What it's like to have to cancel your wedding because of coronavirus
Many brides claim that the month leading up to your wedding is the most stressful. But when my fiancé, Jeremy, and I hit the one-month countdown to our April 10th, 2020, wedding date, I was basking in bride-to-be bliss: Menus were printed, flower arrangements were chosen, and I was still grinning and recovering after my bachelorette party with 19 of my friends. There was nothing left to do but get married—to finally celebrate with family and friends at the traditional wedding we’ve always imagined in New York’s Hudson Valley. Yet even though Jeremy and I spent over a year planning our nuptials, coronavirus was not something we could have ever prepared for. Nor was canceling my wedding.
As someone who always dreamed of her wedding day, I was bursting with excitement at the idea of finally marrying my person in less than a month—but suddenly, my joyful mental images of drinking mimosas with my bridesmaids and reciting vows in my gown were replaced with real, scary snapshots of empty supermarket aisles and civilians in face masks. My excitement turned to guilt (was I allowed to be happy while others were getting sick?) and fear (how bad was this pandemic going to get?).
I couldn’t concentrate during the day or sleep at night. The coronavirus was an ominous, unknown force that felt so much bigger than me, taking away my control as I put the finishing touches on my biggest life milestone to date.
First came the announcement from the governor of New York implementing a half-capacity rule at venues to slow the spread of the virus, and I breathed a sigh of relief; our 150-person guest list was going to be okay. A day later, gatherings were restricted to 50 people. Panicked and grabbing at straws, I asked Jeremy a tough question: Should we cut our list of already-invited loved ones by a third to meet the requirements?
On one hand, April 10th was the date embossed on half of our engagement gifts. It felt permanently ours. But I couldn’t help but think: What if one of our guests unknowingly brought the virus to the wedding and infected others? I thought of Jeremy’s grandparents in their 80’s, my family friend with diabetes, and other vulnerable loved ones. The possibility of someone being affected by our decision came with a fear-and-guilt pill that neither of us could swallow.
Then, just 24 days before our nuptials, our venue called and made the decision for us: We’d have to reschedule our entire wedding.
I have to admit, there was some relief in not having to wonder about the unknown anymore. But I also felt so defeated that our dreams of an April 10th wedding date were officially coming to an end. Jeremy and I sat hunched over as we listened to the venue coordinator explain that they were temporarily shutting down for the safety of their staff and guests because the virus was spreading at an alarming rate in New York. They asked us if we wanted to reschedule for Monday or Thursday in the fall because that’s all that they had available.
I could see Jeremy’s heart break. Though he typically gets quiet when he’s sad, he spoke up and reminded me, “We’ll figure this out.” I couldn’t see that possibility yet. I was so tired of crying that I started laughing—because this wasn’t actually happening. A middle-of-the-week wedding would be extremely difficult for people to attend. And sure, fall weddings are nice, but I had had my heart set on a springtime wedding for a while.
I was fortunate to be healthy and to not know anyone sick with the virus, but I still felt COVID-19 was taking something very important away from me. The emotional exhaustion felt, ironically, akin to a bad breakup—it was like the universe wasn’t letting me unite with my partner, and it was crushing to know there was nothing I could do. And now, to rub salt in the wound, we’d have to contact 150 people with this sad news and relive the reality of it on repeat.
I blurted out: “Can we just cancel it altogether? We can just elope. I’m exhausted.”
Even as I said it out loud, I knew I didn’t actually want to do that. We called my parents for advice, who confirmed cancellation wasn’t an option anyone liked. “The people who love you want to celebrate you,” they said.
I thought about my mom, who doubled as our wedding planner, my dad, who’d waited 33 years to escort me down the aisle, and our friends who wanted to see Jeremy and I starting our lives together. Being devastated was justifiable, but this wasn’t just about me. If we canceled now—tossing all that work, money, and excitement out the window, just because unprecedented circumstances were messing with our plans—Jeremy and I would regret it for the rest of our lives.
We decided to pick a new date for the beginning of October. We knew, in the big picture, that this was for the best, as health was paramount, and I felt good making that a priority. But I’d be lying if I said I was in high spirits; I was feeling a little guilty for mourning a party during a pandemic. Weddings are highly emotional, and I found myself gravitating between the highs and lows I never anticipated before coronavirus.
Nevertheless, I had to push on and begin what I assumed would be a difficult week of rescheduling (and ugly crying)—but I didn’t anticipate what actually did happen. Every vendor offered condolences and positive words, moving to our new date with zero penalties. My hairstylist even switched her days off to make sure she could be there. I was able to move the entire wedding in just hours. I was struck by how these people were being so kind and accommodating, yet they were struggling in a way that no one could have previously accounted for. I knew that canceled events likely meant a significant loss of money for them. As businesses closed, I heard more and more about unemployment growing, with people finding it hard to pay bills and access childcare. I realized the struggle was real for pretty much everyone and it really put things into perspective.
As for our guests, everyone we reached out to said they’d been thinking of us during this tough time and were sorry, but assured us our wedding would be extra-special come October. I thought we were inconveniencing people, but others understood and sympathized with the fact that a canceled wedding that was out of our control simply sucked, and that felt validating to hear. I was also touched when everyone reiterated, without a beat, how excited they were to celebrate with us in the fall. For some that would mean finding childcare; others would have to take two days off of work—but they would be there, on a Thursday, ready to tear up that dance floor with Jeremy and me.
Our families were thrilled we chose a new date for everyone to look forward to. My fiancé has been a true teammate, reminding me mid-hugs: “The world is a crazy place, but at least we have each other.” Even though I had no control in the situation, I knew I at least had Jeremy and his support. I got a good night’s sleep for the first time in weeks.
I gained a huge piece of mind amid COVID-19’s “what-ifs” by relinquishing control of what I couldn’t change, making a decision, and solidifying a plan—even though it wasn’t our initial plan.
We also developed a new part of our plan: To get legally married by my newly ordained sister/maid of honor in an additional small ceremony on April 10th anyway. We get to keep our date and get married twice—which is truly the best of both worlds.
As soon as I stopped worrying about what I couldn’t fix, I started to see all the silver linings. I’m so grateful for my health, my loved ones’ health, and having a job—things that, unfortunately, not everyone has on the heels of this global pandemic. People are struggling in their own ways, yet they still showed me sympathy. I found happiness by channeling my energy into returning the favor: checking in on friends (the nurses, the other 2020 brides, the ones living alone during social distancing), supporting my favorite yoga instructor in her virtual classes, and buying gift cards to my local coffee shop in anticipation of their re-opening.
Rescheduling our wedding while navigating COVID-19 has been a difficult yet sobering experience. I’ve learned that, in times of crisis, human kindness makes the world continue to go ’round. We’re all feeling scared and worn down, and being empathetic towards others—both loved ones and strangers—feels cathartic. I’ve found strength in the support from my partner, family, and friends throughout this intense trial. I’ve also learned to manifest my own happiness by letting go of situations I can’t change, being thankful for what I have, and continuing to find positives within my life. Instead of wallowing, it’s a lot more fun to get excited for an October wedding that will be full of fall foliage and love.