Days before their March wedding, this couple faced a heart-wrenching choice: cancel their wedding, or put their loved ones at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Just two weeks before their March 28 wedding, Alexis Joseph and Jeff Wiery had a decision to make. Should they proceed their plans and hope it would be allowed to take place, or call it off while they still had time to do so?

The pair had already canceled their honeymoon—a whirlwind trip through Thailand and Vietnam—due to growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus in Asia, replacing it with what felt like a more pragmatic trip to Costa Rica. That trip, in turn, was eventually canceled as well.

“Looking back, I’m kind of like, ‘Why did I plan that second honeymoon? Why did I think we’d be able to go?’ ” says Joseph. “But at the time, it all happened so quickly.”

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Indeed, March was a whirlwind of change for Ohioans—just 19 days lapsed between the cancelation of the spectator portion of the Arnold Sports Festival in early March and the initial stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton on March 22.

But in mid-March, Joseph and Wiery were still wondering. Everything was in place for their event at Strongwater Food & Spirits. “It was just really ‘us,’ ” Joseph says. “It was going to be very down to earth, wonderful food from the caterer [from Jeff’s hometown] in Youngstown and tons of dancing.” 

On March 14, though, Joseph and Wiery made the devastating decision to pull the plug on those plans. “Cried it out and now I feel a combination of relief and numbness … ultimately we felt that we were making sacrifices we weren’t willing to make and putting our family and friends’ health at risk by moving forward,” Joseph wrote in an Instagram post announcing the decision. The stay-at-home order went into effect just 10 days later.

“I think that for people getting married in March, [rescheduling] was another level of difficulty because you had literally—it was about to happen,” Joseph says. “I have friends that are getting married in six months and they moved their wedding, but they hadn’t sent out invites. … That process was just so gut-wrenching, just telling everyone that the wedding wasn’t happening.”

The couple’s wedding planner, Samantha Leenheer of Samantha Joy Events, helped them reschedule everything to a date in July that their vendors still had available. “I was actually the most grateful for her,” Joseph says. But now, she says, even their July date is up in the air thanks to continued uncertainty over when the 10-person gathering limits will be lifted and whether a second wave of cases will require the state, which begins reopening this week, to shut down once more.

“Maybe initially, we just should have booked it a year out,” Joseph says. “But at the time, that just felt so crazy, to wait that long, because we’ve been together for five years. We want to have kids, like, now. … [We were thinking,] we can’t put our life on hold for this long.”

That concern is a little less pressing for the pair now, however, because on March 28—their original wedding date—they said “we do” in an intimate living room ceremony. Attended only by Joseph’s best friend, her husband (who officiated the ceremony) and a photographer, Benjamin Derkin of Derk’s Works Photography, the wedding was very different from what Joseph and Wiery had envisioned … but it was still a perfect reflection of “us,” Joseph notes. In a post on her blog, Hummusapien, she writes that realizing they could still pick up their marriage license from the probate court was a motivator in marrying on their original wedding date. “All we wanted was to be married, and to continue to push back our date with zero certainty was too painful,” she writes.

“We didn’t really plan anything,” Wiery says. “We just thought, we had this date all along; let’s make it a significant date in our lives by just exchanging our vows and having our friend, who happened to be ordained … come over, so we just pieced it together.”

Derkin quickly offered to document the private ceremony for the couple, but Wiery initially felt some hesitation. “I felt like we had to sacrifice so much that I didn’t necessarily want to have memories of it,” he says. “I felt like, this is a terrible time. I want to marry you, but I don’t want to remember how we got married.” Derkin was adamant, Wiery says, and the pair eventually agreed, knowing that Derkin—with whom they’d grown close—would be thoughtful and sympathetic in his capturing of the ceremony. That decision, Joseph and Wiery agree, transformed their wedding from a few people in a living room into an “event.”

That feeling was bolstered by friends of the couple, who in the early hours of the morning dropped off a bottle of bubbly, some breakfast snacks, a small wedding cake, balloons and a banner (reading “Oh crappy happy day”) at the couple’s doorstep.

“I was so worried about dreading that day and it being so depressing,” Joseph says. “And just seeing our friends support us in that way, it really felt like [the day] was extremely special.” 

The ceremony itself was brief—an exchange of vows, some sweet words from the officiant—and brought an overwhelming feeling of peace, Joseph says. 

“For us, getting married at home helped alleviate the pain of not knowing when we’d be able to move on with our lives,” Joseph says. “I’d highly recommend that [to other couples in this situation] if possible.”

She also wants engaged couples, especially those who have had to cancel or postpone their celebrations, that it’s OK to be sad. “We definitely felt like we were mourning a loss and going through the stages of grief,” she notes, with a caveat: “I think going through something like this can only make you stronger and more grounded as a couple.”