We got engaged in late December 2018 – one of those days where you get about six hours of daylight in Stockholm, all of them grey. My parents were in Sweden for the holiday, and we surprised them with the news over champagne, high in the sky over Slussen at the Gondolen restaurant. It was a great night.
Fast forward to February 2020, and news of the coronavirus was becoming more and more prevalent, but it still didn’t register as affecting any of our plans. Our wedding date had been set for June 13th in Sweden with a reception in the US on July 10th. We took our engagement photos on February 29th – a leap day – in magical snowfall, blissfully unaware that anything would rain on our perfect engagement parade.
Photo: Snowflake Photo
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Two weeks later, infection started to spread like wildfire in Italy. At The Local, we started to work from home. Then President Trump announced a ban blocking travel to the US for EU residents. Suddenly, it didn’t look like our American reception was going to happen. When Europe then introduced an entry ban for US travellers, we realised my parents might not even be able to make our main ceremony in Europe.
This is when the realist me started to clash with my optimist fiance over the future of our wedding plans. Over dinner and on long walks, we argued about what we should do in June. Erik, informed by the Swedish trust I’ve heard so much about since, thought that it would all blow over soon, and we shouldn’t cancel our plans. But I had listened to way too many episodes of The New York Times’ The Daily to think this would just go away, and prepared myself for the possibility of a Zoom wedding.
‘A sacrifice for family as well as for us’
In May, the EU recommended that outside travellers not be allowed in before June 15th, and Sweden accepted this measure. It was official, my parents wouldn’t be there on June 13th.
Our first reaction was to postpone. I reached out to all our vendors to ask about potential dates in August.
But the more that we thought about it, we started to reconsider. Even if my parents were allowed to travel here in August (which was a big if), would I want them to? Even though there was nothing that I wanted more than to have them there on my wedding day, I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to take that risk to be there for one day in my life.
Out for a hike in the midst of planning uncertainty. Photo: Private
Postponing until August also meant more uncertainty and waiting – and what if it would only result in us postponing again?
Over Facetime, my mom and I exchanged teary glances and my dad put on a brave face and gave us his blessing to go ahead without them. My parents have always been understanding but this was a huge sacrifice for them as well as us.
Overnight, we had a wedding in three weeks. Our original date, but one that we hadn’t devoted any time to planning for in over two months.
Seven guests and overseas corsages
To keep things as simple as possible and socially distanced, we decided on a seven-guest wedding; we would each have one friend and their date, along with Erik’s parents and brother.
I wanted my parents and a few close friends in the US to be able to take part in the day in some meaningful way, so we decided to Zoom my parents into the ceremony, and have a virtual happy hour at the reception.
I ordered corsages for my parents and grandmothers in the US, to help them feel a part of the celebration. We delegated tasks to our skeleton crew of guests – Erik’s brother became the DJ and my only bridesmaid here became the photographer (the only one with a real camera).
We booked a gazebo with a capacity of 14 people for our reception, thinking that filling it only a little more than halfway could pass for social distancing. We tested Zoom at our wedding church as part of the dress rehearsal.
Our picture perfect wedding day (in the midst of a pandemic) Photo: Private
Caution tape blocking off church pews
Instead of waking up in separate hotel rooms, we woke up in our apartment. Erik packed a bag and headed out the door as my hair and makeup person arrived.
Where I would have had four bridesmaids getting ready with me, I had one (whom I was very lucky to have!). Anna played the role of photographer, dress bustler and moral support the whole day like a super-bridesmaid.
For my something old, in place of a piece of jewelry from one of my grandmothers, I found bits of letters they had written to me where they expressed their happiness at our engagement, or how much they liked Erik. I taped the words to my ribs, under my dress, so that they would be with me in spirit.
Something borrowed was an old stretchy headband I had borrowed from my mom as a teenager and had never given back. I stretched it twice around my thigh to make a makeshift garter.
Something blue was a coat of blue nail polish on my toes, peeking out from under my golden-hued Moheda clogs – an ode to my new Swedish life. And something new was my dress.
At the church, I met Erik and we exchanged our first look. What would have been a big production moment turned into an intimate interaction between two people, with an onlooking bridesmaid with a point-and-shoot. It was perfect.
Since my dad was not there to walk me down the aisle, Erik and I walked together. As we approached our seven guests, I caught my parents’ faces on the cell phone camera and smiled and waved. I tried to ignore the caution tape blocking off every other pew on our way down the aisle.
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Zoom speeches and a troll
As we exchanged our vows and rings, my parents were watching from Zoom, via Erik’s phone on a tripod, taking in the whole thing.
The reception, and specifically the virtual happy hour, was the highlight of the day. Once settled into our space we fired up the Zoom call and were met by the smiling faces of my parents and three of my bridesmaids stuck in the US. Speech by speech, we alternated between guests present with us in person and guests appearing over Zoom.
For my short speech, I waved an old troll that I had taken from my childhood home when I moved to Sweden in front of the camera. Growing up, every summer when I headed off to camp, my parents would sneak the troll into my suitcase, and I inevitably found it a day or two later when pulling out my swimsuit or breaking into my snack stash. Finding the troll reminded me that my parents were thinking about me even when I was far away, and was a tangible reminder of home when I started to feel homesick.
My eyes filled up with tears as I talked about the troll and thanked my parents for their love and support through the years, and especially in the current moment. The troll, a silly childhood toy mostly forgotten since I’d moved to Sweden, had served its purpose to make me feel connected to my roots despite thousands of miles.
I had been nervous that a Zoom happy hour would take away from the ambiance for our guests there in person, but as I looked around the room, I saw many tears in that little gazebo. The speeches were beautiful, and what I think made them more poignant was the authenticity of this moment, this moment of togetherness that we needed as a group of humans living through one of the most challenging times I can remember.
My maid of honour, the meeting host, recorded the whole session and we have already watched it again in the two days since we’ve been married, cherishing this beautiful moment with our friends and family.
Isn’t it good luck to dance around a sprinkler on your wedding day? Photo: Private
‘I’d never have planned it this way, but I’m grateful’
As the dinner wrapped up, we headed outside to the little lawn outside the gazebo. In what ended up being a hilarious first dance, my dress’ train fell down and Erik tried to help by gathering it in one hand behind my back before my bridesmaid stepped in to help and inadvertently ripped out my veil, I looked around at our seven guests and appreciated our unique and intimate wedding day. In no world would I have planned this as our wedding day, but it was what we got and I’m grateful for it.
In the days since, my family and friends have responded from near and far in touching ways. My dad has described how my grandmother watched the video of our first dance for fifteen minutes straight – transfixed by it. My mom told me how my other grandmother – so thrilled about the corsage she received in the mail – got dressed up, made herself a scotch-and-water and toasted us alone in her home. My cousin has volunteered to make a video of all of the footage we have so that relatives in the US can experience it, and my bridesmaid Anna spent an evening editing our photos so we would have the nicest images possible.
I am struck by the need for community and togetherness during this most peculiar of times, and happy to be the recipient of it as my husband and I move on to the next stage of our life together. The future is still uncertain for us, but at least we now face it as husband and wife, and receiving the sweet gestures of our friends and family near and far every day. This is what it is like to be married in the time of coronavirus.
Kirsten Keefe is a Digital Marketing Manager at The Local, and an American living in Stockholm.
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