain.

The morning of June 27, I blinked my eyes open. When I crawled down the bed to the window, the rain was pelting the window with such ferocity I couldn’t even see outside. We had gotten our worst-case scenario: a torrential downpour.

That’s when I knew we were fucking doomed.

The ceremony was planned as an uncovered one, complete with a hanging backdrop my maid of honor and I had worked tirelessly to create. The downpour of rain on the roof of the tent was far too loud for a wedding ceremony to be heard underneath it, and since the safety of the tent was our plan B, we were out of luck. I lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. There was so much to be done to fix this, I had no idea where to begin. Despite how proud I’d been that I had held it together through it all, I was overcome with anxiety and had a classic Heidi Uhlman panic attack. I wanted so badly to walk away from everything.

When I finally summoned the courage to walk outside, however, I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw everyone in the yard. Family and friends bustled about, making phone calls, hanging tarps, reorganizing tables, and moving the dance floor away from the rain; they were even making creative use of a stack of photos I’d brought but never planned anything with. My brothers were on their way to gather breakfast from Coney Island while my mom reheated leftover soup for everyone else, and my maid of honor organized flowers on every table that she’d cut from her own backyard that morning at 6 a.m. Every single person was soaked through every layer of clothing they had on, without a dry hair on their head. Even though the wind was furiously blowing, the air was cold, and the rain was pouring, there was nothing but warmth and love under that tent.

Ten minutes before the ceremony, after our emotional first look (which sucked away every drop of anxiety in my veins) and our group photos, we checked the forecast. For the next thirty minutes, the drizzle was going to cease, and for those thirty minutes only, we were going to be free from rain. But by 5 o’clock, it was going to begin again, and was not predicted to stop. Our outdoor dream ceremony was going to happen, just as we’d planned it.

Chairs were toweled off and guests pooled into our humble backyard. The next twenty minutes of our lives were transcendent. Aaron and I, surrounded by sixty of our closest friends and family, held one another’s hands and poured our hearts out, choosing readings from some of our favorites: What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Good-bye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, and the song “So Many People” by Stephen Sondheim (I made it almost all the way to the end of that one without crying). Our officiant was my little brother, who led us through his beautiful, rowdy, hilarious, and moving ceremony. We shared our handwritten vows. As we walked back down the aisle to the front yard, our parents, siblings, and every bridal party member in the processional followed us down, and one by one, surrounded us in a giant group hug, everyone laughing and crying tears of joy. We hugged so hard, my dress ripped a little.

It was the happiest moment of my life.

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As dinner ended and speeches were set to begin, along came a massive gust of wind, shaking the tent—and with a crash, a tree snapped at its base and its massive branch came piercing through the roof of the tent, straight to the table below. The tent sagged to the side, weighed down by the mighty tree. Without hesitation, guests rolled up their sleeves, came to the side of the tree, and heaved the tree out of the tent and into the woods. Everyone burst into cheers and applause.

My fear of everyone’s judgments was quickly overruled by overwhelming relief: Everyone was all right and no one was injured. Had the wind blown a little harder or the rain fallen a different direction, that tree could have fallen in just the wrong way, and someone could have been seriously hurt. My brother grabbed the mic and said, “Hey, it’s a woodland-themed wedding. What did we expect?” My uncle shouted, “No one worry, the butter tarts are safe!” “Hey, trees gotta dance, too!” another person shouted, inciting raucous laughter from everyone in attendance.

And just like that, complete strangers embraced togetherness. No one even gave a shit about the tree.

The rain, the oddness, and perhaps the danger of it all, brought everyone together in ways I could not have imagined. Sure, the sign I’d made directing folks where to park had blown over in the storm. Vases had blown sideways, sending water all over the tables. Meticulously coiffed hair had blown out in the wind. I had only painted half my nails. The caterers forgot to bring water for the guests. And sure, had that tree fallen a little harder or a little faster, our dear Eric Rinker might have spent the rest of our wedding in the hospital (*cringe*). But despite all the negative chaos, none of it ended up mattering one bit.

Every soul there beamed with joy. As our officiant, my brother wrote and performed the most moving ceremony I’d ever witnessed, that elicited as many tears as it did laughs (which is no easy task—as a wedding photographer, I have seen many ceremonies). By the reception, friends and family who had arrived tucked awkwardly into suits and dresses threw their cares into the wind, tossing their neckties onto the tables, donning oversized hoodies over their dresses, and cuddling up in blankets. We yanked branches off the fallen tree and danced with them on the dance floor. Friends hashtagged photos with #diyskylight. The speakers nearly blew out during our circle pit to Andrew W.K.’s “Party Hard.” Bridesmaids snuck extra wine bottles into their sweatshirts. Friends who had joked about bringing umbrella hats in case of rain actually brought them, inspiring my brother and me to bust out all the ridiculous hats we own. Folks slow-danced in the rain to Notorious B.I.G. and ran barefoot through the puddles. Guests who’d entered as complete strangers exchanged friend requests, phone numbers, and promises to visit when they’re in from out of state. Some family members even squashed longstanding beef. Everyone hugged and cried and sang and danced, and celebrated the extraordinary love Aaron and I have for one another. Two families became one. And Aaron and I were again reminded what incredibly lucky individuals we are.

Love can do all of this.

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For weeks following our wedding, my eyes would well with tears just thinking about how incredible our wedding day was. We received message after message from friends and family who longed to go back to that day, who shared how welcomed and at-home they’d felt, how it was one of the most loving celebrations they’d ever witnessed.

A wedding free of convention and comfort and cliché isn’t something that should be feared. It should be embraced.

For me, a wedding photographer, the unpredictability, togetherness, and sheer beauty of our wedding day ended up shaping how I view my couples, their weddings, and my business: the importance of preparedness, the importance of pure, raw moments, a thankfulness for the trust my clients place in me, and it made me so grateful for my own photographer, Heather. And mostly, the abandonment of the idea of a “perfect” wedding. Beautiful isn’t a centerpiece you place on a table, and it surely isn’t that DIY project you spent so much time on. I promise you: beautiful is what happens. Embrace what happens, whatever that is, and I promise you, your day will be beyond perfect.

Heidi Uhlman

Heidi Uhlman is a wedding photographer and dog mom who lives in Chicago. When she’s not taking pictures of rad folks in love, she’s cuddling with her dingo Satellite and playing Smash Bros. with her husband (she mains with Lucas).

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  • Bethany

    My outdoor wedding is just less than 3 weeks away and I’ve been so nervous about the weather. Will it rain? Will it be unbearably hot? Your wedding sounds so beautiful, and definitely one people will talk about FOREVER in a good way. I can only hope our day is half as magical as your’s sounds, no matter how the weather turns out!

    • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

      We had to move our ceremony into our tent due to rain, and I ended up not caring one whit. Sure, it would’ve been nice to get the lovely outdoor pics with the lake in the background, but I had a come-to-Jesus moment with myself that the weather was the sole thing I couldn’t have any influence over.

      I hope your day is lovely!

  • Lorraine

    Girl, NO ONE will ever forget your wedding.

  • jordoncloud

    As someone who had a completely rained out outdoor wedding just last week, I’m still having difficulty accepting the fact that my dress was completely mudded through, the venue wasn’t used for what it had to offer, and all of my guests were visibly cold. Everything that the OP described was true — everyone rallied together to make it work and it was a truly memorable and “perfect” wedding, all things considered.

    For some reason the things that are bothering me most are the things that I know matter the least. I look at the photos on this post and I see some sun and no rain. I don’t think I’m going to get that at all, and my hair was completely flat by the end of the night. I hope I feel better once I see the photos, but I know how dark the day was, so I am expecting the complete opposite of what I planned for. I know my photographer will surprise me with something beautiful because she is very talented but I’m pretty sad that the sun never came out on the brightest day of my life.

    Hopefully I will feel as optimistic as the OP soon, because again it was a truly love filled day — but I’m still sort of reeling about the rain.

    • Danielle

      Sorry, girl.

      Hey, let yourself feel some sorrow and loss. The OP is probably writing about her wedding months or maybe even years after it happened. This JUST happened for you, it’s normal to feel some disappointment and sadness. Acceptance might come after awhile, but it’s ok to feel bad first.

    • Heidi Uhlman Ray

      GIRL! OP here. Wanted to come in and drop a couple things for ya.

      I can’t even tell you about how bad this day felt at times when it was happening. Even though it was June 27th 2015, it was so fucking cold, I remember the guests seated by the edge of the tent getting wet, wrapped in windbreakers, I remember seeing vases blowing over on tables, soaking everything, probably people’s dinner and probably some of their things, I remember the food being cold because the wind was blowing out the flames under the burners. I had to take a Xanax when the tree crashed, and I was pretty proud of myself for getting through the day at that point without having to take one. Thinking about all that STILL MAKES ME CRINGE. But you’d better believe, it’s so much better now. You’re able to look at things through a broader scope when some time passes.

      It’s okay not to feel okay right away. It is 100% okay.

      I’ll tell ya, I didn’t feel totally great about our wedding until our photographer sent us the pictures. They felt warmer and happier and less stressful than I remember feeling at the time. And the photos may look sunny, but the day was overcast af – she definitely worked some temperature magic in Lightroom; if you’d like to see how grey it really was that day, our videographer got that in spades: http://clarkmotionpictureco.com/heidi-aaron/ I do hope your photographer did a great job for you! If it would make you feel better, you should totally check out a larger gallery: WAY LESS GLAMOROUS than the post-wedding pictures posted here ;) http://heidiuhlman.pixieset.com/ourwedding/ I would love to see your pictures when you get them back! <3

  • Heather

    AMAZING!!! Who’s cutting onions in here??? sniff sniff.

  • Gaby

    I’m less than three weeks away from my wedding as well and this was perfectly timed for me. Every time I get anxious about the big day I remember this exact sentiment and how joyful every wedding I’ve ever gone to has felt. I think the pure love and excitement people have for the couple makes weddings slightly magical no matter what events unfold.

    • idkmybffjill

      I’m on the same timeframe (Are you the 15th? Wedding twins?) and SAME. I might just bookmark to re-read anytime I get a little (unfounded) nagging feeling.

      • Gaby

        Yes, twins! Hooray fall weddings!! “Touchdowntown Abbey” is also our twin. AND I need to let you know that I used to quote the commercial your username is from all the time with my high school bff. But, more seriously, reminding myself of that wedding magic has helped me feel more excited than nervous after having a full week of bad sleep because I kept dreaming up worst-case wedding day scenarios. I might also bookmark this.

        • idkmybffjill

          Ahhh! I love it. Same. Definitely the reminder I needed too.

  • Meg

    this was a page turner! That just shows how much love there was that you all overcame what could have been a disaster!

  • clairekfromtheuk

    No, *you’re* crying

  • laurynap

    this was B E A U T I F U L. brought be close to tears! It’s the memorable, unique moments that stand out in retrospect and not the cookie cutter details.

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  • Ella

    i love this article so much it hurts. reminds me of the wedding scene in the movie “about time,” which incidentally was so hysterical and joyful it almost made my heart explode.

  • MissCosmopilite

    A week before my wedding and everything feels like it’s falling apart – this is what I needed to read. Thank you Heidi.
    (and your dress is just like mine! <3 )