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Love & Grief, and the Art of Winter Weddings
melanie smith studios

Love & Grief, and the Art of Winter Weddings

I love being married to my wife. I love seeing her wedding dress, still muddy along the bottom, hanging on the back of our bathroom door. I love feeling the ring on my finger, fidgeting with it while I am thinking. I love hearing people ask me about my “wife”. I love everything about being married. I love my wife. But, she wasn’t supposed to be my wife, not yet.

We had always imagined our wedding as some massive urban affair, full of experiences, twists, floating things, rainbows, pyrotechnics, acrobats and every other trick in our bag – the event of the season, to be sure. Not so much because we are important enough for such a grand affair, but because planning and designing over the top weddings, events, and parties is just what we do. What we love. Being in this industry comes with a certain level of expectation when it comes to throwing your own event. I think the biggest challenge would have been finding a fabulous space to convert that would accommodate all of our friends, family and industry colleagues that we would have wanted to celebrate with us. We love a good challenge, but that wedding was not to be.

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Amy and I met as I was getting wrangled into working on the board for NACE. She was the VP, on her way to becoming President, and I was just trying to figure out who this crazy group of #eventprofs were. They were fun, hard-working, insanely creative and I was hooked. Amy and I really didn’t interact much in those first months. She instantly turned my head, but when I asked about her, I was told she was married, so I ejected the thought from my mind. As fates would have it though, just a few months into working with the board, they offered me a chance to attend a conference (expenses paid) in Anaheim. The only catch was, I would have to share a room with a woman – just so happens that woman was Amy. I said I didn’t mind if she didn’t and set my mind to being the most professional version of myself (fake it till you make it).

Amy and I had only really talked a few times prior to Anaheim, but from check-in on January 3rd, 2015 to today, she is a part of every breath I take. We were, and still are, inseparable. Sure there was a messy mountain in front of us: she was in the middle of a divorce, I was living and co-parenting with my Ex, despite working nearish each other, we lived 45 minutes apart (on a good day with no traffic), kids, life, nerves, etc… despite it all, I knew right then and there that I would walk through hell for and with her. And, this year, we have.

Life kept setting up obstacles and we just kept happily knocking them down. We found time despite schedules and distance, grew stronger and more confident in our dreaming and eventually, Amy moved in with me (and my Ex.), creating what we loving now call Casa de Chaos – 4 adults, 4 kids, a puppy, a bunny, 2 Guinea pigs, and a feisty lizard. We just kept beating the odds, just kept dreaming. No way in hell we ever thought we would get married, but then I asked and she said yes and about three seconds after that, the EPT stick gave us a plus sign. So, in the Fall of 2018, with Amy’s belly growing bigger, we found ourselves lying in bed feeling our baby’s kicks, beating odds, and imagining what our wedding might look like. We set our target for November of 2019, knowing that Amy would be fully recovered from having a baby, our industry would be slower and so more of our people would be able to attend, and we would have a better selection of venues late in the year. We did a lot of dreaming. Dreams that were not to be.

On January 6th 2019, after a long, yet uneventful labor, we lost our baby boy, Jasper Sky, during delivery at Overlake Hospital. No reason. No explanation. He, after months of growing and wriggling and planning and knowing, just wasn’t there any longer. He, who had been the living embodiment of the odds we had beaten, was gone. So much of our dreaming had been delicately interwoven into the mesh of a life with Jasper in it, it was hard to imagine what dreams could remain once that fabric began to unravel. So, laying there in the hospital with Jasper beside us, we were forced to start thinking of new things. Unimaginable things. Impossible things. We began to plan a memorial for this little life that no one but us would ever know. We began to plan a celebration for this little soul that was never able to celebrate anything of his own. We began to plan a party. A sad, emotionally sodden party. We began to plan, because that is what we do. That is what we know. We wanted to introduce him to our world and our tribe, even though he would never get to meet them. We began to plan for a life without Jasper.

I have no words that can explain the life-shattering force that comes from pregnancy or infant loss and I hope there is never a time when you will be faced with your own intimate understanding of this experience. All I can say is that you do not come out the other side, the same as when you went in.

We were so fortunate to be able to lay there with our baby boy for a couple of days, thanks to some simple, yet amazing technology that kept his body from deteriorating too quickly. It sounds so morbid, trust me, it does. However, it gave us a little bit of the time we needed to say goodbye. Our girls were there with us and able to meet him. Our families were able to say hello and goodbye. The amazing people at Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a group I hope you never need to know about, were able to coordinate two fantastic individuals to come by and take pictures of us and Jasper. Melanie & Melanie took pictures that we look at almost every day. More than anything, Amy and I were given time to lay there together, with Jasper, and reconnect our collective selves. We laughed a little, cried a lot, played music, and just held each other. For days. 

And we planned. Because, as I said, that is what we do.

Laying there, holding each other for days, we talked about wanting to have a celebration of life. Obviously it was entirely for us, but we just wanted to gather with loved ones and introduce them to Jasper. We knew instantly that we wanted to see if we could have Jasper’s celebration at Rein Fire Ranch, a place that was already near and dear to our hearts. A beautiful space in the country owned by two of the kindest, most amazing people we know, Rich & George. We couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to gather. We also couldn’t imagine the 2 feet of snow that would fall the week of the celebration, but I will get to that in a second.

One thing you have to know about Amy and I, we don’t do things small. Despite the grief. Despite the fact that Amy was healing from surgery and trying to keep her insides from falling out. Despite the fact that we didn’t even want to get out of bed, we were going to put together the best celebration we could muster. This would be the only party we would ever get to plan for our little Jasper and, in spite of the inherent sadness, we wanted people to have fun and celebrate together.

So many of our industry friends were so amazing to offer support for this celebration. Rich & George opened their doors to us. Greg Lowder with Affairs to Remember offered to support with AV and some music. It’s Greek to Me, Duos Catering, Table 47 Catering, and Whole World Catering all offered to provide food for the event. The fabulous folks at The SnapBar set us up with a photo experience, Fena Flowers & Countryside Floral teamed up to offer flowers for Jasper, and CORT Party Rental generously helped with rentals and linens. To add the perfect touch, Melanie Smith, the photographer that took such beautiful photos of us with Jasper in the hospital offered to continue the journey with us and shoot the entire event. We had games planned and crafts and keepsakes and cocktails. We had around 120 people confirmed to attend and everything was all set for the celebration on February 9th, just a little over a month after Jasper entered and left this world. That is, until SNOWMAGEDEON happened!!!

Just days before the event, the skies opened and dumped a whopping 2 feet of snow on most of the region. Amy and I donned our extreme weather gear, hitched up the sled dogs, and cautiously made our way out to the Ranch to assess the options. We watched and talked and chewed our nails to nubs, but in the end, we had to pull the plug. The Ranch was buried, the roads were unsafe, and most people couldn’t even get out of their driveways. Through some tears, Rich helped us find a date in March (March 9th) that was open for us to reschedule. We scrambled to get the word out and, while everyone understood, there were some that would not be able to make the new date, our good friend Greg Lowder being one of them. Fortunately, our fabulous friend David Sader with Absolute Music was available to lend a hand for music and AV. Everything was already planned, so now all we had to do was wait.

That’s when things got weird…

That is when an idea began to take shape.

Healing is a process that will probably never end, but healing was beginning. We did not, could not, leave each other’s side after we lost Jasper. Even when I returned to work, Amy came with. As the weeks crept on, we talked a lot about when we would be able to get married. We wanted, needed, more than ever, to be married. To scream at the world that we were, and would always be partners in everything. To tell the world that we were stronger together. We were done waiting. We had been engaged for a while and were planning on tying the knot that coming November, but we really didn’t want to wait. Quietly, we began to ask ourselves if there was a way for us to be married sooner. We could elope, we could do something quick and easy and simple (like we are ever simple), we could go to the courthouse, we could get married at Jasper’s celebration…

Wait, what?!?

We could get married at our son’s memorial service? We COULD get married at our son’s celebration of life! And so, a week before the celebration redo-date, we decided to do just that. We decided to celebrate Jasper by celebrating our love for each other.

We already had pretty much everything we needed. We had already gotten our rings before the holidays. All we really needed to do was apply for a license, find Amy a dress, and find someone to officiate. We floated the idea past Rich, just to see if he would be ok with us getting married there and he was not only ok with it, but he was willing to officiate the ceremony. Who knew he was ordained??

We decided to keep it quiet and only told David, Rich, and Melanie, as we would need their help to pull it off. We didn’t even tell our kids.

Were we really doing this? Were we really going to have a surprise wedding at a memorial? Yes, yes we were!

March 9th, Sun shining bright, patches of snow still melting on the ground, guests arrived to enjoy drinks, snacks, crafts, and games. At 4PM everyone boarded the emotional rollercoaster and held on for a wild ride. Amy and I spoke for a bit, telling everyone about our Journey with Jasper. We talked about pain, and heartache, and love, and sadness, and family. We showed a slideshow that we had put together to introduce Jasper to those that didn’t get to meet him – you can see it here if you are interested (might want to grab a few Kleenex).

We all toasted to Jasper and then…

SURPRISE! We are getting married. The room turned from tears of sadness to tears of joy in a mad instant. Rich said his beautiful words, Amy and I pledged and promised and, blamo, I was now a husband to my amazing and beautiful wife. We kissed and danced, smiled with sadness and cried with joy. It was far from what we had ever imagined, but everything we ever needed and we left there that night with hopeful loving hearts all around us.

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2019 was a rough year, as the understatement of the century. Jasper left us to start the year, Amy stepped away from her job of 19 years, business stress, surgery, money, and a general inability to get the coffee in quick enough. However, 2019 has had plenty of good in it as well. It can a little harder to see at times, but it’s there. I became a husband, we had several tooth fairy visits, road trips, camping trips, old friends, sandy toes, and another plus sign on a pregnancy test.

With 2019 coming to a close and 2020 looming on the horizon, I thank my wife for helping to keep my glass half full and me hopeful. In January, we will welcome the newest member of our family to our #casadechaos . While I am anxious, I am hopeful that this child will stay with us, though painfully aware that this is not guaranteed.

While it may not have been the wedding we dreamed of more than a year ago, it was everything we needed. This is the story of our winter wedding. This is the story of our loss and love. This is the story of how we told ourselves and the world, that we would persevere, that we would stand and walk forward, together. We are still healing and learning and probably will be for a long time to come.

I hope, as I have, that everyone at some point finds someone they would walk through hell with and, if they do, hold them tight. When the heat starts to lick at your feet, hold tighter. When you start to slip, let them catch you. Remember to laugh. Remember to cry. Remember to be present. Remember to love and remember to be patient. Above all, just remember to be kind to each other. And PLEASE, for the love of butter, if you plan a winter wedding, plan for snow and practice your snow angels, because blizzards happen… even in Seattle.

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