When Our Coordinator Ended Up in the Hospital, Our Friends and Family Helped Pull Off Our Wedding

Where our vision of true hospitality became reality

Genevieve & Mike

For almost eight years, Mike and I didn’t really think we needed to get married. We had our cats, our little Victorian apartment in San Francisco, and years of solid couple-y goodness. We began, though, to feel that not only had we become each other’s family, but our families and circles of friends had become one community as well. If not for us, then, we wanted to have a wedding for them: to show them how much they mean to us, and how they make our love possible.

We got engaged in our dew-dampened backyard while Mike played guitar and sang Beyoncé’s “Halo.” For the next six months, we carefully put together our version of the ideal Northern California wedding experience: a stay in a quirky western Sonoma town, an extensive website with suggestions for winery visits and beer tastings in the rolling golden hills, the Pacific and redwoods nearby, a welcome party for all guests in a barn on the coast with home brew and tacos, and a big, casual, delicious wedding at an inn owned by friends. We wanted our people to be swept along on a lavender-scented cloud, warmed by the Sonoma sun, and nourished by beautiful food and drink. We wanted to open our hearts and pull everyone inside, to make their time with us easy and fun and perfect.

As a lover of both projects and parties, I dug in. I baked our wedding cakes, we brewed beer, I printed up temporary tattoos as a nod to Mike’s ink, and we harvested succulents from our garden to use as escort cards. We decided to serve cocktail hour drinks to our guests ourselves as a gesture of hospitality, to say, this is for you. It is about us, inevitably, of course, but it is also for you, and you, and you.

I was prepared for meh weather, a flaky vendor, or things running behind schedule. But then dear friends and family members wound up unable to make it, some at the last minute. A few days before flying to California, my parents had to put our family dog down. And then, four days before the wedding, a close friend who was also our coordinator wound up in the hospital with a very serious illness. We were worried sick, and through our haze of concern we realized we needed a backup plan, stat: for the flowers she was to arrange, the cakes she was to decorate, the timeline she was to handle. I woke up each night to scrawl messy plans in my notebook, obsessively referring to my spreadsheets, my mind ticking through mental to-do lists as I chatted with loved ones.

The day before the wedding we were bringing the welcome party supplies to that perfect rustic coastal barn when Mike got stung on the neck by a bee. We laughed at first, because of course–what else would go wrong but the groom going into anaphylactic shock? While we waited for the Benadryl to kick in, I admitted defeat. With Mike’s (non-anaphylactic) encouragement, I sent an email to all our friends and family: help. We need someone to make bouquets and boutonnières. To assemble the cakes. To emcee. To keep me sane. It felt like failure: the host who gets in over her head and drags others down with her into frenzy. Because, I’ll admit, I was super freaking frienzied.

Almost as soon as I hit send, people emailed back, offering support. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was. And a relief. Among them, hallelujah, was a flower expert: my cousin’s husband, in another life a wedding planner to the stars. OKAY THEN. The help kept rolling in: cakes were stacked and decorated beautifully, emceeing duties were handled charmingly, and the coordinator role was filled by a friend who arrived, at a run, waving a clipboard and shouting that everything was going to be fine.

Did we all sleep well? Not really (though, honestly, not all for the same reasons). Did some folks miss their winery tastings, walks along the ocean, catch-up sessions with old friends? Probably. And even though I felt I had let our guests down somehow, I also, reluctantly, let them open up my heart and step inside, in a way that had most certainly not been part of the plan.

On our wedding day, our vision of true hospitality—of caring for our people and showering them with love—became reality. But first our friends and family showed up, a few here and there, bustling around the venue, fetching sandwiches for us, putting finishing touches on the gold oyster-shell salt cellars and table numbers. Our sick friend showed up, freshly sprung from the hospital, and we sobbed in the hotel lobby.

Guests arrived and were handed Sloe Gin Snow Cones, admired the view of the golden hills, and sat themselves down on hay bales as the scent of lavender drifted from the garden. When it was time, our coordinator put down her clipboard, picked up her violin for the processional, and played the song she had chosen, which turned out to be our first dance song. Mike and I walked out hand in hand, because after almost nine years of partnership, we were in this together.

We chose to host the ceremony ourselves, to conduct it with an emphasis on the crucial role of our loved ones in our relationship. We greeted them from beneath a sycamore arbor built by Mike’s best friend and festooned with flowers farmer friends had grown. We asked them to blow us a kiss, and they did, big smackers all. They warmed our rings. Mike played “Halo” on guitar, and the violin sang the melody. Mike’s father and I did our handshake after his reading, popping it, locking it, and exploding it at the altar. We all sang a Rod Stewart song, led by my maid of honor. We laughed, a lot.

My father read from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” and for the first time in my life I saw him cry. Marriage, he told us, is not for safety, but for adventure. Say only to one another:

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law:
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Most folks cried then. In a brief moment of clarity in the emotional haze, I told everyone to shake it off. My brother read a John Steinbeck passage and spoke of growth and change, and Mike and I said our vows. Then my brother led community vows, in which all our people held up their palms to us, said simple and true words, and married us, together. When we walked back down the aisle, they tossed handfuls of lavender on us, and on themselves, and it smelled heavenly.

Before the wedding, I couldn’t imagine that the ceremony would be my favorite part of the day. Important, of course, but not as fun as oysters and wine and dancing. And yet, despite the bluegrass band that had people twirling during cocktail hour, and the sparklers that flickered and fogged around us during our first dance, and the VW bus photobooth that was packed all night, and the epic dance party that went on for hours, and all the hugs and kisses and kind words and squeezed hands and cheeks sore from laughing, the ceremony managed to top it all. Because even though we wanted to do everything for them, and it was humbling to realize we couldn’t, our people married us, and that felt like it was forever.


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  • Sara

    I am trying very hard not to cry, so I’ll mention that I really love the VW photobooth. And that everything about this is gorgeous – the community, the imagery, your writing, the photos and your dress (and your coordinator/violinist dress. I LOVE that)!

  • emmers

    oh man, definitely getting watery reading this one! your writing is beautiful, and I love the part about your dad and the reading he chose and all of your community coming together. Beautiful!

  • HOLY MOLY that was fantastic. I’m so happy your people showed up for you (of course they did) and that your wedding day was so stunnerfic and lovely. Happy trails, comerados.

    • Gen

      That might be my new favorite marriage blessing :)

  • Ingrid

    This is simply wonderful; it totally brought me back to the way I felt loved and supported on my wedding day. I hit a wall a couple weeks before my wedding in the midst of working 80 hour weeks on top of wedding planning, and in my haze of panicky sobs I reached out in a desperate 4AM email to my friends and family. Boy did they deliver! I felt very similarly about our wedding being a celebration of everyone who loved and supported us rather than it being centered on us. Congratulations!

  • Love the VW van turns into a photo booth! Got teary eyed after reading this one.

  • Lisa

    Holy moly, cry warning necessary. I was doing ok until I reached this line, “Mike and I walked out hand in hand, because after almost nine years of partnership, we were in this together.”

    This is so beautifully written, and I am so moved by your love of each other and your community. Thank you for sharing your wedding with us.

  • Amanda

    This, to me, is everything a wedding is meant to be. Not neccessarily these specific details (even though, let’s be real about this for a moment, these specific details are SO beautiful) but the way the day was constructed with specific intention around your community. To celebrate them and how they have brought you both to this very day and how they will help to move you even further along this path you’ve set out on. Also, that bit about marriage not being for safety but for adventure…no truer words have ever been spoken.

  • Kristi

    omg – serious tears! as a former bride and current wedding coordinator – THIS is why i love weddings and community and love and all the things that come along with it! so beautiful and perfect!

  • Allison

    I so wish I was at this wedding. It looked chock full of fun and love. And that photo booth idea is perfection!

  • Kelly

    Well this is just THE. BEST. This, to me, is everything that is wonderful about weddings, and that first paragraph sounds like it came right out of my brain. Beautiful words and beautiful photos!

  • Stephanie

    Great piece! Also, we had that Whitman excerpt at our wedding too, and it inspired our 5-week-long, cross-country, honeymoon road trip immediately after! It’s a beautiful sentiment: marriage is for adventure, and your shared community comes together at the wedding to start you off right on that adventure, giving some lift to your wings with their presence and their help. And you know, when I’m a guest I never mind missing out on wine tastings to lend an assist. I think people like to be involved

    • Gen

      I’m so glad to hear that! I had told my dad that Whitman would be a good fit for us, but little did I know, my dad is on a first-name basis with Walt, and had no trouble making his selection. I hadn’t thought how it would feel for a parent to symbolically send their child on the open road, though – oof! Lots of feels.

  • HannahESmith

    This is beautiful. I also put Halo on in the background while reading your entire amazing story. I love stories like this. Ones where even when everything goes wrong, it will be okay. In fact, the wedding you had sounds in many ways better than the one you originally planned.

    I wish more people would be open to the idea of asking for people for help (without expectation of course). I knew early on I couldn’t do our wedding alone. We hired some professionals to help, but our friends and family came through for us in ways big and small. After the toasts my husband and I got up to speak and requested anyone who helped with the wedding stand so we could thank them. Around of a third of our guests were standing. For me, it made our wedding more meaningful. People want to help.

    (And a small note of advice to those who ask for help, make sure to be able to give up control and be open to whatever you receive. The results might be better than you imagined.)

  • misha625

    Two things:
    1. Thank you so much for men

    • Gen

      Yes, spreading the Whitman wedding love! And hoorah for accepting help! I’m probably just reiterating my piece above, but: I’m still feeling a little abashed at how above and beyond everyone went, but those are the exact people that feel like the experience was so special, because they were invested in it. And now they’re invested in our marriage, which is about as big a gift as we could hope for.

  • Emma Klues

    Totally surface level comment but THAT DRESS! So gorgeous.

  • Kirstin K

    I love all of this and reminds me of what I want to create at my own wedding. I enjoyed the details of your ceremony but would love to hear more about the community vows you used if you are willing to share.

    • Gen

      Our ceremony was nontraditional in many ways (we ran it ourselves, for example), but we wanted to say some traditional vows in additional to our personal vows, since those words have so much historical power. My brother served as officiant and gave a sort of secular homily, then led us in the “Do you take…” business, THEN the community vows. Basically whatever the officiant would normally say, everyone said together. Something like: “With the power of love and joy we will all together make the pronouncement of marriage. Please hold up your hands and face your palms toward the couple. On the count of 3, please join me in pronouncing Mike and Genevieve husband and wife.” It was crazy magical.

      • Kirstin K

        Wow that is wonderful. I’ve been trying to think of how to include all of our people in our ceremony since the real reason for us to have a wedding is to publicly share our vows of commitment with our friends and family and to have them show their support. I’ve thought about doing a ring warming as well but I really like the idea of everyone as a group saying the pronouncement of marriage. Thanks for sharing!

        • Gen

          I can’t recommend it enough. (And because I love our photos, I’m sharing another.) On the palms-up thing: my husband is a hippie (could you tell from the ponytail?) and is into reiki, so the facing palms were his idea. We didn’t mention that in the ceremony, and the many Catholic members of our family seemed to think it was a religious thing. So everyone was happy! We loved the ringwarming too – we were able to do it later with friends and family who couldn’t make it, and it enabled them to participate after the fact.