I get it, your wedding has been forcefully cancelled and you are heartbroken. I completely get it. Boy do I ever. As a Nebraska photographer and a former Texan who has experienced more than her fair share of “once in a lifetime” experiences. Coronavirus has not been a friend to anyone, particularly in the event industry. Refunding weddings, vendors not refunding, vendors going bankrupt, couples losing thousands of dollars. All of it SUCKS! But you what sucks more? Your life being in danger.
Cancelling your wedding- what you don’t want to hear:
I’m going to share an unpopular opinion here that I don’t think ANYONE really wants to hear. It isn’t good news for really anyone. But it is the truth, and potentially life saving honesty.
I was once a wedding photographer for a wedding that should have been cancelled due to an “Act of God”. That term is one that you have probably hear a lot recently. All the contracts include that phrase and all the debate right now is whether a communicable disease like COVID-19 is an “Act of God” or if it falls outside the realms. This debate is leading tons of people to sue for “non-refundable deposits/retainers” etc. The entire situation is heartbreaking. Small businesses can’t afford to refund multiple weddings, and many couples can’t afford to lose that deposit only to have to re-book and pay again later. I am NOT immune to the heartbreak or impossible situation here.
But you know what I am also not immune to? Acts of God. I am also not immune to dying. Neither are my children or my husband. I learned my lesson the hard way once before when I put my own life in danger for the sake of a wedding that refused to cancel. And no matter the heartbreak it will never compare to the heartbreak my children would have faced if I had died that night choosing a wedding in a hurricane over safety and practicality.
My Story with an Act of God
One night multiple years ago, I was more concerned about “my business reputation” and the “commitment” I made to a colleague and a wedding couple than I was about the very real possibility of dying that night. This is a story I have never told publicly because of sheer embarrassment and regret that I have for the choices I made. But as another once in a lifetime event rolls around I think/hope/pray that others can learn from my experience and lessons.
In August of 2017 I told myself and my husband, who had been sent to Fort Worth for emergency evacuation work, and my colleague that “I made a commitment and had a contract” and that if the couple were not going to cancel or postpone the wedding for Hurricane Harvey then I , couldn’t afford the backlash on my business nor could I handle going back on my word for a silly old hurricane.
Ha! Please tell me you catch the sarcasm. Yes I really did 100% buy into those beliefs. In hindsight it was absolute idiocy. But we don’t have the luxury of hindsight at the time do we?
You see, half-way through the wedding (that over half the RSVP’d guests chose to skip) it became apparent that the rainfall was coming down faster than anyone could have imagined and most roads along the 1.5 hour drive home were closed due to flooding.
I made the impossible choice to leave the wedding and head home. My kids were with my mother in law and I couldn’t bare the idea of being stuck multiple towns away for multiple days while the state was shut down. There were no rental cars, no hotels, no flights…. I made what I thought was the absolute best choice in the situation. I checked the maps, I followed the roads that were shown to still be open.
The Thing About Acts of God and a Wedding Photographer
The thing about Acts of God is that they are usually unable to be predicted with any amount of accuracy.
About halfway home I hit the first water covered spot in the road. But, I had taken the only path shown to be open and it was my only hope by this point. So I continued on.
Are you beginning to see the issue? Its a freaking hurricane. It’s still raining. Which means with every minute the water is rising. By the third water covered spot in the road, I hit my first bridge with enough water flowing to come over my minivan tires and into the engine and the car battery. As a Texan you learn early that you have to keep moving to get through water/sand/mud etc and not get stuck, but you have to balance that movement to be sure you aren’t splashing water or mud into the battery to stall out.
I am not joking when I tell you I was being watched over by an angel, because as my battery sputtered and my tires started sliding with the flow of the flooded creek water suddenly the engine turned back over and I made it past the last heavy flow of flood water. Well, on that road. The next road didn’t have as much flowing water, but PLENTY of water flooding the roads.
I had one more flooded bridge to pass at this point. And before you start judging me remember, after crossing even one flooded spot in the road I am now well past the point of no return. Or so I thought. After every water covered dip or bridge I told myself, even if I made the wrong choice I was this much closer to my babies and THIS much further from where I started. Except one major emotion induced decision making flaw. I had completely forgotten about the very low crossing bridge you have to cross that floods with even a drizzle. Yep- that bridge, the one that separated me by about a mile from my babies was flooded further than I could even see in that dark rainy night.
What Can I Do?
I did the only thing I could. Parked at the shut down, boarded up gas station on the corner and cried.
I had NO way of getting to my home, my children, or even back to the venue. I was at a boarded up gas station for an unknown amount of time with nothing but a leftover bundlette from Nothing Bundt Cakes and half a water bottle left in my car. It sounds kind of humorous but please just stop for a minute and think about my mindset in that moment. For the next 8-ish hours I sat in my car with my emergency alarm on my phone going off over, and over, and over for tornado warnings. I watched emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle hauling boats whiz past for yet another water rescue near me. By this point I had already hopped out of my car to squat and pee outside. There was no one around, except the homeless man sleeping on top of the ice machine- but I wouldn’t have cared if there were by this point.
I will spare you the TMI of the worse digestive issues happening. If you have ever been truly scared for your life you understand the digestive issues I am referring to. Your body will physically try to force everything out- one way or another. My mother in law was up most of the night with me keeping me calm on the phone and calling everyone she knew to try and help me find someplace safe to go.
At about 7 am the following morning after being up the entire night, she had found a family member of a neighbor near me that I could get to. These wonderful, kind, and incredible strangers took me in for FOUR days. Yes, FOUR days is how long it took for this photographer to be able to get back to her babies after a wedding. Four days of wearing this sweet old ladies nightgown, crying myself to sleep at night with guilt and shame and embarrassment for the HORRIBLE decision I had made. All while praying to God that my house was not flooding as 4 days of nonstop rain rose around my neighborhood. You see my home office was on the first floor and ALL of my weddings and images ever taken were in hard drives in that room. That room, in that house that I couldn’t get to. I was 100% helpless and that feeling is beyond terrifying. It is literally surreal.
Why am I telling You This Mortifying Story?
Because if it can stop one other photographer from putting their (or someone else’s) life in danger for a wedding that won’t cancel then it is absolutely worth it. I would not wish that night on my worst enemy you guys. I struggled with a bit of PTSD after that night for a little while and avoided ever driving by that area if I could. The long term effects of that night are numerous and too many to list.
Covid-19 is similar to that situation. It is a situation where everyone thinks “that won’t happen to me”. It is also a situation where the threat seems far off and not imminent. But the threat is there. The threat is real. Covid-19 is not just a threat to you, it is a threat to everyone who shows up to that wedding, or to everyone you come across for the next several days. The threat is FAR reaching and fatal for many people.
I have been a wedding photographer for about 5 years now, and this is the second time in all of those 5 years that the need for cancelling weddings temporarily is real. I promise another day will come and may even be better for your weddings. Please brides and grooms, do not put your vendors and guests in danger. Wedding photographers, do not put your employees, fellow vendors, your family members, neighbors etc in danger.
Wedding Heartbreak; The Hard Truth
I completely understand and commiserate with you all. And I am so sorry this happened. But people’s lives matter more than your wedding day.
There I said it.
Ok stepping off my soapbox.
Florals at the bottom by Of The Earth Florals
Headshot of me by Brianne Hultzman