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Love in the time of coronavirus: ‘I do’ will have to wait, Chicago-area couples, others find

Weddings are being postponed or canceled here and elsewhere. Jenna Hyde says her fiance comforted her, ‘What’s three more months when we have a lifetime together?’

Jenna Heide and Ryan Penders of Naperville had planned to get married at the end of March at Chicago’s Old Post Office. The spread of the coronavirus has forced them to postpone that celebration.
Jenna Heide and Ryan Penders of Naperville had planned to get married at the end of March at Chicago’s Old Post Office. The spread of the coronavirus has forced them to postpone that celebration.
Kent Drake Photography

Jenna Heide and her fiancé Ryan Penders were in her parents’ Orland Park garage last weekend practicing the steps for their wedding-day “first dance” when she caught sight of her father.

“He started getting tears in his eyes because he saw both of us smiling ear to ear,” says Heide, 27, a first-grade teacher from Naperville.

Heide’s dad broke the news that his friends had been sending texts saying they were truly sorry but wouldn’t be able to attend the March 28 wedding — what would have been the first in Chicago’s recently rehabbed Old Post Office.

Wedding season is starting — or it was until the coronavirus cast a pall over countless couples’ plans. For days, the betrothed have anxiously watched the case numbers and the increasingly urgent advice about the need to avoid large gatherings.

Even for wedding planners, who are used to frazzled nerves and last-minute changes, this is unfamiliar territory. Lori Stephenson, who owns Lola Event Productions in Wicker Park and has been in the wedding planning business for almost 30 years, likens what she’s been doing for the past week or so to the musicians on the deck of the Titanic.

“We feel like the band that has to keep playing right now, because our clients are hysterical, they’re freaking out,” Stephenson says. “We need to be the calm ones, the rational ones, the ones that help them put an action plan in place.”

Stephenson’s company had 18 weddings scheduled before June 1.

“We are currently advising every single one of them to try and postpone,” Stephenson says.

She and her six wedding planning employees have spent “hours and hours and hours planning and laughing and dreaming with these people, and to see that dream in jeopardy is heartbreaking,” she says.

“We are all trying to push our full deposits [due date] to another date that the clients can re-book later in the year,” Stephenson says. “But how do you balance that with keeping your door open? And it doesn’t do anybody any good if you go out of business.”

Kate Reavey, who owns Chicago Vintage Weddings in Pilsen, has canceled four weddings. Reavey says she’s worried that come fall, when it’s hoped the worst of the outbreak will be over, there will be demand but not an adequate supply of wedding planners.

Reavey says she’s also concerned about caterers, furniture suppliers and other wedding-related vendors.

“There are so many businesses in the wedding industry that don’t have a safety net,” she says. “So I’m not sure they are going to exist in a few months after this.”

Dana Elborno, 30, a doctor living in Toronto, was planning to marry Yahia Abuhashem at the Chicago Cultural Center on April 4. Elborno’s fiancé lives in Chicago. She says now she has no idea when the wedding will actually happen.

They’ve been planning it since December 2018 and were expecting family to come from both U.S. coasts, Europe and the Middle East.

Elborno says President Donald Trump’s announcement about a travel ban from Europe made it clear the wedding plans likely couldn’t proceed — particularly since her older sister, the maid of honor, lives in France.

“If I only had five people at my wedding, she would be one of those people there,” Elborno says. “So it was very hard to imagine getting married without her.”

In a way, making the decision to cancel was a relief. It eased the worry of older guests who might have agonized over whether to risk traveling to Chicago, says Elborno, who made the decision March 13 to postpone.

Heide, the Naperville bride-to-be, says she was supposed to have one final fitting of her wedding dress Monday night. Now, that will have to wait.

“We’re just trying to remember that, at the end of the day, we are so lucky to have found [each other], and Ryan has said to me, ‘What’s three more months when we have a lifetime together?’ ” Heide says.

She’s spoken to all of her vendors and been told she won’t have to “pay double.” She managed to cancel most but not all of the flowers.

“The plan is to send them to hospitals and nursing homes,” Heide says.