All of our weddings and clients affect us in different ways. Most are emotional and fun. A few are just a job. Some have become lifelong friends. I get attached to our clients and have literally not even got over their wedding before we are off to shoot someone new. But there has been only one that has quite literally brought us to our knees; in appreciation, in gratitude, in sadness and above all in hope.
If you're reading this blog right now, it's assumed that you are one of the 24,000 + viewers who have read about Amber and Andrew's hospital wedding. A wedding so touching that it reminded even the pickiest brides of what is truly important in life. Granted, when you are spending your entire life and quite possibly entire bank account on your one big day, your concerns about logistics, about the flowers being correct, about the dress fitting and about the family drama are all quite valid. But when you are faced with the most grim reality of all; the possibility of a parent being too ill or worst of all, not making it to your wedding day throws all your other concerns to the wayside.
I won't get into the details of the November wedding. By now, I'm sure you know how this bride's story turned out. For those who don't, you can read about it here.
A few weeks ago, I did a shoot with Amber. We were talking about the SHE-Movement that I had started with my cousin and what it means to have women supporting women instead of tearing each other down. I asked her if she would mind contributing a short video clip. You can view that here.
At this point, her father was still alive but not doing well. Two days later, I received an email that Neil had passed away. I wept for Amber. I wept for myself at the thought of how I would handle the same situation. I wept for her mother who lost her spouse all too soon. I wept for her brother who wore a brave face and will continue "Harry's" curling legacy. And I wondered what this all meant for their Costa Rican wedding which was planned so many months ago. Months that never possibly conceived of Neil not being there...and as time crept on, that hope that he would walk his daughter down the aisle of Central American sand, dwindled.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and we were all at the Toronto airport together. Familiar faces hugged and exchanged pleasantries. Unfamiliar faces searched others' trying to piece together who belonged with whom. The funny thing about a destination wedding is the reflection upon our return. The reflection of day one with complete strangers versus day eight with a new set of friends. It's funny how a week can completely change the world you once knew. It's as if you can never imagine not having met such wonderful people.
" A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet."
The weather was hot. Like unbearably hot during the day and absolutely perfect at sunset. Amber and Andrew were the perfect hosts, ebbing and flowing around the resort making sure everyone was comfortable, ensuring they were spending equal amounts of time with their guests and introducing strangers to each other. Having been married in Mexico ourselves, we understood how it felt to be the gracious hosts, grateful that people had flown something like 4,000 miles away to be with us.
From day one, we felt at ease with Amber and Andrew's families and friends. We were welcomed into the group and especially warm to us were the parents of bride and groom. I watched on in amazement as Jane, a recent widow who would watch her only daughter get married, had to get used to all the things you never imagine in your worst nightmare. After 30+ years together, she had a room to herself. She would walk her daughter down the aisle without her beloved Neil. And I marvelled at her strength, grace and selflessness all week long.
The morning of the wedding began like every other that week. The sun rose at 6:30 am. It was hot and still. We headed to the ceremony site overlooking the mountains with Amber, her mother and her brother. They were to spread Neil's ashes and have a private moment, as most brides do before they exchange their wedding vows. This would be different in logistics, but same in meaning.
As we sat in Amber's room and explained that we would just be off in the distance documenting their moment, Amber was sombre and reflective. "I feel like everyone expects me to be all happy happy all day when really I just want to be quiet and to myself."
My heart wrenched in pain for her. I can't even imagine the conflicting emotions playing out all day for her. Equal parts joy and sorrow are hard to conceptualize all in the same day.
We followed them to the ceremony site where they spread Neil's ashes, drank a drink in his honour from his "Harry" mug; a name that had endearingly been given to him in his curling days as Neil "Harry" Harrison. It was a quiet and peaceful morning. All that could be heard was the sound of the ocean waves and the clicks of our cameras, amongst a few private words that the family had to share.
Amber had later said that after that moment, she felt a sense of calm and peace wash over her. I'm certain it was her father's presence offering her a kind and invisible hug.
You can view that clip here.
The couple opted for a first look as their sunset ceremony wouldn't allow enough time for bridal party portraits. We weaved and bobbed through the resort after their emotional first look. Andrew gushed over his bride and her absolutely gorgeous blush pink dress. The family and bridal party emerged from the shadows and hugged in congratulations. The bridesmaids and groomsmen were melting from the heat but were troopers during the photo session. The ceremony was beautiful and had the perfect light. It was breezy and the excruciating heat had worn off to a comfortable breeze. Their reception was held in a lounge by the ocean and everyone partied until the wee hours of the morning. The last song of the night was Neil's favourite: American Pie. Everyone huddled and then played guitar afterwards.
Here's some video of another favourite of their family, Glory Days.
Words, photos and video can't really describe all that this family has gone through in the past 6 months but we certainly did try to convey the love that is so present. We were absolutely honoured to be part of it all and we wish Amber and Andrew and their entire families nothing but love and joy (or as the Minister says..."yoy and happy-ness" from here until eternity. Enjoy the sneak peeks of the wedding and trash the dress and if you don't see yourself in here, rest assured we have a photo of you.