Change of Plans: Our Impromptu Wedding Has Become a Memory of a Lifetime

"In the midst of a dark time, our wedding turned into a beam of light for thousands across our city."

change of plans

CRISTINA CIANCI/Photo by Rachel Connell

As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, couples all over the world are having to make a very difficult, and often heartbreaking, decision to cancel, postpone, or adjust their best-laid wedding plans. To share their stories—and, hopefully, help our readers process this admittedly emotional and fluid situation, we are asking those affected to share their "Change of Plans" stories in their own words. Below, Abbey Tyrrell tells her story from Hamilton, Ontario.

I never dreamt about my wedding. I knew I wanted to be married, but the big white gown, hundreds of guests, and cake tastings were never things that were important to me. 

When I met my partner, Matt, I was working as a healthcare practitioner. He showed up at my workplace and asked me out on a date—a bold move, and I wasn’t sure if it was also a bit creepy. Regardless, it worked. We met on a Monday night and, just four short days later, we were spending every waking moment together. My dad often says that Matt “had me at hello,” and I tend to agree. We moved quickly. Many of our friends joked that at the rate our relationship was going that we would be married within six months.

However, the topic of weddings scared us both. We had been in more weddings than we can count and had seen the toll it had taken on our friends. It took a few years to decide that we wanted to tie the knot ourselves, and once we did, we knew a short engagement was right for us.

Wedding planning went well. We had a shared vision, supportive families, and really incredible vendors. It was almost too good to be true.

I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and Matt moved here to begin his professional life. We both love this town, and it was so important for us to choose a local venue and vendors. Wedding planning went well. We had a shared vision, supportive families, and really incredible vendors. It was almost too good to be true.

As our wedding date, April 4, 2020, grew closer, so did the awareness that this global pandemic might affect our highly anticipated day. We had a large guest list and a massive bridal party—10 on each side!—flying from across the country and the world.

Three weeks before the wedding, provincial and federal policies surrounding the pandemic were implemented. It started with limited numbers on social gatherings, restricted travel, and, then, the closing all non-essential businesses. This was when my disappointment started to kick in. I remember it vividly, on a video call with my bridesmaid from Australia. We have known each other since we were in kindergarten, and I had been her bridesmaid just months before. Our call began in silence and then quickly turned into tears. We both knew, without saying a word, that she wouldn’t be able to come. I remember her quietly saying to me, “It’s just not fair.”

One by one, guests started to inform us that they no longer could fly across the country or across the borders. I was so sad. Why would we host a wedding with only half of the people I loved and wanted there?

It was then that we decided to get married the very next day with just our parents and pastor in attendance.

As things changed globally by the hour, so did our wedding plans. We woke up on Monday morning, March 23, 2020, to an announcement in our province that all businesses were closing by the next evening at 11:59 p.m. We felt defeated. We weren't sure that marriage was going to be in the cards for weeks or even months.

It was then that we decided to get married the very next day with just our parents and pastor in attendance. I spent that day calling our vendors and, with a heavy heart, had to accept cancellations with each one. Some issued refunds and some didn't. Our incredible photographer and videographer said that they would still be there in a heartbeat, and I am forever grateful that they were willing to support us in that way. We are still in the process of touching base with some vendors, and we think that will take months to iron out.

That day also involved hundreds of calls to family and friends. Everyone was so supportive, understanding that it was the safest choice to not put each other in harm's way. I shed more tears that day than I’d like to admit.

Within 24 hours, we had planned a beautiful ceremony in my parents' living room, with less than 10 people. While I was doing my own hair and makeup in my mom’s bedroom, my dad made a massive sign and hung it to the post outside of our house. It read: "COVID-19 WEDDING. DISAPPOINTED BUT HAPPY BRIDE. WEDDING TONIGHT AT 7 P.M. HONK WHEN DRIVE BY." At the time, I didn’t know why I kept hearing honking—but once I checked my social media, I saw a picture of the sign had begun to make its way around various social media platforms. Before we even exchanged our vows, hundreds of people had shared this photo and driven to our neighborhood to wish us well from afar.

ceremony
Photo by Rachel Connell

As soon as we kissed and were pronounced husband and wife, my siblings and their children knocked on the front window to surprise us. That will be one of the sweetest memories of my life.

covid wedding
Photo by Rachel Connell
couple
 PHOTO BY RACHEL CONNELL

We decided to live stream our wedding on Facebook, and by the end of the evening, thousands had seen the photo of the sign and people from all over the world had shared in our wedding ceremony online. Guests dressed up and celebrated from their living rooms. As soon as we kissed and were pronounced husband and wife, my siblings and their children knocked on the front window to surprise us. That will be one of the sweetest memories of my life.

The next morning, we woke up from a call from the local news station: A reporter had seen a photo of our sign and wanted to make a “feel-good’ news story. We rushed back and got to relive our wedding day as we shared it with our greater Hamilton community.

couple
PHOTO BY RACHEL CONNELL 
couple
PHOTO BY RACHEL CONNELL
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PHOTO BY RACHEL CONNELL
couple
PHOTO BY RACHEL CONNELL

In the midst of a dark time, our wedding turned into a beam of light for thousands across our city. We can’t wait to celebrate with our family and friends, but for now, our impromptu wedding has become a memory of a lifetime.

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