A couple’s wedding day is one they look forward to from the moment they realize they’ve found “the one”. The months (or for many couples, years) of planning leading up to the big day can be a whirlwind of emotions from excitement at the moment of proposal & celebrating milestones in selecting the perfect vendors, to the more stressful times in juggling family emotions, vendor contracts, finances, and somehow staying on the same page with your significant other. Yet no couple could have possible prepared for the shock of a global pandemic changing every detail they’ve worked so hard to perfect. For those couples going through the heartbreaking decision of cancelling, postponing or drastically changing the happiest day of their lives, it can take a heavy emotional toll. That’s where one wedding planner saw she had an opportunity to help.
When I first met Sandy Brooks of Timeless Event Planning on the steps of the Harborview Hotel in Edgartown, I somehow felt that I had not just hired a wedding planner, but was about to make a good friend. As we casually sipped mimosas overlooking Lighthouse Beach where my husband & my engagement photos were taken, Sandy and I went over every detail of what our dream wedding day would look like. By the end of our conversation, it was impossible to imagine that just an hour before our new wedding planner had been a total stranger and there was no doubt in my mind that she was the person I trusted to guide our wedding planning journey.
While you’d never know it based on the personal attention she gives to each and every client to make your wedding the only one just like mine did, Sandy Brooks had 12 weddings booked for 2020. Yet with the Coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation or postponement or all major events, the bi-coastal wedding planner is now down to just four left on the books: and she understands better than anyone how painful her clients’ decisions to cancel or postpone have truly been. Engaged to be married herself June 20th, 2020 on Martha’s Vineyard, Sandy too had that difficult decision to make. “I have a different perspective on what I think is going to happen because I am a bride-to-be myself,” she explains. “I’m living everything as well and so for me, it’s about my business, but it’s also about being fair to my clients.” With her wedding date right around the corner, Sandy knew that not only she but all of her other brides would have to act fast.” The second I moved my wedding, I promised my July brides I’d call them first and explain my decision and why. Even if the ban is lifted, there will most likely be restrictions on events and we just can’t see us having the wedding we have been creating the past two years. My fiance’s family, groomsmen and friends are coming from CA which makes us worried. His parents are 70 years old and my dad has been sick the past ten years, making this decision even harder.”
As she has been navigating the re-booking of her own wedding while continuing to guide her clients, Sandy began to receive message after message with brides-to-be all asking the same question: What do we do? “There’s a lot of brides on the island that were getting married on our same weekend, and people asked how I made my decision.” While normally consulting a wedding planner is a paid service, Sandy found she couldn’t turn away from the brides’ cries for help. “The first thing I had to ask is: Do you have a wedding planner? I didn’t want to step on any toes!” she explained. “I wanted to be a friend to these girls because if they can’t even afford a wedding planner, who do you come to? Your photographer or florist might have an answer of what they think based on their business, but I’m actually engaged and going through this with all my vendors, too.”
So, what advice did she give? “It’s really important to make a backup plan early and ask vendors to put a soft hold on those dates as couples will not only be competing with 2021 brides for dates, but other 2020 couples that are forced to reschedule,” explains Sandy, who was heartbroken to learn that one of her selected vendors wouldn’t be available for her new date once she rescheduled. Not only can it be stressful emotionally to lose a vendor, but there’s also the task of re-sending the stationary, re-working the guest list to adapt to any changes in who may or may not now be able to attend-all while facing any fees involved with these changes. Fees, Sandy says, can be a touchy subject with couples already spending a fortune on their dream day. Thankfully, Sandy has the unique perspective of both a bride and a vendor to help explain why some charges make sense-and others don’t. “My industry is suffering so much, which is why people are trying to keep their September and fall weddings in place,” she explains of how vendors are losing money as cancellation after cancellation of their summer events roll in. “Some want to keep waiting and waiting, but I think just being really honest on your perspective and having a plan will put their minds at ease.” For one of Sandy’s clients, a vendor had refused to move an already set wedding date. Yet suddenly, a grant became available and all move fees were able to be waived. While it can be frustrating to understand as a couple already experiencing a worst-case wedding scenario of a mandated cancellation, Sandy knows that while some clients can’t afford the extra fees, vendors are scrambling to salvage the little business they can. “I know what it feels like, so it’s really hard for me because I have to explain to my clients why they have to charge. Many vendors will need to pick up side jobs if this doesn’t end soon. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. we are just coming out of our off-season and were really needing these events to survive.” The good news for brides? Some companies that are in a position to help are being very understanding, such as printing companies offering complimentary postcards to send out to guests with the new dates. “There are vendors out there that don’t just want money. I love talking to people and hearing stories, and telling mine. It’s a really hard time that people are going through.”
Being such a heavy subject, the reactions from those Sandy has talked to have been “extremely understandable,” she says. “The first bride I had to move, I got on the phone and she was like, ‘Wait your texts aren’t bubbly, whats going on?’ We talked it out, and she wanted to move the dates so I came to her with a plan. At first she was fine, but then she started bawling so I just knew we had to say ‘Okay, grab a glass of wine, we are going to do this together!’ ” How has Sandy advised her brides to cope with this stress? “You have to take it week by week. Start making guests lists of 50 people, then 100 people as there could be social gathering restrictions. Ask yourself, would even be the wedding you would want?” Yet moving the dates isn’t for everyone. For some brides, Sandy says, a 2020 wedding is taking on a whole new form. “Know that you can still get legally married this year, and party the following. One of my brides is also a wedding planner, and they decided to do a styled elopement in Palm Springs,” she explains. “Have your day to bawl your eyes out about these changes, make brownies, then the following morning make coffee and make a list of ten positive things happening in your life. You WILL get through this!!”