A FAIRY TALE WEEKEND OF WEDDING CELEBRATIONS

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When I moved from China to Raleigh back in 2015 I could not have imagined ever getting married, let alone getting married to my “Partner in Crime” and best friend.  I married Aaron Watkins on Saturday, May 18 and it was one of the happiest days of my life!

I would be remiss not to clearly thank my family and Aaron’s family for everything they did to make this wedding possible.  My parents have been there every step of the way for me, unwavering in support and love, which is why I truly believe I am where I am today.  Sometimes they say it takes a village to raise a baby, but in my case it took a clan of Ingersoll’s to raise me after the accident.

I was so certain when I was first injured 9 years ago that I would have a fulfilling life, but a life without love and a partner.  I had come to terms with this and made peace in my mind.  What I did not realize is how much love can literally transform one’s outlook on life.  I used only live from one challenge to another – now I look forward to future adventures, and when those challenges do arise I know will have someone by my side every step of the way.

Originally we wanted to have a very small ceremony with immediate family only, but my father thankfully convinced me this was an occasion we would not want to forget.  He was right in more ways than one.

We had family and friends from Raleigh, around the United States, London, Germany, France, and China join us for four days of round-the-clock festivities.  It was a world wind weekend and I prepared for months to make sure everything went smoothly – and it was over so quickly.  Everyone always told me to make sure to take a moment and enjoy everything around you when you’re getting married, which is exactly what I did.  I neurotically planned everything down to a T and the week before the wedding I was relaxed, present, and able to connect with people who I had not seen in over 10 years.

I didn’t even realize how much love Aaron and I have in our life and support around the globe.  Living life is about people, relationships, and quality time in my opinion.  I know at the end of my life I will not look back at how hard I worked, but rather the people who have influenced my life, and I theirs.

While I meticulously planned the wedding there are just certain factors you cannot control.  I ended up getting severe bronchitis three weeks prior to the wedding.  I did everything in my power and by some universal grace I stopped coughing four days before the wedding.

Unfortunately, I also developed a pressure sore that Thursday before the wedding.  I was very careful, leaned back in my chair a lot to shift the weight off my bum, and I don’t know why or how, but I got really really lucky!

Now, onto the Wedding Celebration Festivities:

Thursday, May 16

Of our 73 guests who attended the wedding, about 50 of them were scattered around the globe.  Many of them arrived on Thursday, which was also my big brother’s birthday.

We were not quite sure what to do with 50 guests who were sporadically arriving at different times throughout the day.  We decided to cater a Lebanese feast at my pool.  My apartment has lovely outside seating by the pool with couches, chairs, a kitchen, etc.  I thought what better way to receive the first of our international guests than on a beautiful sunny day by the pool with fresh food and drinks!

(One of my BFF’s, Kira, did a great photo bomb!)

It was a slightly bewildering feeling for me to have all of this attention on such a happy day.  For the last six or seven years we usually all gathered together in times of crisis for medical emergencies.  This was truly the first time in 9 years, as my brother reminded me, family had not come to see me in the ICU!  What a treat indeed it was for me.  I was completely over the moon to have so many hugs, long conversations, and support around us for a happy day this time.

Funny enough, Facebook popped up a memory over the weekend saying that three years ago that week I was rolling into the ICU with the new boyfriend.  I was headed in for pressure sore surgery and I honestly did not know what life had in store for me all those years later.  I married my husband who I used to call the “Boy” as many of you will recount 😉 How times have changed!

Friday, May 17

I think everyone had a late night that Thursday before and the rest of the guests were set to arrive midday on Friday.  We planned drinks and Peruvian hors d’oeuvres at this fabulous restaurant right below my apartment.  My dad and I strategically helped place most of the guests within a mile of my apartment and a mile of all of the festivities.  Since my energy levels dwindle at the end of the day and pain levels rise we wanted to make sure I didn’t have to drive a lot.

During the day Aaron and I met up with most of my girlfriends and guy friends.  Some of my friends I met when I was 8 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old, 20 years old, etc.  These women, whom I am honored to call my friends, are also smart, beautiful, intelligent, and really determined.  It was interesting to see how they all connected with one another as I’d met them at different times in my life.  It was almost like a painting depicting my life with people.  I’ve been through so many different phases in life, but apparently I’ve always been able to find incredible people to inspire me and support me.

As the afternoon came to an end we all went our separate ways for a few hours as we prepared for drinks and cocktails for some of Aaron’s family and all of the out-of-town guests.  My 18-year-old niece is basically a professional makeup artist.  I don’t know how she does it, but she made me look like a Barbie doll.  I commissioned her to do my makeup for the wedding, so this was a test run.

Prior to the event we met downstairs by my pool area with the wedding party for a rehearsal.  My dad, ever the perfectionist, went over to the wedding venue to get the schematics of where the ceremony would be held so we could draw on a large piece of paper where everyone needed to be.  I must say he did it with military precision and even my little flower girl nieces were told to pay attention.

I know brides are supposed to arrive fashionably late, but I just can’t help myself.  If I’m on time I’m late in my mind.  Aaron and I walked around the corner to where we were hosting our event, I think I scarfed some food quickly so I wouldn’t have to talk with my mouth full, and waited as all of the guests arrived one by one.  I soaked up every moment, gave as many hugs as I could, and tried to imprint everyone’s faces into my memory in that exact moment.  You see, many years had passed since I had seen many of our family or friends, and I didn’t want to miss a single second of it.

Everyone laughed, drank, and were pretty much merry the entire night.  9 PM was approaching and I simply didn’t want to leave.  However, I knew if I wanted to be a refreshed bride in the morning with no medical issues I was going to have to say my goodbyes.  I couldn’t believe the night was over so quickly.

We had arranged for Aaron to stay at my sister’s house that night, but his brother surprised him with some other family members with a hotel room right next to the wedding venue downtown.  Unbeknownst to me at the time my little sneak of a husband went out and really had a fabulous time from what I hear 😉 Anyway, that’s what I was told the next day as many of the guys stumbled in.  Hey he showed up to the wedding… That’s what counts!

Saturday, May 18

I could hardly sleep a wink the night before as I was so excited.  One of my best friends Jenny from China spent the night with me.  I woke up at 5:45 AM with a strict plan of getting to the wedding venue at 12:30 PM for a 2 PM ceremony.  Of course I wanted to double check everything was in order before the guests arrived.

After I finished up all of my essential caregiving duties I put on my beautiful white pants and wedding top.  I have not worn a dress since my accident and I wasn’t about to start with a wedding dress for fear of pressure sores.  So, the head of the Carolina Ballet costume design department personally designed my wedding top over the course of eight weeks.  She was so fabulous in making changes to ensure the top was absolutely perfect for me.  There was no detail too small for her!

At 9 AM I had my niece come over and do my makeup to which my father’s first words to me were “Ali, you look five years younger!”  Thanks dad 🙂 I’ll have to commission my niece for more sessions.  At 10 AM I had a lady come from a very cool company called Makeup-for Your-Day to do my hair.  It was quiet in my house as everyone was getting ready in their respective locations.  I didn’t want to have a big wedding party with the hustle and bustle because trying to get a quadriplegic ready for a wedding from a technical dressing perspective is challenging enough.

When I walked into Vidrio at 12:30 PM, a gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant with hundreds of colorful hand-blown glass plates on the wall, to say I was gob smacked would be an understatement.  I felt like a fairy princess walking into her kingdom.  Our florist, a good friend of mine who owns a florist shop in Raleigh called The Purple Poppy, did the most stunning and outstanding job with tropical flowers all over.  Over the last several months I’d also put together many tables with decorations, signage, guestbook tables, etc.  I wanted to make sure every detail was noticed, and it was!

As I waited in the bridal suite with family and friends I was finally signaled that it was my turn to roll down the aisle with my dad.  I decided to raise my chair all the way up to be eye level with my future husband.  Walking down the aisle to Fleetwood Mac’s song “Landslide,” with all eyes on me, was an experience no bride should ever forget.  I had to have my dad hold my flowers because I couldn’t hold his arm and drive my wheelchair at the same time.  I’m good, but not that good.

 

My brother dressed up in a captain’s naval costume because we have this quirky sense of humor in our family, and he delivered a humorous, yet touching ceremony speech.  Aaron and I wrote our own vows, which were so emotional and I truly hope somebody videoed it.  There were so many tears in the room of joy, and while I don’t generally cry myself, the waterworks came on for me when I saw tears in Aaron’s eyes as I walked down the aisle.

The sermon was over before I knew it and we were married!  I mean officially married. We’d been talking about it for the better part of year and half and we finally did it.  I met my partner in crime on online dating and he saw me through my hospital days early in our career… I knew he was a keeper after that!

Following the wedding ceremony we had the traditional wedding pictures with the photographer while guests started drinking and passing around hors d’oeuvres.  Around 4 PM it was onto the main event … The Reception!

Unfortunately, I don’t get my pictures from the photographer back for another month or so, but many of the photos in this blog were sent to me by so many folks.  The room was so bright and colorful with tropical flowers and palm leaves hung everywhere around the room, the head table looked out onto the entire room of guests, and the service was impeccable.  We opted for a family-style type dinner where they brought each table bowls of food including perfectly cooked salmon, the most tender beef you’ve ever eaten, and paella.

After an hour of merriment and laughter the wedding toasts commenced.  I had my sister, one of my brother’s, and one of my best friends give a speech on my side, and Aaron’s brother and one of his best friends gave the other speeches.  This time I truly had tears streaming down my face as my brother was recounting all that we had been through over the last nine years as a family.  I even saw few tears in my dad’s eyes, which is unusual 🙂

After speeches we had cake cutting.  I asked Aaron not to shove cake in my face, but you can’t win them all.  The cake, oh the cake! I’ve never seen such a more beautiful work of art.  I found this photo in a magazine and commissioned the most amazing cake designer named Chloe Lee who has a company called Cakes by Chloe to make the cake.  She not only designed the most beautiful cake, but has since become a good friend of mine.  The cake had three different layers of flavors.  One was vanilla with hazelnut and coffee icing, the second layer was chocolate with cream cheese and raspberry preserves, and third layer was carrot cake.  It was the best wedding cake I’ve ever tasted and was even more fun being the one to cut the first slice with my husband.

Now, the true party was about to begin.  The dancing.  Aaron I had our first day of song by Sonny and Cher –“Babe, I got you Babe,” followed by the mother/son dance, and then a wedding game called the chair game, followed by the anniversary dance.  With the anniversary dance every married couple dances on the dance floor until the last couple standing – who have been married the longest.  My parents were the last ones on the dance floor and I swooped into a mother/ father/ daughter dance before the party started.  We danced to an old Doris Day song “Que Sera, Sera.”

 

After that Aaron and I took some more photos and then started drinking ourselves.  To be fair, while Aaron may have had a hell of a night on Friday, I had a hell of a night on Saturday.  As the hours rolled on and I danced like a maniac with anyone who would dance with me, somehow the end of the night became a little bit of a blur for me.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do that, but because of the bronchitis weeks earlier I couldn’t taste much, especially the vodka!  It was my wedding day, so I had so many wonderful people help get me home.

In any event, the entire wedding day went off without a hitch.  Sure they were certain things that didn’t go according to plan, but the moment I walked down the aisle with my dad I just let everything go.

We concluded our night’s festivities and Aaron I left around 10 PM because we had a day of goodbyes on Sunday and a beautiful bunch planned the next day at 12 PM.

Sunday, May 19

I don’t think I would do the English language justice trying to describe how underwhelmed I felt the next morning.  Vodka and I had gotten into a fight the night before and she won in the morning!  The silver lining is that my new husband took extra tender care of me to make sure I was up in my chair and ready to go to our brunch.  Thankfully I was not the only one at the wedding to have had a few too many as I learned the next day at the brunch.

We hosted the brunch at a Mexican restaurant and rented out the second floor.  We had about 50 guests attend our brunch while we said our goodbyes.  We spent the rest of the day by the pool with about 15 people who had later flights relaxing, chatting, and swimming.

I think that about sums up the entirety of our wedding and I’m leaving out a lot of details.  I might have to write a book on our four day event celebration.  I have so many tips, tricks, and hints for fellow spinal cord injury folks on helping make a wedding go more smoothly if anyone is interested.

Thank you to everyone who was part of our unbelievably special day.  I will never forget it and cherish it always.

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