200917scl Weddings

Sarah and Steven Sparhawk, leaned on friends and family members to accommodate the guests for their June wedding. They were married in Jamestown at a family friend’s home and the bride’s parents hosted the couple’s reception at their property in North Kingstown.

Even centuries ago, the timing of marriage was on the minds of poets playing with romantic verse and whom to marry. It remains a timeless question still today.

If varying economic issues facing those wanting to marry were not enough now, the swift and crushing arrival of a public health pandemic has cut its way into plans of couples.

And already first-time marriages have been declining, according to the federal National Center for Health Statistics.

First-time unions sunk by nearly 6% to 6.5 new marriages for every 1,000 people, the lowest rate since 1867 when the federal government started tracking this data, said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and lead author of a report on 2018 numbers, the most recent available.

So how will the COVID-19 pandemic affect wedding plans and the timing for them? National and local reports suggest 2020 could even dip below those two-year-old numbers.

“In the 20th century marriage rates were lowest during the depression and highest during the years immediately after World War II. So there tends to be postponing or foregoing during hard times and then pent up demand when conditions ameliorate,” Curtin told South County Life.

Recent demand has softened by couples postponing ceremonies, say religious leaders, justices of the peace and others who officiate to make this ceremony legally binding. They want the grand celebration with many friends or relatives so they decided to wait out the virus storm by postponing, hoping a year or so away date would bring a better climate.

Yet, doing performing ceremonies said, there are still some intrepid couples determined in 2020 to tie the knot.

Being together as husband and wife, legal partners or joined in civil unions, these marrying couples are determined to fight back against being pushed around by a virus. In a majority of instances, however, it meant toning down splashy weddings.

Either way, plans went sideways. It is a time unlike any other when hard choices need to be made, couples said. Many have compelling stories about those decisions that twist the heart.

The Decision to Say “I do” in 2020

Orianna and Kyle Carvalho

Orianna Duncan and Kyle Carvalho, both 25, have spent much of their young lives in South Kingstown. They were married on May 22, after significant rearranging plans, confusion and at times exasperating challenges.

“We began working from home in March, like many. At first, having to worry about the wedding was kind of a funny joke, but as the date loomed closer, we began fielding questions from more and more people about if we were going to hold it,” Oriana Carvalho said.

About a month away from the wedding, it became “do or die time,” she explained.

“I had picked out these sneakers early on that would have the wedding date embroidered on them. We were talking about the wedding one night and decided to just go for it safely,” Carvalho said, adding, “We needed something to look forward to and bring joy.”

She went ahead and had the date sewed into the sneakers and they set up a Facebook event for livestreaming through social media to family and friends to share their day with others.

That was the simple part. Then the difficult parts piled on next.

“Re-planning was really hard, given that we got married right when things had just peaked, and we weren’t sure if restrictions were going to be lifted,” she said.

“It seemed like each day we realized that we had to adjust our expectations more and more. So, at each turn we had to give ourselves time to mourn the wedding that we had wanted and the moments we would miss out on,” Carvalho recalled.

“For me, the hardest thing was losing any sense of vision of what the wedding would look like. We changed so much of our plan. I couldn’t really figure out logistics for anything because I had no idea what to expect,” she said.

The couple had little help in the process and they sought assistance from the state officials on self-distancing and were told “use your best judgment,” she said.

But their roommate at that time, Narragansett native Frank Skaggs, started helping to figure things out and soon their catchphrase became “We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Yet, the troubles kept arriving as much as the bad news with the pandemic. At one point it seemed that both her mother and husband Kyle’s mother might not be able to attend, Carvalho said.

For instance, an arch ordered for the backyard went to the wrong state and person and the only way to have the wedding was outside, but a few days before and without notice, the entire road in front of their house was torn up.

“It didn’t help that at every turn, we had pushback, people telling us that things would be totally fine or that we didn’t need to follow safety precautions. It was exhausting, especially on top of the whole pandemic thing,” she said.

“At this point, all we could do was laugh,” she said. Then came the day of the wedding.

“On the morning of our wedding, we walked out to a kitchen and dining room full of flowers,” Carvalho recalled, along with a cake, cookies with their initials on them and — perhaps the best surprise of all — an arch decorated with flowers.

All courtesy of their Skaggs and his mother, Mary Carpenter, also of Narragansett.

“It was easily the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me,” she said.

Things then rapidly fell into place with the couple picking up some refreshments from a local liquor and grocery stories, and some of the wedding party helping finish the setup outside.

As family started to show up, Skaggs directed people where to park and neighbors, who also looked on from their yards, give permission to use their driveways for parking, she said, noting they also pulled out some seats placed in socially distanced spots and several “guests” stayed by their cars.

“I walked down the aisle alone,” Carvalho sad, “and we exchanged vows and rings, and then we had our first dance. We got to say hello to everyone, and some people brought their own champagne to do a toast. We kept a distance, but were still able to celebrate our day. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but it was perfect.”  

Sarah and Steven Sparhawk

For Steven Sparhawk, 31, an East Greenwich native and his wife, Sarah Sparhawk, 34, from Warwick, their re-crafted wedding June 19 was “honestly the wedding we never knew we wanted, it was perfect,” she said.

“Despite COVID and all the regulations, we decided it would be best to marry on our original date as we were so excited and ready that we didn’t want to wait to be husband and wife,” Sarah Sparhawk explained.

A 250-person guest list was trimmed to 20 and the couple was unsure about what to expect in changing all the details to be married in June without the large event.

She said that they needed to re-work every single part of the wedding - from venue, reception, seating and food to music, limousine, makeup-hair and flowers. On top this came changes for a cake and photographer.

They were offered a family friend’s home — special to the couple — in Jamestown on the water for the ceremony. Her husband had lived there for a decade before they met.

Sparhawk said her uncle was their original officiant and after talking over the decision to get married he promised to still come from Pittsburgh.

Family members became involved in preparing for the ceremony and helping to work out any glitches that developed. Some out-of-town guests wanted to avoid hotels and her parents accommodated them at their house in North Kingstown, where the reception was also held.

“My sister drove all us girls in her Tesla, rather than our intended party bus, which was fun. When we arrived, it was perfect weather with a nice breeze. My brother-in-law played acoustic guitar and had learned a few of my husband’s and my favorite songs,” Sparhawk said.

Her father walked her “up the aisle” to the house’s top deck overlooking the water. Everyone sat everyone two-by-two with a wide aisle below.

“Our friends, who are chefs, planned with us and prepared all of our favorite appetizers, salad course and entrée. We had a bartender make a specialty drink and also help to serve. They really went out of their way and did it for free,” she said.

“We had dancing - first dance and dance with my dad.  We also did sparklers, fireworks and a fire to end the night – s’mores bar included.  It was the best day of our lives,” she said.

The Decision for “I do” Delayed in 2020

Alexandra Silvia and Adam Tucker

Deciding to delay marrying during these recent months of the COVID pandemic were Alexandra Silvia, 31, and fiancé Adam Tucker, 38, both now living in North Kingstown.

For them, Silvia said, the reasons to postpone were simple, considerate and holding with strong beliefs in how that important day should be shaped.

“We didn’t want to eliminate our guests and didn’t want them to be nervous about attending our wedding. Also, we didn’t want to be married while wearing masks and we want the full wedding effect just like we had imagined,” said Silvia, whose fiancé’s hometown is Coventry and she was raised in Charlestown.

The original date was September 27, but the venue cancellation policy required notice 12 weeks before their wedding. It is now planned for May 23, 2021 at the Warwick Country Club.

Re-planning also brought tons of do-over details that once had been settled, including those around the season for the wedding, she said.

“Our new date is in May opposed to September,” she said, explaining that she needed to change the colors of the bridesmaid dresses, flowers, tuxedo colors and order new save-the-date mailers. Also, the favors had dates on them and she needs to check on a refund or replacement.

She and Tucker are planning to invite about 80 people to the re-scheduled wedding.

“Family that are older and live out of state were happy that we re-scheduled because of the hassle that they were encountering due to COVID restrictions. As a couple, I was extremely stressed out while Adam was upset that I kept worrying about everything,” she said.

“Once we had the opportunity to change the date, I was hesitant at first, but while we discussed the options, we decided to change it for my sanity and because we want to get married just as we imagined,” she said.

“I felt very upset while making the decision because I didn’t know if I was making the right decision,” Silvia said, and now “I feel so much better with what we decided with moving the wedding.”   

Caitlin Scungio and Joseph Sincerny

There also was some emotional turmoil for Caitlin Scungio and Joseph Sincerny, both 30 and living in Narragansett, when they decided to cancel their October 24 wedding date.

It had been the focus of planning, attention — and most importantly — expectation for that next step in life for becoming husband and wife.

“I grew very attached to our October date,” said Scungio, noting the new date is now May 1, 2021. “All that planning and envisioning your wedding for months just takes a turn and you realize that you have to wait longer to get married.”

“I went through a lot of emotions; sadness, frustration, anger, guilt,” she added.

“I still get saddened sometimes thinking we could be getting married in under 60 days as opposed to 250. Joe and I are planning to celebrate our ‘almost wedding date’ with a trip to where, who knows. Overall, we’re both glad that we decided to postpone,” she said.

Scungio described herself as a “very ‘Type A’ planner.”

“We got engaged August 31, 2019 and I had our wedding planned by early October,” she said, adding that they decided early to change the date as she grew more nervous with coronavirus concerns not abating as the weeks passed.

“My dad was actually the one to plant the postponing seed in March. Of course, I didn’t want to hear it until quarantine happened and reality set in that we probably should postpone or we’d have to scale back,” she said.

“We decided mid-April to push (out) our date even though 70% of the people we were talking to said ‘You’ll be fine.’ Look at us now. If we kept our October date, we would either be scrambling to postpone or would have to settle for a smaller wedding,” she said.

Scungio said that she and Sincerny both envisioned “a big party” for their wedding.

“Everyone was telling us, ‘Oh it’s just a day,’ but it’s our day, and we want it to be everything we pictured it to be,” she said,

Their 180-person guest list “would be impossible to cut our list down. Nor did we want to and hope that we will not actually have to for our May date,” said Scungio, a dog daycare camp owner who wants the honeymoon to also be the vacation she and her fiancé haven’t had in two years.

Re-planning really wasn’t difficult, she said. She called her various vendors, such as reception site, florist, photographer, hair and makeup professionals, along with the church, to ensure they were available before switching the date, she said.

Designing, ordering and mailing new save-the-date notices was probably the most work put into having a new date, Scungio added.

“Ninety percent of our vendors were very accommodating and did not ask for any money up front to change our date. We got lucky. If we had waited, I don’t think that we would have had such luck,” she said.

“We only spoke of having a “micro-wedding” once, very briefly. Once we decided to postpone both our parents, siblings, and friends were very supportive,” Scungio said.

Eloping and Fall “I do”

This same supportive encouragement from family and friends also went to those planning to elope during the pandemic or sudden very small fall weddings, said many other couples interviewed by South County Life.

It was the right time for some, like Rachel Banno and Dakota Carvell, to take the modern-day twist on eloping — no longer only for impassioned young couples alone tying the knot. Now it can be a tiny get-together with one or two friends, perhaps parents, to witness the immediacy of their vows.

For others, like Brittany Ricci and Javier Paula, as well as Cameron Ellis and Nour Malek, some quick changes help set the stage to be married despite curtailing plans.

The need for something in the short-term rather than a year or more away prompted their decisions, these three couples said.

At South Kingstown’s Lavender Waves Farms, Ellis, 29, of New Zealand, a doctoral student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Malek, 31, an associate medical director in Montreal, Canada, changed a May 2021 date to this past July.

“Because of all the uncertainty with COVID, in terms of family traveling, especially on my side from New Zealand and us seeing each other because we live on opposite sides of the (United States) border, we felt that there might be a chance that we won’t have the wedding we intended next year,” said Ellis.

“We did not feel the need to wait if being married meant that we could cross borders — quarantine and all — to see one another, he said, adding, “When we found out that the air border was open, Nour hopped on a flight and we planned everything in less than two weeks,” he said.

The Zech Drive lavender farm is a venue suitable for the newly fashioned term micro-weddings, such as the one Ellis and Malek had as well as larger ones, too.

Lavender plants run row after row, each creating a path to a white gazebo like a center of a spoked wheel among these purple flowers gently swaying to the breeze, honey bees circling around all seven acres of these plants.

Aroma from this plant gives off a pine camphor and woody sweet smell, accented by a touch of soapy fragrance.

That scene and scent — as well as immediacy of the venue’s availability — inspired Banno, 24, of West Warwick, and Carvell, 28, of Pennsylvania, to plan a late September ceremony there.

“Our original plan for our wedding was to get married next year, September 18th. We made the decision to have an intimate elopement ceremony this year due to my mother’s health,” said Banno, who explained her mother is suffering from the late stages of lung cancer.

At the end of July, when touring the farm, owned by local physician Henry Cabrera, the couple made the change to have the ceremony now rather than next year.

“We could tell my mother was in pain and worried, so we made the plan to elope regardless of the COVID limitations then,” said Banno.

She said that for the ceremony, the couple will have about 10 guests followed by a reception with about 30 people. A larger event is being planned for next year to celebrate with more people, she added.

“This is a decision we made during COVID, so we knew what the limitations would be going into it. We would make the decision to do this again in a heartbeat, especially if it meant having my mother in the wedding,” she said.

The need to do it now also underscored the reasons for Narragansett native Brittany Ricci, 27, and Javier Paula, 29, to postpone their wedding only by a few months - not a year or more - from an original date for last May.

The couple, living now in Newton, Massachusetts, plan to be married in late September in St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett, the original site of their earlier planned wedding.

“Javier and I have been engaged for almost 4 years,” said Ricci, a recent medical school graduate who wanted to get married before starting her residency. “Javier and I have felt ready for marriage for quite some time now and it is important for us to officially become husband and wife regardless of what that day looks like,” she said.

Her soon-to-be husband was in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years and recently joined the U.S. Air Force as a civilian employee.

“Once we postponed, we had our hearts set on getting married on the new date regardless of the circumstances,” she said, adding that while any formal reception will happen when COVID restrictions ease further.

She also said that being with Rev. Marcel Taillon at St. Thomas More, where she was baptized, on her wedding day has always been the one — and only — unmovable part of the plan. Church plans have remained intact since the original vision of what the big day would look like, she added.

Taillon emphasized the importance of the church ceremony — regardless of the number of guests — for Ricci and Paula as well as for several other couples he has married during these past few pandemic months.

“Catholics who get married believe Jesus calls them to a covenant, not a contract. Most celebrations of the sacrament of marriage are surrounded, not only by prayer and sacred rituals, but by large numbers of guests and celebrations,” he said.

For couples who have a strong faith “their calling overtakes the idea of a large social gathering, which can take place later. Brittany and Javier have already endured many sacrifices due to his service and her professional life,” he said.

“September 20 is not May 2, but it is the same covenant they will enter into unbreakable till death…this is the great risk and belief in love that God calls his followers to. I am proud of Brittany and Javier,” he said. 

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