Something borrowed, something blue: trials and changes of a wedding-less summer

UK alum Becca Clemons and her fiance Matt Callahan, both employees of the Washington Post, pose for engagement photos in Louisville in December of 2019. Photo provided by Clemons and taken by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography.

Sarah Michels

Dancing all night long. Posing for hundreds of photos. Hugs from family and friends.

Weddings are not designed to be held six feet apart.

Weddings are supposed to be a celebration with family and friends. But with a global pandemic shutting down most social events since mid-March, many people have been forced to cancel, postpone or completely rethink their nuptials.

For many couples, it’s more than a delayed party.

“I understand that it’s not as bad as it could be,” said Kaitlyn Sloan, a UK graduate student whose wedding plans have been affected by the coronavirus. “But it’s something you wait your whole life for, it’s kind of heartbreaking to have to put it off.”

Sloan, who is pursuing her master’s in secondary education, and her fiance, Dell Gibson, were originally planning to have their wedding in May or June of 2021. While the date was still over a year away, Sloan and Gibson had already decided on an all-inclusive, downtown Lexington venue for their wedding.

However, due to the financial fallout caused by the coronavirus outbreak, their venue, Shakespeare and Co., has permanently closed.

“I was so heartbroken. I mean, it was literally perfect,” Sloan said.

Now, Sloan and Gibson are back to square one.

Many couples who were closer to their planned wedding date have decided to get legally married around the original date and only reschedule the reception.

Becca Clemons and Matt Callahan hope to elope or have a small ceremony on June 6, 2020 and hold a wedding anniversary celebration on June 5, 2021 with their family and friends.

Clemons, a UK graduate, met Callahan during the summer of 2013 when they were both interns at the New York Times. They became friends, and when they both ended up landing jobs at the Washington Post a year-and-a-half later, their friendship slowly turned into a relationship.

The pair got engaged in October 2019 on a trip to Vermont.

Clemons said that while she didn’t want a long engagement, when it came down to it, postponing the reception made the most sense.

“I didn’t want people to feel like they would have to choose between coming or risking their health,” Clemons said.

She said that despite getting stressed about the rescheduling process initially, all of her wedding vendors were very understanding.

“People are pretty flexible and willing to help out, especially in this time when thing are so uncertain for everybody,” Clemons said. “The vendors know what they are doing, they do this for a living, they know how to deal with disaster scenarios.”

For these vendors, flexibility comes at a price.

“It sucks. We’re losing money just like everyone else,” said Kaelyn Query, founder and president of Lexington Event Co., a wedding and special event vendor. “It’s not (our clients’) fault this pandemic happened, but it’s not our fault either.”

Going several months without any major income has forced these event planners to brainstorm creative ways to keep their cash flow moving.

Query said that in addition to laying off employees and only paying the expenses necessary to keep the business afloat, she has been offering various classes to clients to bring in extra funds.

Doug Smith and Glenn Blind, owners of Doug Smith Designs + Events, a special event floral company in Lexington, said in an email that they have come up with several floral design projects to make up for their delayed income from postponed weddings.

During months without any events, Smith and Blind are continuing to stay busy by virtually meeting with current and potential new clients. They said that staying calm, offering empathy and listening to their clients is the key during this process.

“After the (wedding) date is set, couples put all their efforts in their special day. Having to change becomes very emotional for people,” Smith and Blind wrote. “We have to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and that is hard.”

Every bride is different. For some, like Kaitlyn Sloan, the loss of the perfect venue, with great food, decorations and atmosphere, is the most tragic wedding-related coronavirus casualty. For others, like UK alum Anna Bostrom, it’s the honeymoon.

Bostrom, who just graduated from medical school at the University of Louisville and is beginning her residency this summer, said that not being able to go on the two-week European excursion she and her fiancé had planned was heartbreaking.

“My dream for my honeymoon was waking up in Switzerland a day after I got married and just seeing the mountains. I thought it would be so epic,” Bostrom said. “I don’t know that I’ll be able to take a trip like that until I am finished with my residency.”

Bostrom and her fiance, Scott Sanders, met through Bumble, an online dating site, during Bostrom’s first year as a medical student. They dated for about a year before Sanders, a communications professor at UofL, proposed in 2018.

After a lowkey Speed Museum and dinner date, Sanders used Amazon’s Alexa, wired into his house, to ask the big question.

“When I came inside, Alexa said, ‘Scott, is it time?’ and Scott said, ‘Yeah, Alexa, it’s time.’ And then the lights dimmed down and music started playing and he had rose petals and everything,” Bostrom said. “It was kind of corny but really cute too.”

Bostrom and Sanders had an intentionally long engagement so that they could get married in between Bostrom’s graduation from medical school and first year of residency. Now, they have moved the date to October 24, 2020, in the hopes that the coronavirus is under control by then.

“Unfortunately, it’s kind of an undulating virus course and it might be that it would be back, so there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Bostrom said.

In light of this uncertainty, they are still planning on getting legally married in a small ceremony with their officiant sometime in May. They are moving to Kansas City in June for Bostrom’s residency job, and if they don’t get married, Sanders will be left without health insurance until he finds a job.

While most engaged couples know that a practical attitude is essential to ensure the health and safety of others during this pandemic, that knowledge doesn’t necessarily make the sacrifice easy.

Especially if they’ve been looking forward to their big day for over six years.

Kaitlyn Sloan and Dell Gibson were what some might call “high school sweethearts,” although Sloan said that she never really saw it that way since Gibson was a year older.

They started dating as juniors at Harlan High School before Sloan went to UK and Gibson got into the trade railroad business after they graduated high school, he in 2014, she in 2015.

Ever since, they’ve been together and known they were going to eventually get married, Sloan said.

Gibson finally popped the question in December 2019 at Red Tree, an eclectic art shop in Louisville. Its most popular feature is a picturesque alleyway in the back of the store decorated like a garden with dozens of colorful umbrellas hanging from the half-open ceiling.

“He knew that I loved that, so he took me back there and proposed and said all the cute things,” Sloan said. “I can’t remember exactly what he said because I was in so much shock.”

Sloan said that even before she had a ring on her finger, she had already been mentally planning her and Gibson’s wedding.

While they hadn’t made any official deposits yet, Sloan and Gibson had planned almost everything and were about to finalize vendor payments before everything shut down. Now, Sloan said they are trying to find the positives of the situation and take it one step at a time.

“In a way, maybe it’s forced us to slow down and really think about what we want,” Sloan said. “I waited long enough to get proposed to, so I can wait a little longer to have a wedding.”

Sloan and Gibson aren’t the only ones now in limbo. Rayna Wallen, founder and CEO of Lúnasa Events, said that while some things are still moving forward, many vendors are at a standstill.

The Lexington and Cincinnati-based luxury wedding and event planning company wants to make the rescheduling process as simple as possible for clients, Wallen said.

They have learned quite a few lessons during this time, including the importance of a robust contract that protects both the business and their clients and being prepared for absolutely anything.

“Even as a planner-producer, we are so organized, but after this event, dealing with cancellations and contracts and all the different elements, we are realizing that we could have been more organized,” Wallen said.

Now, Wallen said Lúnasa Events sets a “date to worry” a few months before their clients’ weddings or events are scheduled to occur. If there has been no positive change before that date comes, then Lúnasa Events will most likely cancel the event or postpone it even further.

Wallen said that they are always the first ones watching the news to stay updated on the coronavirus pandemic. Personally, and for her business’ sake, Wallen just wants to know when things will go back to normal and people can hug each other again.

Planning for an unknown reopening date is a tough balancing act, according to Kaelyn Query.

“We don’t want to put things too much on hold, because then we’ll be behind,” Query said.

Some engaged couples have had to put saving for their wedding on hold due to financial complications of the pandemic.

In addition to having to adapt to a new, more expensive venue that exceeds her original budget, Sloan said she was temporarily laid off work.

“We have to budget differently,” Sloan said. “We have both been saving a lot for the wedding, so this has kind of slowed that down.”

However, Bostrom and Clemons both said their financial losses were miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

Bostrom lost money on a $300 nonrefundable deposit for a band, while Clemons said the only extra costs she will incur are an extra fee for her wedding photographer and the price of resending invitations next year.

But despite the damage, financial or otherwise, of postponing their weddings, engaged couples have found hidden blessings.

Whether the change in schedule allows for more people to attend, gives couples more time to decide what kind of wedding they really want or provides wedding planning companies time to reevaluate their process and deconstruct everything, there have been a few silver linings.

Anna Bostrom’s match day ceremony, a day when graduating medical students get paired with a residency program, was cancelled. Then it was graduation, followed by her bachelorette party, honeymoon and wedding.

Initially, Anna Bostrom said the culmination of cancellations made her lose hope.

But over time, she realized that she could still preserve the most important part of her wedding.

“I think it’s easy to be distracted by the ‘show’ of a wedding,” Bostrom said. “Modern weddings have turned into this really grand ordeal, so when it gets taken away from you, you can be devastated by that, but it’s still possible to get married to the person you love.”