Across Alaska — and the world — the coronavirus pandemic is canceling big celebrations, weddings included. But many couples are still making it work anyway — rushing to the courthouse for last-minute paperwork, trying on wedding dresses by Zoom and moving their first dance from ballrooms to living rooms.
Meet three couples who aren’t letting the coronavirus stop them from saying their vows in Alaska.
When Kendra Kennedy’s dad warned her in early February that the coronavirus — then a new disease that had taken hold in China — could disrupt her wedding in Alaska on March 21, she thought: No way.
“I just had no concept that things would just move so fast and change so dramatically,” Kendra said.
But then, the coronavirus spread across the globe. And Kendra and George Faber, her then-fiancé, now-husband, watched and worried. They live in Los Angeles. But Kendra is from Anchorage. And, for about a year, they had pieced together their plans to marry in Girdwood.
They flew to Alaska about a week before the wedding.
“Each day we would wake up to a new reality about a different state or a different country that has since been locked down,” George said.
“Two weeks before our wedding, we had 110 confirmed guests,” Kendra said. “And, and over the course of eight days, it went down to 12.”
“It was really quite heartbreaking,” George said.
The guest list shrunk to just Kendra’s family and a couple family friends.
But, George and Kendra said, they knew — through all of the fast-paced decisions and hectic cancellations — that they would get married, somehow, on March 21. It would have felt too deflating not to, Kendra said. And, marriage is more than just one day, George added.
“No matter how bad things got, no matter how stressful things became, no matter how many people canceled, the one thing we knew is we’re going to get married,” he said. “We’re not going to let this define, you know, what our marriage is. This is simply one of the first hurdles that we were dealing with as a married couple.”
So they adapted. Kendra’s sister went to the courthouse days before the wedding to fill out paperwork so she could marry them — to substitute for the friend who couldn’t fly in. They live-streamed their wedding on Facebook, from a church in Girdwood, with just a few people in the pews.
Instead of a reception at Hotel Alyeska, they went back to a rental house. They had their first dance to Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” played from a cell phone plugged into a speaker system.
“We had practiced that dance for months,” George said, and they both laughed.
They listened to George’s dad’s pre-recorded speech. And their friends, from across the country, sent video messages congratulating them.
“We truly were able to celebrate with everyone,” Kendra said. “But just on a much different platform than we ever imagined.”
The next day, Anchorage started hunkering down.
‘Ironically, this is kind of becoming the wedding we had initially wanted’
Grace Graham and Gus O’Malley got engaged in November 2018, and imagined they’d eventually elope. But then, they told Grace’s mom. And she didn’t love that plan.
“Her response was, ‘Well, that would be selfish,’” Grace said, trailing off into laughter. “And so we took that to mean: Okay, wedding it is!”
So, in December 2018, the couple sketched out a plan to marry on May 30, 2020 at the Crow Creek Gold Mine in Girdwood, the town where Gus grew up and where his parents still live. They invited about 150 people. They shoehorned their wedding date between plans for an early honeymoon — a ski race in Norway and backpacking in Spain — and a move from Anchorage in early June to wherever Gus got placed for his medical residency.
“So just like all the big life events that we could have possibly stacked together,” Grace said. “And, that didn’t go according to plan.”
First, the coronavirus erased the ski race, and their trip. Then, more and more states started shutting down businesses, and asking people to stay home. With so many things canceled, Grace and Gus said, they hoped they could somehow salvage their wedding celebration.
“For a couple that wanted to elope initially, we were incredibly reluctant to cancel,” Gus said.
But then they thought more about what a party might look like during a pandemic.
“None of the parts of a wedding that we would be excited about would have been able to happen, like you can’t share big hugs and dancing and crowding together,” Gus said. “We realized, this is just not gonna be worth it, which was really, surprisingly, very disappointing.”
In April, the couple decided to cancel their larger celebration and started planning for a small ceremony — while also hunkering down in their Airport Heights home and renovating their bathroom.
“The fact that we’ve been stuck in the house together for the last six weeks and still really like each other, that’s probably a good sign that we still actually want to spend our lives together,” Gus quipped.
As for the new location of their wedding? That’s still up in the air. Maybe they’ll get married on the porch at Gus’s parents’ house in Girdwood. Or, maybe, they’ll say their vows in a park.
“Ironically, this is kind of becoming the wedding we had initially wanted, just something very low-key and smaller,” Gus said.
“It’s come full circle in a lot of ways,” Grace said.
‘We’ll figure this out and it’ll be okay’
Maggie Ryan stood in a floor-length white dress in her Anchorage kitchen last month. It was one of several dresses she had ordered online. She twirled in front of her laptop, as friends watched by Zoom and commented on the intricacies of the lace. Her fiancé, Chuck Herman, adjusted the bottom of the dress, so it cascaded across the floor. He did the same for another Zoom meeting with Maggie’s family.
“I think I am one of the first grooms in history to be a wedding dress shop assistant,” Chuck said, and laughed. “Which involves me crawling around on the floor with my eyes closed.”
It was bittersweet, Maggie said.
“It was fun to be able to do that and kind of expand how many people you could go shopping with,” she said. “But it was also one of the periods where I was really sad, just because none of the dresses that I tried on are going to compare to the dress that I had dreamed of.”
Maggie didn’t plan to order a wedding dress online. For months, her mom was sewing her a dress in Virginia, in preparation for the couple’s wedding, which was supposed to happen in July in Talkeetna. But, as the coronavirus settled over the country, plans changed.
“Everything was so crazy around us. Everything was so crazy at work,” said Maggie, who is a nurse in Anchorage. “This just seemed like, “Okay, well, we’ll figure this out and it’ll be okay.’”
A bachelorette party in Lake Tahoe became a party by video chat. And the wedding split in two: This June, they’ll have a tiny ceremony at Root Glacier near McCarthy, where they got engaged. A friend will marry them, and another will wear a GoPro to record the ceremony for family in the absence of cellphone service.
Maggie said it’ll be tough not to have her parents there, walking her down the aisle — if there even is an aisle. But, she said, “so much has changed in the past few months, and we still really just wanted to be able to get married and move forward as husband and wife.”
Next year, hopefully, they’ll have a big celebration — a belated wedding reception and first anniversary, Maggie said.
“It’ll just be an excuse to party about everything that’s been overcome.”