This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening. You’re staring at your phone in disbelief as a major storm is approaching your city….3 days before you’re to be married outside at a beautiful old mansion on the bay. You’ve spent over a year planning the wedding of your dreams and now due to circumstances beyond your control, you’re watching your dreams of cascading down the aisle with the sun glimmering in your eyes drown away with every “extreme weather” alert that lights up your phone.
It’s every bride’s worst nightmare but an unfair reality of life that some unfortunate couples will be forced to cancel or postpone their wedding last minute due to an emergency. Inclement weather, illness, and other tragedies do not consider our plans while wreaking havoc, but only leave us with the upsetting task of picking up the pieces of the mess they've made.
If the unthinkable is happening to you, just remember - you will get through it. Likely with a bit of heartache and smeared mascara but in the end, you will survive the tragedy of pulling the plug on your wedding last minute.
This post addresses how to postpone or cancel your wedding short notice due to unforeseen circumstances and acts of God. This post does not address cancellations due to relationship upsets or changes of heart. While equally agonizing, there is different etiquette involved if the cancellation is due to relationship matters so I will keep the topics separate and focus on emergency management when life goes awry and ruins your wedding.
First things first, it’s okay to be wildly upset if you’re forced to postpone or cancel your wedding last minute. In fact, I would be wondering what was wrong if you weren’t wildly upset. Not only are you dealing with whatever tragedy has landed you in this predicament, but now also facing the heartbreaking disappointment of losing your wedding. For completely legit reasons, you’re likely going to be too distraught to personally deal with the bulk of chores involved in calling off your wedding. That’s why the first step is to notify your wedding planner and appoint a few close friends/family to help you. If you have a wedding planner in place, of course they will be able to help you with emergency management but if you do not, you’ll need to get your point people lined up and have them begin with notifying your guests ASAP.
Assuming you’re operating without a planner, have your helpers call every single person on your guest list. Every. Single. One. Leave messages. Follow-up with texts. Send a mass email. Create a Facebook group. Post on your wedding website. Get the word out and be diligent. When you're postponing or canceling your wedding last minute, there is not time to hope your guests checked their voicemail or saw a Facebook post. You need to make sure they've received your message so they can cancel their flight, turn the car around, or even worse - aren’t waiting outside the church wondering where everyone is.
Now if you’re postponing or canceling your wedding last minute, it’s only natural guests are going to be concerned and wonder what’s happened. In this situation, it is appropriate to give some type of explanation as to what’s going on and if this is a postponement or complete cancellation. Your guests care about you and if you’re canceling due to tragedy, they’re going to want to support you as best they can. Brief your point people on exactly how much information you’re comfortable sharing and make sure everyone’s message is consistent. The last thing you want is mixed information or scattered details being circled about.
If the situation is such that you’re dealing with a postponement due to something like a weather event, it may be feasible to quickly determine a tentative reschedule date and let your guests know at the time the initial calls are made. If the matter is something more tragic such as an accident or severe illness, simply notifying your guests the wedding is canceled until further notice is completely acceptable. The only information that truly needs to be shared is that the wedding is off and a brief explanation of the cause.
Once your guests have been notified, or simultaneous to your guests being notified, all vendors need to be notified. Again, if you have one, your wedding planner will already be working on this but if it's in your hands to manage, you’ll need to call each vendor to cancel and then follow-up in writing. Start with the venue, then caterer, then florist, and bakery. Depending on how last minute the cancellation is, you may be able to spare food being purchased or floral arrangements made which could help with some of the financial implications of canceling short notice.
If the cancellation is due to a regional weather event or problem with the facility (fire, flood, etc.), some vendors may already be aware of the situation. In that case, it may be most efficient to send an email with all vendors cc’d and then later separately discuss the details/terms of each individual contract.
After the initial steps have been taken and you can think with a clear head, it is important to sit down and review your wedding insurance policy (if you have one). A good wedding insurance policy will cover the cost of rescheduling and expenses incurred for postponements/cancellations due to:
Site Inaccessibility (fire, flood, or other emergencies that render the site unavailable)
Weather (hurricanes, blizzards, floods, etc.)
Illness or Injury
Vendor no-shows (if a key vendor doesn’t show like the officiant or caterer and the wedding must be canceled.)
If you're navigating the aftermath and do not have wedding insurance, you’ll need to sit down and review each vendor contract carefully. Depending on the cause of the cancellation, some vendors may have contractual terms that address the matter. If you’re planning to reschedule your wedding, there may be specific language that addresses postponements due to acts of God. In some cases, you may be able to reschedule for a later date at no financial penalty. Talk to each vendor, be understanding, and see what you can get worked out.
Once the dust has settled, it is appropriate to return all gifts and mail a card to your guests thanking them for their generosity. Even if you're planning to reschedule, your rescheduled wedding should be treated as a separate event with the choice left to each guest of what they’d gift for a future event. Unfortunately, some guests may feel dismayed at the efforts and expense that went into attending your initial wedding which may impact their feelings on gifts for a rescheduled wedding. Also, depending on how much later the rescheduled date is, not returning a gift could create confusion as to whether they're expected to send another gift for the future event. The wedding did not take place, therefore the gifts need to be returned - even monogrammed gifts. The only exception would be gifts that have already been used.
Lastly and sadly, do not forget to cancel your honeymoon. In some cases, you and your sweetie may still want to take that trip to alleviate the stress you’ve just endured. If feasible, this may be a great way to move past the heartache of canceling your wedding short notice. If that’s not in the cards though, contact the resort, vacation rental, airline, and see what can be done to either refund your money or postpone your travel dates. In some cases, wedding insurance may also cover the loss of a honeymoon so double check your policy and see if there's any recourse to help recoup your travel expenses.
While not fair, canceling or postponing your wedding happens to the most undeserving couples but it does not mean a happy wedding is not eventually in the stars. My heart aches for anyone who’s been in this situation or is reading this post and facing this type of disappointment. It isn’t easy and it may leave some scars but just remember.....what is meant to be will be and love will always find a way!
HANG IN THERE!
Jessica Bonanno is the owner of Happily Ever Florida, LLC - an event planning and custom décor company located in Fort Myers, Florida. Happily Ever Florida, LLC is dedicated to providing couples with exceptional service while creating artful and original events at affordable prices. Please contact HappilyEverFlorida@gmail.com for questions or comments on this post, or to learn more about our services.