On October 12, 2019, I was engaged to the love of my life. A man who, despite all of my faults, wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. What followed was months of not only planning a Pakistani wedding (which is usually a minimum of four events), but also apartment hunting, and if you’ve ever tried to find a rental in Sydney before, you know it comes with its challenges.
The same year I flew to Pakistan to do my wedding shopping. My dresses, shoes, outfits for my family, all came from overseas, so I made a quick two-week trip to make sure everything was in order. What I didn’t know then, was that would be the last time I set foot on a plane for the next two years.
Our weddings are a grand affair. Colour, festivities, music, food, there is so much hospitality in our culture that when planning an event to such a scale, no detail can be overlooked. My bridesmaids began practising their dance performances three months in advance for the Mehndi event, which is a pre-wedding party where women can let their hair down and let loose for the night.
Every Friday night, my girls would gather at my house and attempt to follow YouTube videos that taught us how to dance to Bollywood songs. It was one of the most memorable moments of all, but also the most stressful. Because my wedding was at the end of March, my sister organised my bridal shower a few weeks beforehand, and my parents started to prepare themselves as I was getting ready to say goodbye to their home. Makeup and hair appointments were booked, the decorator was called and the outfits were ready. Everything was in order, until a week before the Mehndi event, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weddings were restricted to five guests, an impossible feat for someone having a 300-person wedding. I vividly remember working from home and hearing the news, my heart sank to the bottom of my chest as I realised what was happening. It was a terrible time, with so many falling sick, and no cure in sight. My phone quickly started blowing up from people asking me what’s happening with my wedding, but the truth was, I hadn’t even wrapped my head around the news yet. How is it, that a day I’ve been planning for months could all disappear in an instant?
COVID-19 has affected so many people around the world, and I’m immensely grateful that none of my friends or family has contracted the virus. But I think it’s important for people to know, that it’s okay to grieve when it comes in between major milestone events. Whether it’s a wedding, a graduation or even a school formal. The pandemic left thousands of brides in a lurch. As if they weren’t stressed enough already, families and couples were forced to call each and every single attendee and give them the bad news. They were required to cancel their appointments, knowing there was no need for them anymore.
After discussing the next steps with our families, it made sense for us to move out into our newly leased apartment. It may sound dramatic, but it was bittersweet. One part of me could not wait to start my life with my husband as a married couple, but the other part shared a sense of sadness as I wouldn’t receive the same farewell other brides do when they leave their parents’ home. I never got to experience a proper rukhsati (which is the moment at the end of the wedding where the bride’s friends and family send her off to start her new chapter) and till today, when I attend weddings, I feel a rush of emotion when I see other brides hug their crying parents before they sit in the getaway car and drive off.
At the time we postponed our events to August 2020, thinking COVID-19 would definitely be gone by then, but when August came around we were forced to reschedule to November, and when November arrived, we set our wedding date to February 26. Nearly an entire year after the original date.
In late December, right before Christmas, NSW was once again hit with COVID after months of living freely. The Northern Beaches were locked down and myself and my husband were anticipating the worst: we’re going to have to postpone once again. At that point, I was ready to cancel my events altogether, but a part of me felt broken because that meant I would never be able to experience being a bride.
Thankfully, by the time our events came around, NSW was thriving again and everything went even better than planned. My friends and I performed our dances at the Mehndi event that we practised and fought over for weeks (they can get pretty heated). The wedding felt like a dream and the Valima, which is a reception the groom’s family holds, was the perfect way to wrap up the month-long festivities.
We were so fortunate that a year later, we were able to celebrate our wedding with our friends and family by our side, but as we come out of lockdown, I’ve seen those closest to me struggle with what the future holds. With many having postponed their wedding four or five times, and not knowing when they’ll be able to have a celebration of their own.
If you’re in this situation right now, just know that my heart goes out to you. It’s okay to feel upset. A wedding may just be a day for some, but the work that goes into planning it can only be known by those that have done it in the past.
Photo credit: Yosha J Photography, X3 Productions