"When you face unexpected events, you have to try to overcome those problems, but at the same time, you have to continue working according to the plan that you defined since the beginning. So that's what we have tried to do - not to avoid the urgent responses but to continue the route that we had defined." ~ Laura Chinchilla
Chad and I were in the car driving back from our beach getaway. It was Sunday, November 3rd. I remember the exact date because we got engaged two days earlier. He was driving and I was emailing the wedding dress boutique to set up an appointment, my priest, the church I dreamed about getting married in, reception venues, and researching photographers. You see, I am a super planner and because I am a creative person, I can envision exactly what I want very quickly. It also helps that in my job I work closely with events with 300 to 400 people, so coordinating style, dates, and meetings are second nature to me at this point in my life.
The very first thing I looked at was my calendar. For the last three years, after my mom's stroke, she has been hospitalized with severe and life-threatening pneumonia. It is always around the same time of year, late May into June and in August. I blame it on the hot and humid summer air and with my mom's decreased ability to manage her secretions due to her dysphagia, inability to swallow, it sets her up, every summer, to have an increased risk of pneumonia and hospitalization. I knew I wanted to be married in the Catholic Church, and Chad had already expressed that he wanted to convert to Catholicism. I knew we had to participate in premarital counseling with the Church which would take roughly 6 months of prep. And I knew the MOST important thing for me was my mom be at my wedding. I was not going to get married without her there. I was not going to get married with her trapped in a hospital and sick.
I said to Chad, "No matter what, my mom has to be at our wedding!" I read off dates to Chad that were at least 6 months out that fell before the hot and humid southern summer began. From the very beginning of planning, I was premeditating how we would guarantee my mother was at our wedding.
Then the universe laughed...
March kicked off and we were 60 days out from our wedding and the news reported on the first US coronavirus cases on the west coast, and the nursing home that had an outbreak. I still remember, over 50 residents passed away. Then the reports of how the coronavirus attacks the respiratory system. I watched as Italy had their surge and how hospitals were running out of ventilators for patients, young and old. Fear is what I felt. All of this brought back PTSD from my mom's stroke and recovery. After her stroke, she was intubated with a ventilator over 10 times. She died twice and was brought back. Her pneumonia would labor her breathing so badly that it put stress on her heart and all of her internal organs.
I knew what Covid-19 would do to my mom.
The third week of March everything shut down and we couldn't get married in the Church, and I couldn't see my mom. It was very hard on Chad and me, knowing we were so ready to be married. And even though I knew my mom's high skilled facility was protecting her by closing their doors to visitors I still knew my mom was on borrowed time and every day I could not be with her was a memory I would not get to make with her.
I jumped into planning mode and by the end of that third week in March I had our entire wedding shifted to the end of August, with all of our original vendors. We truly believed that by August 22nd this virus would be out of here. I told my mom she had to stay healthy, that whatever she did she had to stay healthy and hang in there until August 22nd. There was no doubt in my mind my mother couldn't be with us on our wedding day. Still, I made alternative plans C, D, and E.
So as you know, now in September, COVID is still very much affecting our lives. Businesses have closed, millions are out of work, families have lost loved ones, many have been infected with COVID, many have not. I never thought, in a million years this would be life in 2020. Weren't we supposed to have flying cars, not a global pandemic in 2020?
We had to make very difficult decisions about our wedding. The first was easy, we were getting married, in the Church, on August 22nd. The second decision was the hardest, we had to ask our guests, except for close family, to not attend our wedding. The majority understood and they were happy for us and just wanted us to get married. However, some were upset.
To those who were personally hurt and angry and thought it was tacky to uninvite you to our wedding during COVID, I'd like you to know I have seen, first hand, how a loved one fights for their life, on a ventilator. I spent 7 months of my life in the ICU with my mother, who fought strains of pneumonia that her body could not shake off. Doctors told me my mother should not be alive. I have sat beside her bed after she stopped breathing, was resuscitated, and intubated, just praying, that she would wake up and still be the same person. That her brain stayed intact and that her body fight to heal itself.
You see, COVID may not affect people under the age of 70 as severely, but when I thought about hosting close to 200 people at my wedding all I could remember was my mother, on a ventilator, fighting for her life. We decided to close our wedding to keep you safe, to keep your parents safe, to keep your grandparents safe, and to keep your children safe. Yes, we moved dates to only then let you know you could not come, but it was out of sheer love for you and respect for your family. We were not going to chance putting on an event that could infect you, your family, and your loved ones. It was the hardest decision we made but it was the right decision. One day, when you are a caregiver and take care of a dying parent you will understand the heartache and pain families are experiencing right now.
Three weeks before our wedding my mom's nursing home had an outbreak of COVID. My mother had symptoms and waiting for her results was horrible. After being tested three times on three different occasions each test came back negative. Three patients have died and I am heartbroken for the families and the staff because they have worked so hard to keep their patients healthy. In the end, my mother could not be at our wedding. However, I made the best out of the worst situation. Our priest, who is one of my mom's biggest cheerleaders, agreed to go to her nursing home following our wedding to include her in a nuptial blessing. Weekday nurses went in on their day off to dress my mom, do her makeup and hair. That was the best she has looked since April 14th, 2017. She looked like herself. Thank you, NHC Somerville, and very special thanks to Ashlyn and Brooke and the others who helped make the day special for her.
Her dream was to walk down the aisle as a proud mother of the bride and survivor. She has been working hard, walking in the halls with nurses. Instead, she stood at the door, proudly, confidently, and strongly. God! She is a miracle. If we are friends you know the story. You saw it unfold on Facebook and Instagram. I only retell it to remind you all that life does not favor one life over another. We will all lose loved ones and we will all become ill and pass away. Some will go quickly, others will not. Right now, during COVID, please remember all who have and will be affected. You may get it and be fine, but I pray it spares your parents and grandparents because they may not be fine.
To my mom, I think I knew from the beginning you would not be in that church with me. I felt it in my gut when driving back from the beach. I tried to plan ways to make it possible. I know everything happens for a reason; I'll always find the silver lining. No one, state regulations, or a global pandemic was going to keep you from participating in our day. I love you and you are my miracle.
To you, reading this now, I pray you have not been personally affected by COVID. I think it is important that we all have compassion and understanding for everyone right now. Whether you feel this is an illness that has been overblown or that it is serious; we need to not be extreme, swaying heavily on one side or the other. We need to understand that the elderly and vulnerable communities matter, their lives matter, and we need to understand our economy needs to thrive while we take precautions to protect lives, jobs, businesses, and life. Please remember many are hurting and grieving right now and the most important thing you can do is be responsible and supportive in your community.
Photography by Philip and Savannah Kenney. Please see more of their beautiful, documentary-style photography at www.thekenneys.net