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Opinion: My pandemic wedding story: three postponements and a fresh perspective

Dan had proposed to me in a beautiful palm tree forest in Chile in December 2019. We spent the rest of the day playing with alpacas at a farm outside of Santiago. We wanted to start a family quickly and planned to get married in five months, at the risk of giving people in the wedding industry whiplash. Feeling the time pressure, as soon as we came back to Texas, I frantically created spreadsheets, joined lines of jostling women at a bridal swap-meet (aka “expo”), and bought a lot of cheap, sparkly jewelry for the bachelorette party.

Then, life as we knew it suddenly shut down, and the planning screeched to a halt as a Covid-19 lockdown began. Although it was obvious that a large May wedding was not a good idea, I was initially optimistic about the second half of 2020. “Let’s be really conservative and postpone till November,” I said confidently, while wiping down groceries.

As a physician, I felt like I had access to the best information possible. But the lack of data and guidelines at the start of the pandemic made it feel like we were steering a boat through a storm blindfolded. I remember watching an early 2020 Zoom webinar — in which my university’s foremost biostatistician showed us peaks and valleys of her pandemic projections extending into 2021 — and feeling a wave of denial.

In the end, she was right. So far, we have rescheduled our wedding three times. Each time we were hopeful that conditions would be safe enough for a big gathering, but each time the numbers told us a different story. We contemplated a virtual wedding but didn’t want to give up the experience of hugging and dancing with friends and family.

As the months wore on and the death toll climbed, my wedding ranked low on a long list of priorities. How would my patients pay for their medications if they lost their jobs? Would my clinic have enough PPE? Could I adequately assess patients with chronic illness if I couldn’t see them in person? How do you comfort someone who watched — over FaceTime — as their mother died? Measured against these thoughts, questions about my wedding and when to start a family felt insignificant even as I struggled with those decisions. I didn’t know how to talk about the disappointment I felt without feeling selfish.

The pandemic has inflicted such immeasurable pain that it can be hard to justify oneself worrying about anything less significant than life and death. But a story of life interrupted is still a story of living through this pandemic.

We are not alone in navigating these interruptions. Couples around the world have reimagined their weddings during the pandemic. That’s not entirely a bad thing; the practical impossibility of an ideal situation allows you to imagine your wedding with more flexibility and creativity.
If my darkest days in medicine have taught me anything, it’s that some of the most beautiful moments in life can be forged in times of suffering. Like the hospice nurse who video-called me weekly when she visited my 97-year-old grandfather, Papa Red, so that I could talk to him while the nursing home was in lockdown (I learned on that first call that they bonded over both having red hair), or the local community organizers who found ways to feed and house those without heat or water during Texas’s horrific freeze. When we think about the pandemic, we think about the preciousness of life.
So, we ultimately decided to prioritize life and started working on the part of our plans that does not involve a large social gathering: making a baby. Now with Covid vaccinations on the rise and cases going down, a big wedding late this year seems possible. But the crystalline vision of my ideal wedding that has taken up so much space in my mind has cracked.

Some friends have moved away and others may still not feel comfortable coming; if I’m pregnant I might not fit in my dress or drink a champagne toast; I might have nausea during the ceremony. And most wrenchingly, my Papa Red, who was so looking forward to being with me under the wedding canopy last May, passed away four months ago from cancer.

On the other hand, those cracks in the façade also release the pressure of expectation. I can admit that I’m more than just a physician, and that although my pain will never come close to the suffering I’ve witnessed, it’s OK to acknowledge the things I’ve lost. When rigid expectations soften, the underlying meaning of the event can more easily shine through. The celebration of family, new and old, is more meaningful than ever before, while stressful details lose their importance.

The pandemic has changed our lives, but maybe it’s also changed our perspective. Sitting at the kitchen table last May as the storm raged on what should have been our wedding day, Dan and I passed the time by making collages of alpacas from brightly colored strips of paper as gifts for our family. We took the torn piece of paper, shuffled them around, and combined them into something new and beautiful.


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