Three weddings and a pandemic

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COVID has messed up our idea of what is normal.

I glance at a framed photograph perched on my desk. Pictured in a lovely, treed area near a gazebo and a fountain, are my son Ben and his bride Yelena. Ben is wearing a dark suit, but he isn’t the focal point here; the main attraction is Yelena, looking beautiful in her strapless lace wedding gown. The bride is radiant. The couple is overjoyed.

Oh, how pictures can be misleading. A stranger seeing this photo would assume this is a picture of the bride and groom on the day of their wedding. But this photo was taken at neither their first wedding, nor their last.

Let’s backtrack a bit for an explanation. Ben and Yelena were to be married on May 17, 2020. They chose this date more than a year in advance. They secured their wedding venue, a magnificent historic building in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the bride’s hometown. They hired a caterer and finalized the menu. They booked the florist, the DJ, the photographer, and videographer. The bridesmaids and the rest of the wedding party purchased their clothing for the special day. But most importantly, the bride had her beautiful gown.

But then, COVID-19 threw a wrench into the plans. The wedding had to be cancelled. This wedding, although it did not proceed, might be considered Wedding Number 1.

Of course, we were upset. But the global pandemic was in control, and to some extent, it still is.

Determined to get married, Ben and Yelena switched gears and opted for a simple civil ceremony on June 1, 2020, in a park in Massachusetts, not far from their home near Boston. There was only one in-person witness, a photographer. The immediate families attended the ceremony virtually on Zoom. Count this event as Wedding Number 2.

In August of 2020, a photographer in Saratoga Springs took pictures of the couple in their formal wedding attire as they posed on the grounds of the venue where they had hoped to be married. The photo on my desk was taken during that photo shoot.

Fast forward to Dec. 5, 2021. Ben and Yelena, happily married for a year and a half, welcomed a baby girl into the world.

Although Ben and Yelena had been legally married since June 2020, and although they had a child, they felt they missed a step on the path to their future together. They did not have a Jewish wedding ceremony. They did not have the chance to celebrate with family and friends. The bride had not worn her wedding gown at her wedding.

On July 3, 2022, Ben and Yelena had another wedding. (Number 3? Does Number 1 count?) Close family and friends saw the ceremony in real life, not on a computer screen. The outdoor ceremony, held in Quincy, Massachusetts, was officiated by a rabbi. The couple was married under a chuppah, a wedding canopy. At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomped on a glass, reminding everyone that even in times of great joy, there is sadness. The guests shouted: “Mazel Tov!” And as they walked back down the aisle, Ben carried the seven-month-old baby in his arms.

Now there will be more wedding photographs to frame. I suspect they will have to be labelled with the appropriate date to ward off confusion.

And as I put away a couple of kippahs (skullcaps) distributed at this latest wedding, I note the inscription inside: Weddings of Yelena and Benjamin: June 1, 2020, and July 3, 2022. Oh, how COVID has turned our world upside down.

I guess in this era of COVID-19, multiple weddings with the same bride and groom aren’t surprising. There might be a plus to all of this, at least for the baby. Someday, she’ll be able to tell all her friends that she attended her parents’ wedding.

Phyllis Shragge lives in Hamilton





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