Wedding, Interrupted

The author planned the perfect 2020 wedding, shut it down and moved it to 2021, then decided to get married in 2020 after all — this is her story

By Rebecca Bernardo-Hartley
Posted 3/3/23

“Maybe we’ll give out hand sanitizer as a wedding favor,” I joked with my coworkers as we gathered in the front office to talk about this new virus that just had its first confirmed …

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Wedding, Interrupted

The author planned the perfect 2020 wedding, shut it down and moved it to 2021, then decided to get married in 2020 after all — this is her story


“Maybe we’ll give out hand sanitizer as a wedding favor,” I joked with my coworkers as we gathered in the front office to talk about this new virus that just had its first confirmed case in Rhode Island. It was March 2020 and the only thing on my mind was my impending nuptials. 

After almost 8 years together, lots of long distance, and an almost 2-year engagement - I was ready to tie the knot and be done with wedding planning. I had planned every finite detail down to the tablecloths, and had, in my mind, picked the most perfect wedding date. 

That last one felt the most serendipitous to me. After getting engaged in July 2018, I knew I wanted to be done with graduate school (and those pesky tuition bills) before our big day. So that brought us to January 2020. I had always wanted a Spring wedding and wouldn’t you know it - our 8-year anniversary fell on a Saturday that year - May 16th. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I tried. After picking the date, the rest just fell into place.

…or so I thought.

Flashforward to March 2020 - the day I made, what would soon be, a poorly timed hand sanitizer joke, was also the day that we were informed that the 2-week spring break we were about to embark on at the school I worked at was now a mandated 2-week “pause” for all schools in the state of Rhode Island. As my coworkers filed past me, confused and a little nervous, one paused and asked me - “what about your wedding!?”

My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears I didn’t even know had been waiting to come to the surface. What about my wedding? This wouldn’t mean anything, right? It was only March, we still had MONTHS before the day. It’ll be cleared up by then, right? 

As much as I tried to delude myself, I couldn’t shake this sinking feeling and with each passing week and extension of the “pause,” I was finally forced to face reality as I canceled my bridal shower, bachelorette party, and then, our wedding.

As I shared the news with others, I got the standard sympathy replies and attempts at encouragement. “It’ll be a story to tell your grandkids,” more than one person told me. But this wasn’t a story, even if it felt like a poorly scripted Hallmark movie. This was my life. I didn’t want a funny story to share at a future first day of work getting-to-know-you activity, I wanted a wedding. I wanted the wedding I had dreamed of and planned for years. 

To say these weeks weren’t wracked with a LOT of feelings would be a lie. There was regret over having such a long engagement, resentment and sadness over a canceled wedding, guilt over focusing on something like a wedding when so many others faced unemployment or worse yet, losing a loved one. Add the general anxiety and stress that came from living during COVID. To put it plainly, I was a bit of a mess. 

As newly trapped office mates, my fiancé would often play music throughout the day as we enjoyed our morning coffee or prepared meals. And there was one song in particular that I felt like he played every day. Truth be told, at the time I couldn’t tell you a single line from the song. I recognized the beat and it always sounded vaguely familiar but I never actually listened to it. That is until one particularly stressful day when I ventured to the kitchen.

“Time is passing by, I still want you

Crime is on the rise, I still want you

Climate change and debt, I still want you

Nuclear distress, I still want you

The earth is heating up, I still want you

Hurricane and floods, I still want you

Even more than I did before.”

It was the most simple of moments and a simple explanation of love through song but it was everything that I needed. No matter how scary the world was at that moment, even though I honestly had no idea what the future would look like, even if I couldn’t have the wedding of my dreams, somehow I still wanted to get married. Among the canceling, the stress, the questions - that had never wavered. I still wanted to commit to spending the rest of my life with the man who was currently busy making me a grilled cheese sandwich to calm down. 

I felt like the Grinch suddenly learning that Christmas isn’t just about presents. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss - “it came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” My heart grew 3 sizes that day realizing that maybe marriage means a whole lot more. 

And at that moment, I realized that while I wanted a wedding, I didn’t need one. The only thing my heart wanted was to marry my fiancé. So I trusted in the thing that had represented love for the past eight years, the end date that had guided me throughout the entire wedding planning process, the day I thought was magic - May 16th. With trust in each other and our love, we decided to get married - without a dress or tux, with no venue, no vendors, no transportation, no speeches - just us. 

If you thought planning a wedding was hard, try planning a wedding, canceling and rescheduling said wedding for 2021, and then planning a makeshift wedding in the middle of COVID. While it will never be the day I planned, it ended up being pure magic. There are certain memories from that day that I’ll never be able to fully articulate. The feeling of having my mom hem a wedding dress I bought online (since my actual dress was locked away in a bridal store a state away) in my childhood bedroom. Finding, through pure luck, a venue that allowed us to use their outdoor ceremony space free of charge and treated us with such kindness. Driving to our new venue and seeing a terrible traffic jam, one that we would’ve been stuck in had things actually gone the way we originally planned. Figuring out how to Livestream our ceremony since many of our loved ones couldn’t attend and being truly overwhelmed and speechless with the amount of love sent our way. Walking into our “reception” (AKA my best friend's backyard) to see the painstaking effort she put into decorating it to look like a twinkling wonderland. Sharing a first dance as Mr. and Mrs. to a song that had become our anthem since that day in the kitchen months prior. And the feeling of saying “I do” with only 7 people in attendance, without any fluff or fuss, and being truly, blissfully, unquestionably happy. While my hand was forced, I ended up having the day I had dreamed of ever since. 

All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t throw that big extravagant wedding. You deserve to have the wedding of your dreams. You should be able to see that dusty rose and burgundy color palette you’ve been dreaming about finally come to life before your eyes. You have every right to marquee letters and a sparkler exit. But I hope my story pulls you back enough to see the tree through the forest. To help you recognize that you don’t need any of that. All you need is the person you’re making this commitment with. 

No wedding will ever be perfect. Whether it’s a pandemic or a torn veil, something will take you by surprise. But I hope, as it was in my case, that at that moment when it feels like everything is crumbling, you see not what’s wrong but who is right by your side. Ready to help you, ready to comfort you, ready to love you, ready to commit to a lifetime with you, and ready to give you a grilled cheese to calm down. 

In the end, isn’t that what marriage is all about? 

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.