Change of Plans: How Canceling Our International Wedding Reminded Us of What Really Matters

"Last week our priority was to get married…this week it’s to help our guests get home."

change of plans

Cristina Cianci/Courtesy of Morwenna Jones 

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 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, Morwenna Jones tells her story from Australia. 

For my fiancé and I, our wedding day—Saturday, March 21st—would be the culmination of a whirlwind romance. My fiancé, Steve, is Australian, and I’m from England, which is where we met two and a half years ago, at a beach bar in a small surfing town. We spent a whole weekend walking along the beach getting to know one another, and by the time the sun rose on Monday, we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Five months later, I moved to Australia. Six months after that, Steve proposed.

As we began planning, we knew that we wanted our wedding to reflect our values, celebrate our different cultures, and showcase the very best of everything our beautiful part of Australia has to offer. We also knew that we wanted to bring our friends and family from both sides of the world together. So, with all of this in mind, we planned a wedding for 120 guests, using small, local vendors, making sustainable choices wherever we could. We also chose to have a long engagement, in order for as many of our friends and family from England to save and plan for a trip to Australia.

Our ceremony would take place at a homestead that has been in Steve’s family for almost two hundred years and that overlooks one of his favorite surf spots, with a reception at Steve’s parents’ property to follow. We would serve pizza and ice cream, which is exactly what we ate on our first “proper” date. I would walk down the aisle to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ played on the bagpipes, to honor Steve’s Scottish heritage and my childhood in the Scottish highlands. Our flowers would be a mix of locally foraged Australian natives and sustainably sourced English wildflowers. And to top it all off, to marry the love of my life, I would wear an original vintage wedding dress by 1970s designer Ossie Clarke, with a thin ‘Cambridge blue’ ribbon stitched into the lining—my something blue, and a small homage to my alma mater. 

Before we went to sleep, Steve and I had a chat, and agreed that we would postpone the wedding in a ‘worst-case scenario.’ “It’ll never happen,” we concluded.

On the penultimate Friday before the wedding, I received a phone call from a friend in England. She was calling to say that the World Health Organization had declared Europe the epicentre of the pandemic. In light of this, her airline had advised her that it was unlikely that she would be able to enter Australia after her planned three-day stopover in Singapore. Through tears, she explained that she didn’t want to risk being stranded in Singapore and, as a result, would be unable to attend our wedding. 

Naturally, I was upset. But looking back, I still wasn’t too concerned. Everyone else was due to fly straight to Australia, surely they’d all be fine? Before we went to sleep, Steve and I had a chat, and agreed that we would postpone the wedding in a ‘worst-case scenario.’ “It’ll never happen,” we concluded.

Over the next few days, things went from bad to worse. My parents and four friends from London were fortunate enough to make it into Australia before the government announced that all overseas arrivals would have to self-isolate for 14 days. My youngest sister is studying Arabic in Jordan and caught the last flight out of Jordan before the Jordanian government introduced martial law. My middle sister, one of my bridesmaids, and another friend had to go straight into self-isolation. 

The moment everything began to sink in was the moment I realized that my best friend, and maid of honor, wouldn’t be at my wedding. She was the first person I messaged when I met Steve, the first person I rang when we got engaged and would have been the person by my side when we said our vows. She was about to board her flight from London when Australia announced its self-isolation policy for overseas travelers, and she wisely decided not to risk being stuck in Australia in the event of mass border closures. 

On Tuesday, our plan was to still go ahead with the wedding. We didn’t want to run the risk of any of our guests contracting the virus, but we still wanted to get married. Additionally, we had paid all of our vendors in full a few days earlier, and while the safety of ourselves and our guests was our top concern, we didn’t want to have wasted tens of thousands of dollars on nothing. So, on the advice of a friend who works as an emergency room doctor, we messaged our guests. We informed them that our wedding would still be taking place, and that guests from overseas who had arrived before the mandatory self-isolation deadline would be present. We also asked our guests to stay away if they felt ill, or were elderly or at risk, and thanked them for understanding the impossible situation Steve and I were in.

Overnight, our guest list plummeted from 120 guests, to less than 40. Most of our close friends and family responded with heartfelt messages, expressing their sorrow that they couldn’t be with us. Steve and I understood, knowing that we would probably have done the same if we were in their shoes. But fear also brings out the worst in people. Having watched Steve do everything he could to ensure my family was together, I now watched, powerless, as he dealt with a handful of guests who completely ignored the pain he was feeling, including a close friend of his, who insensitively asked how he would feel if any of our remaining guests died, “because of your wedding.”

By Wednesday morning, it was clear that there was only one option remaining. Over breakfast with my parents, we discussed what we really wanted. With twenty-five guests having flown from the other side of the world to witness our wedding, we felt like we owed them that much. On the other hand, we wanted our wedding to bring our friends and families together, not divide them, and by now we knew that few of Steve’s friends and family would attend, if any. 

We concluded that if we continued to believe that ‘the show must go on,’ our stress levels would only rise, and eventually came to the realization that, more than anything, we owe our guests the day that Steve and I want. We made the call, chose to postpone our wedding, and began contacting our vendors.

It breaks my heart to think of the love with which everyone greeted [our decision]. ‘We’d attend your wedding if it was on the moon,’ a close family friend said to us after we told them the news.

In this aspect, we were lucky, especially since, like many couples affected by the coronavirus pandemic, we didn’t have wedding insurance. Due to our decision to use locally-owned small businesses, at the moment, we estimate that we’ve been refunded around 25% of our budget. Our caterer, Jacki, replied to our email expressing how sorry she was for us, telling us not to worry about our order, and signing off her email: “Fortunately, my kids really love pizza!” And Hope, our florist, kindly dried and repurposed as many of our wedding flowers as she could, then delivered the remaining flowers to me a few days later—they were a sorely-needed source of joy when I woke up on what was supposed to be my wedding day.

Overall, approximately half of our wedding budget has been irretrievably lost, although the financial cost still hasn’t sunk in amidst the emotional turmoil of the past week. It was far harder to inform our guests who had traveled so far to celebrate with us of our decision, and it breaks my heart to think of the love with which everyone greeted it. ‘We’d attend your wedding if it was on the moon,’ a close family friend said to us after we told them the news. 

While the moon may be one of the safest places for a destination at the moment, right now, Steve and I know that our wedding isn’t important. This time last week, my priority was to marry the man of my dreams. Now, my priority is the safe return of my friends and family to their homes in England. As I write this, my fiancé and I are in self-isolation at our home in Australia with my parents, both of my sisters, and one of my bridesmaids. All of their return flights have been canceled. My best friend from university and his boyfriend flew to Sydney to catch their return flight back to London. That has also been canceled. Worst of all, my cousins drove to Melbourne to catch their return flight. That was canceled too. They have since spent almost $10,000 AUD on flights, only to have them repeatedly canceled. 

During the rare moments when Steve and I do discuss our second attempt at a wedding, it is blindingly clear that the most important thing is that these people, who are in an unimaginable situation at the moment because of their love for us, can attend. Consequently, our original vision of a ‘big party’ in Australia looks unlikely—something we are both starting to see as a positive.

At present, our plan is to still get married, and hopefully soon. After everything, it’s still important to us that we celebrate our love, and make our relationship legally binding. What’s less important is the fanfare with which we do it, which is why, in a small gesture of defiance against everything the coronavirus pandemic has taken from us, we have both decided to wear our wedding rings. One day, we’ll exchange them, and get married the way that we want to. For now, I look at it, and am intensely proud of the man Steve is, and blessed to have him by my side for the rest of my life. 

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