In the midst of COVID, wedding planning may seem like a daunting, disappointing, and damn near impossible task. With safety recommendations changing seemingly overnight, plans needing to be rearranged three, four, five times, and hopes for the celebration you always envisioned long gone, it’s no wonder you may have lost the enthusiasm for planning a wedding that you once had. Through various blog posts, virtual panel discussions, and more, Burgh Brides has tried to offer encouragement, hope, and positivity in an effort to invigorate you and your fiance, remind you what it is about a wedding that really matters, and try to reignite your wedding planning fire. However, while we as vendors and wedding industry professionals empathize with couples whose weddings are being affected by the coronavirus, we know we aren’t living it in the exact same way you are. This is why Burgh Brides went straight to the source!
Meet Lauren, a recent bride and avid Burgh Brides fan whose wedding was upended in countless ways. Despite the setbacks, Lauren and her now-husband Matt remained steadfast in their perspective: that – while incredibly special – their wedding day was just going to be one of many in their long, happy lives together. Together, this couple sought out the silver linings in their unique predicament and believe it or not, found many. Read Lauren’s story as she shares her experience, her advice for those in similar situations, and why she wouldn’t change a thing about her late July nuptials!
What were your original wedding plans?
Since our engagement on August 10, 2019 (and long before that in my own daydreams), Matt and I planned to get married in front of over 250 people on July 25, 2020. Okay, that plan may have been less hatched by Matt and me and more by our moms, my sister, and me…but it was going to be big! And it was going to be a blast! The total invite count exceeded 270, all welcomed to gather inside Our Lady of the Angels in Lawrenceville followed by a reception at the Grand Hall at the Priory. Aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, cousins, second cousins, family friends, work friends, plus-ones…the list goes on. Matt and I were both the final child to be married in our immediate families, and we planned to celebrate that way. I believe the term “blow the doors off the place” was floated in jest, about which I had zero misgivings. I was the little girl who played “wedding” with her dolls and neighborhood kids…who then turned into the teen and 20-something-year-old who was infatuated with every wedding I was lucky to attend. The whole idea fascinated me…hundreds of people gathering in full support of a couple’s commitment to each other…just a ton of people enthusiastically loving love. I was ready for my turn.
When did you know that COVID was going to affect your plans?
I watched as engaged friends had their late March and early May wedding plans rapidly disrupted. I felt sympathy for those couples, but secure and constantly assured, that our July date was lightyears away!
This would all be over and done-with soon, and then people would be even more thrilled to be released from their stay-at-home-orders and gather together in droves come late-summer. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until the end of April that I felt reality descend upon me. My bridal shower had already been postponed, and Matt and I were on the phone with his 98-year-old grandmother. Grammy is something of a “North Star” for her entire family and even her greater community. Kindly, gently, and with all the love in her heart, she expressed her sympathy to us during this time. She lamented for our sake how disappointing this whole COVID-era was turning out to be, and how unfair it was that our happy celebration was going to be disrupted. Due to a heavy dose of denial, I was initially taken aback. “Excuse me!?,” I thought. “OUR wedding?! But – lightyears, remember!? And the droves? And the relief? How are we thinking so morbidly so soon?!”
It took me a restless night’s sleep to realize the gravity of Grammy’s opinion. Grammy has lived and seen 98 years of history and human behavior. She has observed carefully how this mysterious world works. Grammy has witnessed our country go through innumerable crises – the Great Depression, recessions, wars, nuclear meltdowns, terrorist attacks – and the extensive time it takes for us to recover. Grammy was not being morbid. She was delicately, but unmistakably, imparting her wisdom on us.
At any point, did you feel unmotivated, sad, or discouraged?
I allowed myself less than one day to be truly sad. I think unmotivated is the perfect word. It started to feel silly to have a consultation with the bakery or to continue planning the room blocks. I stopped updating the adorable “days until” countdown display that Matt’s mom gave us. Each day as April closed and May began, indulging in that anticipation felt more and more absurd.
This is very important though – at no point did Matt or I feel sorry for ourselves. Because Matt and I held steadfast in keeping perspective.
While it may have been causing a hiccup or two in our wedding plans, this virus was actively and aggressively killing people all across the globe. How could we possibly feel sorry for ourselves when we and our loved ones were healthy? That alone was a borderline miracle. Also, this virus could disrupt our feelings of safety and comfortable predictability, but it could never make Matt and I stop loving each other. It couldn’t even come close. So again, how could we possibly feel sorry for ourselves when we still spent every day of lockdown in love and mutually excited for our future?
The virus was threatening our wedding, not our marriage. It was crucial to remind ourselves of that fact.
Was there anything that motivated you to keep planning?
Plans stalled until Burgh Brides presented a virtual State of the (Wedding) Union address. I saw the invitation to participate on Instagram and IMMEDIATELY signed up for the live webinar. I knew no one was going to have concrete answers for me, but what mattered so much more was simply gathering together (apart) to address this unprecedented challenge in the wedding industry, acknowledging the uncertainty together, and assembling the knowledge and resources that Pittsburgh had for couples in our predicament.
That address changed everything. It gave me such a clear idea of what needed to be done. Shayne, a wedding planner and the owner of Soiree by Souleret, advised brides to start thinking of a plan B and potentially a plan C. Jaime and Steven, the duo behind Steven Dray Photography, beautifully put the idea of postponing one year into perspective: it would truly just be a “blip” in our lifetime together, as they said. Jimmy from the greenSinner, planted the idea (pun totally intended) that these Pittsburgh vendors can make magic happen no matter what. The panel was barely saying their goodbyes when I reached out to Ali at Wanderlust Weddings and Events, who was my day-of coordinator.
What were your backup plan(s)?
Ali from Wanderlust and I came up with a plan B, C, and D that same day.
I appealed to her that planning a wedding is challenging enough, but RE-planning a wedding was a professional-grade undertaking.
She updated our contract to include any additional services needed. From then on, she was the calming but fierce force that continually assured me that we would find a way to make things work – safely – for everyone.
Essentially, the massive wedding reception was postponed for an entire year. Ali was ahead of the times back in May, stressing that to merely push back the huge celebration to the fall could bring on its own set of issues. Her advice was this: postpone the big crowd for the time of year you originally hoped for, and work with what you can on your original date. Even though we settled very quickly on postponing the reception to 2021, we had to work out the details of the actual wedding in 2020.
July 25, 2020 was going to be the day that Matt and I got married. Call me crazy, but I could not let go of that date, and I would not see that day pass by uncelebrated, even if that meant we had to strip it all down to the core.
Ultimately, the declaration of marriage only requires a scarce amount of people.
But one of the values Matt and I hold on most high is the unwavering love for our family and friends. For the declaration, sure, we only needed each other. But for the celebration that our love deserved, we needed our people. Our non-negotiable attendees were our immediate family – that numbered 11 total – and our bridal party and their spouses – that brought us to 24. We tried so hard to get Matt’s precious Grammy to be there in person as well, but pure logistics bested us on that one (Zoom came to the rescue later!). Plan A was officially bid farewell. So, settling into the reception being over a year away, we focused on the plans for our wedding ceremony weekend. We were prepared for every colored phase that Pennsylvania laid out:
Plan B, aka Red Phase: family only in the church, bridal party waiting outside and then gathering in my parent’s back yard for an after-wedding dinner
Plan C, aka Yellow Phase: family and bridal party in the church, same gathering post-wedding
Plan D, aka Green Phase: All 24 in the church, post-wedding dinner at a smaller Pittsburgh venue – Piccolo Forno
We took an exhale in late May when Pittsburgh hit the Yellow Phase milestone, and then again in early June when Green Phase was announced. Wow, nearly all restrictions were lifted! At that time, we even toyed with the idea of adding more people to our small July 25 gathering!
Two points of responsibility kept us from that temptation:
We had a civic responsibility.
Restrictions or not, the virus was not going anywhere soon. While it was encouraging to watch case counts decrease, COVID was still spreading. Fun as it might have been, it was simply irresponsible to host a large gathering in such a dangerous time. No dear great-aunt would be hospitalized – or worse – due to our negligence.
We had a financial responsibility.
Ali vehemently advised us that with having one ceremony date and another reception date, there was a fine line between splitting and DOUBLING the wedding costs. Now for us planning the event, that meant swapping out luxury flower arrangements with whatever flowers Trader Joe’s had in stock and my sister’s astounding natural talents in floral arrangement. But we had to be especially financially cautious to our guests. I’ll explain:
Imagine you live far away from Pittsburgh or you have an hourly job and you find out that your cousin’s wedding reception has been postponed. Great, no problem, glad to have something to look forward to next year. Now imagine your first cousin contacts you saying, “Good news! You’re invited to BOTH our ceremony this year AND the reception next year!” That means we’ve giving you two choices. You can 1.) spend DOUBLE what you were planning on travel and hotel accommodations and take two weekends off from work. Or 2.) you can miss the one and only family gathering that is planned for literally the entire year of 2020. This was not the predicament we wanted to put our family in. Therefore, the guest list stayed at an absolute minimum. Family and bridal party. End of list.
The absurd length of my answer in this section is a reflection of how every last detail had to be carefully considered without any rule book to refer to. The “stop, and think, and think some more” model was used for every aspect of this unique situation.
Ultimately, what was your wedding day like?
Allegheny County made things REALLY INTERESTING in the home stretch of the planning. As we looked forward to having a rehearsal dinner inside at Olive or Twist and an after-wedding dinner inside at Piccolo Forno, news headlines as such started to crop up:
Allegheny Co. Health Department Reports 240 More Coronavirus Cases With 17 More Patients Hospitalized
Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Reports 147 New Coronavirus Cases And 2 More Deaths
Pittsburgh Seemed Like a Virus Success Story. Now Cases Are Surging.
Gov. Tom Wolf Announces New Restrictions On Bars, Restaurants
Thus, our final Plan E emerged. All 24 guests could be present in the church for our wedding mass, but the after-wedding dinner was going to have to be in my parent’s backyard. Not a fun and fancy Pittsburgh staple, but the same area of land that my parents hosted my high school graduation party. The same spot that a rusty-spring trampoline once occupied. But it only took one verse of Dave Matthew’s “The Best of What’s Around” (“Turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters.”) to embrace the quirkiness of having our tiny wedding reception take place in my backyard.
So, we pressed on with plans, but with immense restrictions that Matt and I put in place to ensure everyone’s safety – because it is a huge emotional burden to have the people you love most in your life gather together in a relatively hot spot for our adversary, the novel coronavirus. A Zoom link was disseminated to any and all who were interested in watching the ceremony live in the comfort and safety of their home (I have a special picture of Grammy watching our ceremony from her couch!).
Our wedding day was filled with joy, fun, and celebrations, but equally included were distance considerations, premeditated safety practices, and MASKS.
If Matt and I were going to ask these people to travel and gather, it would not be without an abundance of caution. We still had a rehearsal at the church, but all of us were masked the entire time. Any time we were transported anywhere in groups, we were masked. We never went inside my parent’s house. When the whole group was together, it was outside. Even while outside, masks were worn unless we were eating or drinking. Aside from our declaration of vows and exchanging of our rings, we – you guessed it – wore masks. But we made it fun! My mask was lacy and bridal; Matt’s black mask had a tiny pocket square. My bridesmaids wore gorgeous crepe black dresses, so we accessorized with black sequence masks. When Christina Montemurro, our photographer, was ready to snap the picture, it was, “ready, set, UNMASK!” All of the vendors were masked the whole time.
That may have bummed out a lot of couples, but for Matt and me, the comfort of maximum safety allowed us to relax and enjoy our night.
On my wedding day, I got to walk down the aisle with my father, feel beautifully made up with hair and makeup, take pictures with my new husband and my bridal party, eat incredible food, dance and sing and party with my family, have a first dance, cut a cake, and listen to speeches carefully crafted by the people I love the most. My backyard was transformed, as if by magic (i.e., my mom’s vision and Wanderlust’s execution) into a classy and elegant reception venue. In consideration of preserving my wedding dress for our reception next year, I changed into a fun and comfortable white party dress, and encouraged all of the girls to change into any party dress they wanted once we got to my backyard. Gathering closely on a dance floor did not feel safe, so we swapped out a dance party for a wine tasting, which was much more “on brand” for my family. Each table had four wines that were near and dear to our hearts to taste and compare, with hand sanitizer readily available between bottle handling.
The night ended back at The Priory Hotel courtyard, with the Hamilton cast recording on blast. We had the whole courtyard to ourselves. I still hear, “A toast to the groom, to the bride…” every time I look at our pictures.
Do you have any regrets or wish you would have done anything differently?
No. At the end of the night, I asked our photographer, Christina Montemurro, when we could see our pictures and start crafting our wedding album. When she asked if I wanted to make an album this year or wait until next year, it took me a moment to even realize that she was referring to the big reception we had postponed. At that moment, I appreciated how complete the whole event felt, regardless of the guest count and venue.
It might have been Plan E, but with the help of an incredibly supportive crew, it never, ever felt like an alternate. I was so elated the whole time, it felt like a Plan A all along.
What can other couples do to stay positive and hopeful?
I see a clear split in the wedding community right now. It seems that half of the couples are going full-out and making this season as similar to what we’re familiar with from weddings of the past. The other half are doing the full over-haul, similar to my experience.
There is absolutely no such thing as right or wrong in this new venture, but my advice is this: be aware of the burden you will place on yourself.
For two weeks following our wedding, we felt personally responsible for the health of our 22 guests. Fortunately, with keeping the list so small, I knew the measures that each of them took beforehand to make the celebration as safe as possible. And I knew in my heart, I did everything I could to keep them safe during the celebration. The farther you extend the invitation, the less likely you will get that peace of mind.
Second, embrace this positive: having the virus weigh so ominously on our minds made all other problems feel so insignificant.
I had a groomsman worried that his gray suit wasn’t the right shade of gray. My response? “Who cares!? It’s just a color.” And if we take pictures this year and we hate it, we have next year to fix it! Same with a bridesmaid’s shoe color. Was it too rose gold to be considered nude? Say it with me: “Who cares!?!” And if it bothers us this year, we will get the world’s nude-est shoe for next year. After a while, the silver linings got to be so vast, I couldn’t even see the clouds.
And finally, I liken our story to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, only we had the virus that stole our wedding. “He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came! Somehow or other it came just the same…It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”
Maybe weddings, perhaps, mean a little bit more.
Trust the science, trust yourself, lean on your loved ones, and know what really matters in the end.