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Four weddings and a pandemic: Coronavirus has reshaped tying the knot — and the nerves that go along with it

ABC Health logo ABC Health 24/07/2020 By Karen Tong
a person wearing a suit and tie: Ali and Hayden sent out 180 invitations to their wedding. In the end only five were allowed to attend. (Photographer: James Simpson) © Provided by ABC Health Ali and Hayden sent out 180 invitations to their wedding. In the end only five were allowed to attend. (Photographer: James Simpson)

Weddings have been a part of Australia's coronavirus story since the start of the pandemic and have, in many ways, served as a barometer for how we're going.

The first round of restrictions saw weddings cut to parties of five across the nation. Then, as restrictions eased, as many as 100 people and sometimes more, were allowed to attend a wedding — subject to social distancing, of course.

But as new coronavirus outbreaks in Victoria saw a return to lockdown, a five-person limit on weddings was reinstated.

Despite fresh outbreaks in NSW, weddings can still go ahead with 150 guests, but there's a caveat: "No dancing, no singing, no mingling," warned Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Coronavirus has not stopped couples getting hitched — but it's certainly a different day from their dream wedding.

March: Marie and Travis

Marie Losier, 28, and Travis Jolly, 30, were supposed to get married in March at Avalon Castle in Victoria's picturesque Dandenong Ranges.

"We were going to do the whole shebang," Marie says. "White dress, bridesmaids, my family was coming from Canada. It all sort of fell apart two weeks before the date."

Marie's dad has a compromised immune system. His doctor told him he wasn't allowed to travel.

"That was really hard," Marie says. "I couldn't even talk to him for a couple of days I was so upset."

Marie and Travis decided to go ahead and planned to stream their big day so Marie's father could watch from home and "walk me down the aisle that way".

Then the travel bans started. The couple's best man and bridesmaid from Canada who had promised to come "no matter what" suddenly couldn't make it.

So the couple postponed their big wedding. But not their marriage.

"Why don't we just keep going ahead with it?" Travis suggested to Marie. "At the end of the day, I'm marrying Marie not everyone else."

Days before they were set to tie the knot, the five person rule was announced, allowing only the couple, a celebrant and two witnesses.

Travis asked his parents to be their witnesses.

"We stripped it right back," said the couple's celebrant Lisa Newman, who has been conducting micro-weddings on the verandah of her home for years.

"There's only 124 legally required words needed to marry people. It was all over in 10 minutes … but for those 10 minutes we forgot about what was going on in the real world."

Travis says it was strange to be standing so far apart during the ceremony.

"Marie and I were holding hands and close to each other, but the celebrant was further away, and my parents had to stand back from us as well," he says.

It was harder for Marie, who felt the absence of her Canadian family and friends in the lead-up to the ceremony.

"But in the moment I felt like there was a bubble around Travis and I," she says. "I didn't even notice who was or wasn't there."

April: Alison and Hayden

Alison Mitchell, 32, and Hayden Brushe, 30, met at Blues Point Hotel on Sydney's lower North Shore, where Alison's bible study group was having a get-together.

"I locked eyes with her and the rest is history," Hayden jokes — but it's not too far from the truth.

In fact, Hayden's grandparents met at the same pub in the 1950s.

"His grandmother was a barmaid, and his grandfather was a fisherman," Alison explains. "He pulled up at McMahon's Point one day and came in for a drink, and they got married."

It took a year and a half for Hayden to propose and nine months to plan their dream wedding. The couple sent out 180 invitations before the pandemic.

Alison's aunt and a friend from England were the first to say they couldn't make it.

"My pop is 88 but he was like, 'I'll come regardless, nothing can stop me'," says Alison. "That was so sweet, but are we going to potentially put all our family and friends at risk?"

"Every time a new restriction came out we'd try and work to it, but it was hard."

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They decided to get glammed up and go ahead with the wedding on the date they chose, April 24, despite the five-person rule, but kept hoping the restrictions would lift so their families could attend.

"It's funny because at the beginning, Hayden was like, 'Can we just elope?'" Alison says. "Our family and friends are important to us, but we realised that we just want to get married and start our lives together."

Their party of five included the pastor, Alison's childhood best friend and one of Hayden's two brothers.

At a "cheeky buck's party over a few beers" the brothers had to decide which would be the witness on the day.

A photographer shot the ceremony from afar, then they subbed the pastor out for the photographer to get more intimate photos.

Family members dressed in sweats and joggers engaged in "essential exercise" a short distance away from the ceremony.

It turned out to be the perfect day.

"How many people can say they got married during a pandemic with family dressed in activewear holding water bottles full of champagne?" Alison says.

May: Fernanda and Rafael

Fernanda da Silva, 39, and Rafael Aresso, 42, met through mutual friends in 2015, but only started dating last year.

Rafael was smitten from their first one-on-one conversation. "My mind was blown," he says.

But Fernanda was more cautious and asked her friends about Rafael before going on their first date.

"They said you should give him a go, you guys have a lot of things in common," she says, "Things happened so naturally. It was very special from the beginning."

Rafael planned to propose on Fernanda's birthday. But then, the pandemic struck.

"We were going into lockdown and living apart," Rafael says. "I couldn't stand being away from her for I didn't know how long."

The couple decided to move in together — and speed up their marriage plans.

With the marriage registry closed, they researched how to get married in lockdown.

With the five-person rule, Rafael's nine-year-old son was not able to attend because they required two adult witnesses.

It didn't feel right that one of those witnesses was a photographer they didn't know, when Rafael's son couldn't be there.

"We were going to split the ceremony in two parts so my son could be present for some of it," he says.

The week before their wedding day, the Government announced 10 guests would be allowed at weddings in several states, including Victoria, and Rafael's son was free to attend.

The couple was still sending invitations via text just days before tying the knot.

"Everything was just magical," Rafael says. "The Government allowed our family and friends to share these moments, and even the sun showed up just in time."

August: Emily and Jessica

Emily Sinclair, 33, and Jessica King, 35, met online and got to know each other while video chatting several times a day for before they met in person.

"I asked Jess to come to my graduation in Newcastle and we've been together ever since," Emily says.

That was two years ago. Emily moved to Melbourne soon after, and Jess proposed six months later.

"I was having one of those crappy days," Emily says, as she recalls the proposal. "And she said that she would be there through all my good days and my bad days."

They had plans for a big wedding, but it had to be postponed after Emily had a coronavirus scare.

"I was in hospital for a week," she says, "but I had pneumonia."

It was then they decided to have a small ceremony with only a handful of their closest friends and family.

"I was really torn about having a bigger wedding because I'm quite shy and anxious," says Jess. "But then COVID came along with all these rules about smaller weddings. For me, that was perfect."

As restrictions eased, the couple added more people to their wedding party — two bridesmaids each, Emily's dad, a photographer, and a musician.

But a surge in coronavirus cases in June saw stay-at-home orders reimposed across Melbourne's hotspot suburbs, including Jacana where the couple live.

As the weeks passed, five-person weddings in Melbourne were reintroduced and borders were closed.

"The only two people who are going to be there now are my two bridesmaids," Jess says.

Emily's bridesmaids and her dad — who all live in NSW — can no longer cross the border.

"My maid of honour will do a reading to include her a bit more and so it feels special," Emily says. "But that decision was definitely hard as well."

The addition of mandatory masks has been an added challenge.

"Wearing the masks is a bit of a bummer," Jess says. "But on the other hand, we can't have a photographer so it doesn't really matter what we're wearing."

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Their celebrant and co-founder of I Do Drive Thru, Zena Lythgo, has noticed a wave of cancellations following the announcement of a second Victorian lockdown.

"For some the uncertainty feels too much and they just want to wait until they will be able to hug, dance and not have to social distance with loved ones on their day," Zena explains.

Emily and Jess are happy with their decision to go ahead with their August wedding.

"The only thing that we can control is us, our love for each other, and when we're going to get married," Emily says.

"It might not be exactly what we want, but we get to go through it together and be married at the end of the day."

For Jess, the only thing she is certain of is that she wants to marry Emily.

"With all the other changes that are happening in Melbourne, in our lives, and in the world, that hasn't changed."

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