For the past year-and-a-half, Zoe Wolfe and Tyler Gibson had been planning their perfect wedding. Now living in Madison, Wis., the couple’s families were going to travel from out-of-town to attend the ceremony that was set to be held at an 1800s mansion turned bed and breakfast.
But in the days leading up to Saturday, March 21, the couple’s wedding date, Wisconsin and the surrounding states began shutting down as the COVID-19 pandemic became more widespread, forcing the couple to reevaluate their plans.
“We got engaged December 2018, so we had been planning for a really long time,” said Wolfe, a 2011 Eastern High School graduate. “We wanted to have a long engagement so that we had lots of time to plan and didn’t feel rushed.”
Wolfe, a preschool teacher, realized the severity of the situation on Friday the 13th. Madison public schools decided to close, starting the 18th, but that was moved up to March 16 when someone in the community tested positive for COVID-19. Wolfe’s preschool followed suit, and she began talking with Gibson about what they could do to still have their wedding mostly as planned but take extra precautions for their guests.
So that Friday, the couple sent an email to all their guests, saying they were going to change some details of their wedding to make sure they were following public health recommendations. They told their guests that if they were uncomfortable flying to go ahead and stay home.
They received emails back from a few people who were in the high-risk category who said they wouldn’t be able to come out of an abundance of caution, but they also received emails from people who were high risk who were determined to still make it to the wedding.
Wolfe and Gibson decided they couldn’t put their loved ones’ health at risk.
“We were uncomfortable with them putting their health at risk in order to come, and we just thought, you know, the whole wedding would be kind of layered on top of a feeling of stress. So we just wanted to make that decision for everyone to put their health first,” Zoe said.
They sent another email, telling everyone they were postponing the wedding. Zoe said their venue and caterer were accommodating, and they’ll be able to hold their wedding at a later date without many changing fees.
In the meantime, they brainstormed how they could still have a low-key wedding at their apartment on their planned wedding date. They went through several iterations of how that could be done so they could still have their families involved. They finally settled on having Wolfe’s parents drive in from Kokomo and her siblings and officiant drive in from Chicago.
However, on March 20, Illinois issued a “shelter in place” order, starting on March 21, and Wolfe’s siblings and officiant no longer could make it.
“All of a sudden we went from having a wedding with my parents and sibling and brother-in-law and our officiant to having no officiant and no siblings,” Wolfe said.
Their plans changed once again. They decided to go with a virtual wedding. They quickly informed all of their original guests, and many more – like all of the parents of Wolfe’s students – to attend their wedding on March 21 via Zoom, a video conferencing program. Their officiant agreed to perform the ceremony over Zoom as well.
On March 21, their regularly-scheduled wedding date, the couple stood in their dining room, Zoe in her wedding dress and Tyler in his tuxedo, and had their wedding.
Forty-seven computers tuned into the wedding. Many dressed up. Wolfe’s parents were the only ones physically in attendance. And it was beautiful, Wolfe said.
There were many silver linings. For one, the couple’s dog, Maebe, got to be the ring bearer. They tied the rings around her collar on a handkerchief, and when it was time to do the ring exchange, Gibson summoned her up by offering her a treat, a carrot, he kept in his pocket.
The families in attendance via Zoom had fun, too. Some brought cake and champagne and had their own reception for Wolfe and Gibson at their houses.
“It’s been sweet. One of the reasons we wanted to still do it is because it is so stressful for everyone right now, and we just thought this can be a fun thing for people to kind of rally around,” Wolfe said. “My aunt was like, ‘I hope you don’t mind that I’m showing all my friends because it’s bringing them a little bit of joy,’ which is something that we were really hoping. But I think hopefully it’s a bright spot for people.”
While the wedding wasn’t considered legally official, Wolfe and Gibson said they look forward to having another ceremony more as planned later on, though no planning currently is underway.
When they do get to have the in-person ceremony, Wolfe anticipates it will be extra special.
“I think at that point it will be more than just for our wedding; it will be like, ‘Oh, we can be together again.’ How beautiful,” Wolfe said.