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Instead of postponing their May wedding until the cases of COVID-19 began to drop, Andrew and Taylor Champagne chose to exchange vows in front of a handful of guests at Immaculate Conception Cathedral on March 21. The two playfully wore protective masks during one photo.

“I’m so glad we jumped in and just did it,” Taylor said. “We were just like, ‘Thank God it’s over.’ Now we can focus on keeping each other and our families safe.”

The Champagnes are one of many local engaged couples whose planned nuptials were affected by state and federal orders aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said gatherings should be limited to groups of 10 or less.

Valeria DeLeon said postponing her April 18 wedding to Dylan Oden wasn’t an easy choice.

“I’ve accepted it now,” she said. “Two weeks ago, I was very overwhelmed. I cried for like three days.”

Sulphur native Marlana Parker set up a Facebook group to let invited guests livestream her wedding on Saturday to Justin Mallett.

“I don’t know how it’s going to work out,” she said. “I’ve never really used Facebook live … so I’ll just have to put somebody in charge of doing that.”

The fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak could not have come at a worse time for upcoming weddings, according to Sara Lasher, a full-time wedding planner since 2016. She said most Louisiana weddings typically happen either between March through May or October through December.

“You want to protect your guests,” Lasher said. “I do understand that you’re mourning right now because a year’s worth of work has to be completely revisited.”

Why Don’t We Just Get Married Now?

Two weeks ago, a travel agency informed the Champagnes that their honeymoon trip to Ireland, London and Scotland was going to be canceled. Pujo Street Café, the spot for the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception, could not fulfill their obligations once Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered various businesses, including restaurants, to close their dining rooms until April 13.

These changes forced the couple to consider other options.

“We didn’t want to postpone it,” Taylor said. “(Andrew) was like, ‘Why don’t we just get married now?’ I said, ‘OK, let’s just do it.’ ”

After some quick planning, the two were married by the Rev. Rommel Tolentino. The wedding party included their 3-year-old daughter, Gemma, and their parents.

“I was crying and emotional, but it was still so beautiful,” Taylor said. “Even though everything around us was crazy, it was like a moment of just peace.”

Having such an intimate wedding made the day even more special, she said.

“You could feel each other more than if we were in a room full of guests,” she said. “It was more personal.”

After the wedding, the two went to a local hotel and enjoyed take-out food, courtesy of Pujo Street Café.

Day by Day

DeLeon, a Lake Charles native who now lives in York, Pa., said she feels for other brides who have postponed their weddings.

“I know how stressful this is,” she said. “Just take it day by day.”

Invited guests were notified of the postponement through phone, email and social media. Another blow occurred when Dylan was recently laid off for just over two weeks without pay from his job at the Harley-Davidson factory.

“The decision (to postpone) kind of came at a good point,” DeLeon said. “We weren’t going to be able to finalize the payments that we needed to make.”

DeLeon she isn’t sure when the wedding, set to take place at a Lake Charles home, will be rescheduled.

“The summer even feels too soon for me,” she said.

Despite the sadness of postponing her wedding, DeLeon said she understood the need to protect the health of her family, friends and other invited guests. She said the challenges will only make the ceremony more special when it happens.

“It’s going to be memorable,” DeLeon said. “We remember memories and not dates.”

The day before Megan Juranka’s March 14 wedding, officials announced a 250-person limit on gatherings. Nearly 350 people, including wedding staff, were expected at the West-Cal Event Center in Sulphur.

“I started to panic,” she said.

Juranka said her mother and mother-in-law helped by uninviting their friends. Other invited guests who were nervous about the virus also didn’t attend the wedding, dropping the guest count to roughly 150, she said.

Despite the scare, she said the wedding to her husband, Blake, went off without a hitch.

“I was so in the moment, I completely forgot what was going on around us,” Juranka said. “It was a day of pure bliss, and everyone on board really pulled it off.”

The couple wasn’t sure if they would get to enjoy their honeymoon in St. Lucia until they were inside the airplane, she said. The resort where they stayed closed on March 23.

“I feel like everything that we’ve done has been just in the nick of time,” she said.

Juranka said she feels relief that her wedding went on as planned. However, she said she is heartbroken for the brides who aren’t as lucky, including four close friends who have postponed their weddings.

“It’s been a crazy mix of emotions for the past week,” she said.

Getting Creative

Parker said her mother’s neighbor offered their backyard for the wedding. The two planned to marry at the Coushatta Tribe Ranch in Sulphur in front of roughly 150 guests, but that changed once the gathering limit dropped to 50 people.

“We’ve been planning this since February of last year, so that was the only part that got me down,” she said. “But (Justin) said, ‘We’re getting married no matter what.’ ”

Mallett’s sister, Anna Stanley, got ordained for the wedding. They will be married in front of 14 guests, including the couple’s parents and siblings.

“I’m actually kind of more excited because being in front of a lot of people makes me nervous,” Parker said, laughing. “I’m ready for it to be here.”

Parker said the two are planning a reception in the summer for those who cannot attend the wedding. All of the unused decorations are being stored in her mother’s attic.

“Maybe somebody in the fall is having a wedding and they’ll need some stuff,” she said.

Planning

Lasher said her last “normal wedding of 2020” happened March 14 at a Lake Charles home, with the guest headcount under the 250-person limit. She said the bride’s brother flew in from France, while others with flight plans chose not to attend.

“There was hand sanitizer everywhere,” she said. “Everybody wore gloves that was part of the catering staff. You could tell that heightened sense of cleanliness was on everybody’s mind.”

The bulk of upcoming weddings were postponed once the gathering limit dropped to groups of 50 or less, Lasher said. A wedding scheduled for Saturday will likely be delayed for nine months until all the vendors are available, she said.

Lasher said she’s busy moving wedding dates and positioning backup dates for others, if the executive orders are extended. The rest of her calendar is “almost sitting there in lull,” she said.

Lasher said she is overwhelmed at how the community has come together during this time. She said it gives her clients relief that their weddings will happen as planned.

“There was never a vendor that told me no,” she said. “I’m just really proud to be in Lake Charles right now and get to witness it. It’s bringing out the best in people in a terrible situation.”

Couples may have to reevaluate their definition of a wedding if the impact of coronavirus extends further than expected, Lasher said.

“It doesn’t take 400 people there to get you married,” she said.

This article was written by JOHN GUIDROZ, The American Press from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: Instead of outright postponing weddings, some couples are streaming the nuptials online. Viktar Vysotski / Adobe