weddings

"My first wedding day had been perfect. I wanted my second to be different."

We sat side by side on the couch trying to make decisions on venues, guest lists, food... I could feel the squeeze of an invisible band around my chest, shortening my breaths and making me feel dizzy. 

This wasn’t my first wedding and the stress of the last one had turned my immune system against me and sent me to the emergency room. 

"It’s okay, Kelly," my fiance reassured me. "Everything will be fine."

At that time, he had no idea our May wedding date would fall right in the middle of a pandemic. 

***

My first wedding day, almost 20 years earlier, had been perfect.

A vintage car delivered me, all dressed up in a $3,000 princess gown with a huge train, to a gorgeous historic church.

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I walked down the red carpet, flashing smiles at the crowded rows of people who had travelled from all over to celebrate with us: aunties and uncles, old friends from school, even a few surprise guests! 

Our large wedding party stood quietly at the front, all dressed immaculately in matching outfits, as a pianist and singer performed and we said our vows, lit a candle, signed the registry. 

Hours of professional photos followed the ceremony, and then finally we could relax at our reception: a beautifully laid out afternoon tea.   

There wasn’t a single detail that could’ve been better. The days before and after, though, showed the impact of organising a "perfect" wedding.

In the months leading up to my first wedding, I became more and more stressed. Money was already tight and then my fiance unexpectedly lost his job. 

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To increase the pressure, everything we planned turned out to be more expensive than we’d expected – as often happens with weddings. 

We wanted our dream wedding but as the bank balance emptied out, we struggled to even afford rings. 

Can you even get married without rings? I wondered. Why on earth did we leave them till last? I imagined saying "with this ring I thee wed," while sliding someone’s borrowed ill-fitting ring onto my fiance’s finger. 

Everything was a struggle. 

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Then, only a few months out, something strange started happening to my skin. 

At first, I thought I had chickenpox. Odd, I thought, I’ve already had them? 

We were house-sitting for a couple and looking after their dog so my next thought was flea bites. But when I woke up the following morning, I knew it was something far more serious. 

My skin, especially all the soft parts: the insides of my thighs, my neck and stomach, resembled bubble wrap. And the bubbles grew and multiplied by the hour.

My fiance raced me to the emergency doctor’s clinic, and I sat, frozen in shock, as the GP flicked through textbooks and called specialists. 

We watched the fluid-filled bubbles visible on my neck expand. Some were now over a centimetre across and growing fast. What was this thing? All sorts of awful flesh-eating diseases crossed my mind. 

Eventually, after several hours of being stared at, poked, and biopsied by specialists, they diagnosed a rare immune disorder called Bullous Pemphigoid. 

It’s generally a condition elderly people get. I was 23. The stress had fried my immune system to the point that it attacked my own skin.  

I was lucky the treatment worked fairly quickly. After a couple of weeks of wearing gloves to bed so I wouldn’t rip the itchy bubbles apart in my sleep, my skin returned to normal. Just in time to walk down the aisle.  

Still, in the days before and after the wedding, both my fiance and I were exhausted and sick. 

Was that one perfect day worth it? Heading up to my second wedding, I knew it very much wasn’t. This time I wanted to enjoy more than just one day. 

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With that in mind, my new fiance and I kept our plans small, manageable, and well within our budget, but I still worried it wasn’t small enough. 

Then, as we counted down the final month, the pandemic hit and it became clear we weren’t having a wedding at all. 

At least not in the near future.   

***

Cancelling the wedding was almost as stressful as planning it. 

We guessed at new dates we could re-book, but with everything so unknown our choices seemed limited. 

We could put the wedding off for a year or two until everything was calmer. Or get married over a Zoom call with just us and our kids present. Neither were options we were happy about. 

As the lockdowns dragged on it became clearer and clearer to me what I really wanted. 

I didn’t want to elope. I definitely didn’t want a "perfect" wedding. The only thing that mattered was my fiance and I being able to celebrate together with our families. 

Seeing their smiling faces as we said our vows, eating together, hugging. None of the other details mattered. 

Before lockdown, groups of up to 40 had been allowed to gather, so we made a guest list within those limits rather than waiting for more relaxed ones. 

We set a date for November and crossed our fingers that it would be far enough out. Planning for the second time took less than a month. 

My in-laws agreed to us clearing out one of the barns on their farm, which they helped decorate with simple white cloth and fairy lights. 

My fiance’s cousin, a caterer, was booked for the afternoon tea and my sister-in-law and her husband agreed to sing while we signed the registry. 

I would do my own hair, my own makeup. Why hadn’t we thought of this the first time we planned? It was all so simple and stress-free. Fun even. 

The pandemic subsided enough for us to go ahead with our day. It was small and simple, but the gratitude I felt being surrounded by our closest family and friends again made everything perfect. 

Kelly Eden is a writer and writing coach living in New Zealand. Ready to tell your own story? Get free weekly writing tips.

Feature Image: Getty