Messy Divorces: Coronavirus Splits Brides From Dream Weddings

Nicole St. Gelais cried for two weeks when the new coronavirus brought her long-awaited wedding with the love of her life to an abrupt halt.

The Milford, Massachusetts, woman is 42. She’s never been married. May 2 was the date that would change that. Her mom, more excited than even she is about the wedding, will have to draw more months on the countdown calendar she’s been keeping for a year on a chalkboard in her kitchen.

St. Gelais is eager to get married soon, but her urgency isn’t just because she’s been waiting for the big day for forever.

Her mom has brain cancer.

“Honestly, it’s devastating,” she says.

St. Gelais is among those who shared their stories with Patch about how spring and summer brides are working through an industry spun into chaos by social distancing measures and business shutdowns. Not unsurprisingly, no potential grooms jumped in.

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All weddings seem to have some level of sentimentality. But they are also variously silly, stately, tacky and elegant, nerve-racking and joyful.

The most uncertainty once usually centered around the unpredictable behavior of drunken Uncle Barney or what foul-mouthed Aunt Marge might blurt out — and how loud.

Now, with wedding venues, floral shops and catering services locked down just as the 2020 wedding season was to kick into high gear, the uncertainty centers on whether the events will be held at all and, if so, when.

April, May and June are among the most popular months for weddings, and even the plans of couples looking toward fall weddings are veiled in uncertainty over how long the virus will persist and the complicated nature of reopening state economies.

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Brides-to-be such as St. Gelais are competing for the same venues, hotels, caterers, bartenders, florists, lighting companies, bands and DJs, and all the other service businesses that contribute to the estimated $72 billion wedding industry.

Vendor schedules have been crunched together like the bellows on a wedding polka band accordion. Businesses connected to weddings are in their own battles for economic survival or with death they shall part the industry.

Some of them may not be around when social distancing guidelines are lifted and people can gather again at weddings.

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Maybe Beck the bridesmaid will make a spectacle of herself for crying about still being single.

So what? Suddenly, who cares?

Now, there are bigger issues to worry about, such as the difficulty re-planning a wedding that ensures that out-of-town guests can still attend.

It’s an imperfect storm, says wedding planner Caroline LaRocca, whose clients clamor to book her posh open-air penthouse that overlooks Roanoke’s historic downtown and offers spectacular views of twinkling city lights set against stoic mountain ranges of Virginia.

“This has turned our industry upside down and inside out,” says LaRocca, who opened her wedding and events planning business, Caroline LaRocca Event Design, in 1997. “It’s had a massive impact — not just on the brides, but our industry.”

The average wedding costs about $33,000 in the United States and even more in places such as Manhattan, where weddings run $83,000 on average, according to a 2019 study by The Knot, an online wedding planning company.

Close to $6,000 of that is spent on wedding rings, but the rest goes to vendors who depend on love proclaimed for a large chunk of their revenue.

“We are made up of small businesses. At Hotel Roanoke and that level, employees have all been laid off,” LaRocca says. “The next level businesses are almost all micro — mom-and-pop or small businesses. The impact is massive on these people.”

‘Holding Out Hope’

In many cases, businesses in the wedding industry are transferring deposits to ceremonies on future dates rather than swiping the money.

But some brides, like Shannon Stensen, a Limerick-Royersford-Spring City Patch reader in Pennsylvania, are losing money as they start from scratch to assemble vendors.

“We’re having issues getting deposits back because our caterer is offering to postpone, but our venue doesn’t have another Saturday open until November,” she says. “Ours is supposed to be an outside ceremony, and we are not interested in waiting that long. We’re having a difficult time rescheduling each vendor for the same date and then losing our deposit if they aren’t available.”

Tara Perri, of Brick, New Jersey, says she had no option but to postpone her April 10 wedding to July 10. Though nervous about the summer date, she says she’s “holding out hope.”

Hopeful determination is ingrained in this couple.

“On top of replanning our wedding, I’m a nurse and my fiancé is a firefighter/EMT, so it just gets crazier by the day,” Perri says.

The couple planned to mark their original wedding day by making a homemade wedding cake, holding each other close in their first dance and, she adds, “having lots of drinks.”

More Than A Date On Calendar

Many brides have dreamed about their wedding day since they were little girls traipsing around in Disney princess gowns, dressing their Barbies up like brides, and forcing their pets to suffer the indignity of tulle veils and snappy bow ties.

The grooms? Not so much.

We’ll be general here: Guys don’t dream about their weddings. It’s not that the vows they take are any less heartfelt. They just don’t think about getting married until they meet someone they want to spend their life with who isn’t their dog.

For them, it’s a “just tell me the date and I’ll show up” kind of thing.

For some brides that date is the most important detail of the wedding; everything else is planned around it.

One of LaRocca’s clients chose Saturday, May 16. It’s the anniversary of her parents and one set of her grandparents. The bride was able to snare May 15, 2021, a Saturday, for their rescheduled wedding. She missed the family’s anniversary trifecta by a day.

“These are the kind of things not everyone realizes — the importance of being able to procure that important date, and now they lose it,” the wedding planner says. “That’s tough.”

In New Jersey, Becky Kiss doesn’t want to be the bride of Frankenstein on Halloween. The Brick woman doesn’t want a Christmas wedding, either. And she definitely doesn’t want to get married on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the deadliest terror attack ever on U.S. soil.

Those were the only 2020 dates available at her chosen venue when she and her fiancé inquired about moving their June 27 wedding.

“With those the only options this year, we are stressing but hoping to be able to stick with our date,” Kiss says.

‘Normalcy In The Midst Of Chaos’

Stephanie Eckerle and her fiancé went ahead and got married last month.

The ceremony lacked the splendor the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, couple had planned, but saying “I do” on schedule added “a little bit of normalcy in the midst of chaos,” says Eckerle.

“We had been engaged for a little over two years and have been together almost 10 years,” she says. “We started dating in high school, so we were more than ready to get married.”

They moved the ceremony ahead a few days to March 17 and got married outside their chosen venue in the presence of their parents and siblings. The guests stood 6 feet from one another, but the ceremony was “very intimate for us all,” she says.

The couple plan to renew their vows at a big ceremony in December 2020, when, Eckerle says, they’ll have “the very long-awaited party and celebration with everyone after.”

Some couples are choosing no-fanfare weddings where no one has to worry about the groomsmen kidnapping the bride, or that they’ll get the groom so drunk the night before the wedding that he has to be propped up at the altar.

Nicole Sparks, of Brick, New Jersey, went ahead and got married in her backyard with only immediate family in attendance, but she and her husband pushed their honeymoon cruise to November.

“It was a special day, but we’re still devastated that we couldn’t have what we planned for,” she says. “I feel for all the other brides out there.”

Joann Manton Lowrey and her fiancé, Jim, are going ahead with their April 25 wedding in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. It will be a small affair, with only their kids and an officiant.

“We will have a party/celebration with all our friends and family when all this insanity is behind us,” she writes.

‘It’s Going To Happen’

Nicole Stallone isn’t budging.

Her shower was a drive-by parade with balloons and a Zoom call, but the Manalapan, New Jersey, woman is determined that her June 6 wedding will go on as planned.

“I’m holding on to my June date because it’s going to happen,” she says.

Some brides are postponing their weddings further into the future out of an abundance of caution. Concord, New Hampshire, bride-to-be Amy Joyner is just starting to plan her wedding, originally set for May 1, 2021, back another year.

“While that seems too far away to worry, I’m immunocompromised with damaged lungs and asthma,” the 34-year-old says. “I have to be extra cautious. I’ve been waiting for my perfect day for a long, long, long time. I was so sad, but so willing to push it back if it meant being able to celebrate fully with our loved ones.”

‘It’s Just About Getting Married’

Brides are under enormous pressure to please everyone. Or so they think. And sometimes act.

Don’t give Mom’s Aunt Gretchen any reason to snipe the dress shows too much cleavage. Make sure Hank, Dad’s uncle three-times removed, is seated in the corner in case he takes his teeth out at the reception.

And whose job is it to cue the best man to just end his long-winded speech before he embarrasses everyone more than he’s already embarrassed himself?

“At the root of it, don’t forget it’s just about getting married,” LaRocca says. “It’s about celebrating and finding each other. Don’t lose sight of this, even with this pandemic. No matter what, don’t lose sight of that.”

That wisdom isn’t lost on Amanda Leigh, who says all that matters is that she and her fiancé have each other.

The Stratford, Connecticut, couple was to have gotten married this weekend but pushed the wedding forward to July so they can celebrate with their friends and families.

Leigh worries the new date may be optimistic and they’ll have to delay the wedding again.

“It’s hard because it’s a day you work so hard for and dream of,” she says, “and now the most unexpected event has come and overshadowed the happiest day of your life together.”

Back in Massachusetts, Nicole St. Gelais’ mother is waging her battle with cancer while checking off days on the chalkboard wedding countdown calendar until Sept. 26 arrives.

St. Gelais was able to reschedule most of her vendors. She’s out some cash for trial runs with her hair and makeup artists, whom she wasn’t able to reschedule, and a few edible items and keepsake gifts with the date inscribed.

Saying “I do” is what counts.

Even if it’s “I do later than I wanted to.”

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