Coronavirus changes how life events are celebrated


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Instead of just one lavish wedding, newlyweds Rebecca and David Bell will, eventually, have two weddings to remember.

Two weddings weren’t part of their original plan, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the couple to rethink and reschedule their dream wedding just weeks before the big day.

Married April 25 in an intimate, outdoor “elopement” at Indian Springs State Park in Flovilla, the ceremony included only Rebecca, David, their parents, two officiants, and a photographer.

“We realized that coronavirus was going to really impact people who were planning to come to the wedding,” said Rebecca, daughter of Dr. Derek McAleer, South Georgia’s Director of Administrative Services. “It became very clear very quickly that we weren’t going to be able to stick with our original plan.”

The couple’s original wedding and reception at Forest Hills United Methodist Church in Macon wasn’t cancelled, Bell said, but has been rescheduled to August when they expect it will be safer for their 150 plus guests to travel.

While the decision to postpone his daughter’s large, traditional wedding and reception wasn’t easy, it was necessary, said Dr. McAleer. It’s important that they celebrate the day with friends and family, he said.

“You really become so aware of how important it is to mark the passages in our lives with the people around us and how hard it is to do it without people,” he said.

High school rites of passage have also been put on hold or cancelled and kids’ social lives have been paused because of coronavirus.

On the evening their son’s prom was scheduled, Rhonda and Rev. Mark Addington cooked a special dinner for their son, Berrien High School senior Wesley Addington, and his girlfriend, Natalie Nix.

Rhonda decorated the dining room, cooked Nix’s favorite dinner of chicken alfredo, and the young couple dressed up and took photos together.

While it wasn’t quite the same, “it was a neat way to recreate their prom,” said Rev. Addington, who pastors Nashville United Methodist Church.

The church is also planning to host a prom for students sometime later this summer when they’re able to safely gather.

“We want to be able to let them have that experience,” Rev. Addington said. “These kids are not experiencing what we would call ‘normal life’ for a senior, and this is just a way of letting them know we love them and want to help celebrate who they are and what they’ve done. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that later in the summer.”

In a normal time, Rev. Tony Crosby’s father-in-law’s funeral would have had drawn a huge crowd and his visitation would have had folks lined up around the block, Rev. Crosby said.

But COVID-19 has changed everything, even the way folks mourn and pay their last respects.

Instead of being a large gathering of family, friends, and members of his Primitive Baptist church, Elder Jimmy Chapman’s funeral was a small, private family affair officiated by Rev. Crosby. It was recorded, streamed, and posted on YouTube so those not able to attend could view the service.

“It was somewhat unfulfilling in a way, but we did the best we could. We livestreamed and recorded and we know a lot of people watched,” said Rev. Crosby, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Columbus. “I count it a great honor to get to do his service; I looked up to him greatly. He was a giant.”

The first of his siblings to die, Chapman had family who, because of the pandemic, weren’t able to be with him in his final moments or attend his funeral.

“We took pictures and did FaceTime to help them feel like they were there. The idea of streaming somebody dying would seem crazy in another time, yet it’s the only way they could feel like they were there,” Rev. Crosby said. “Some of us took turns holding the phone so those folks who couldn’t be there were there. It was odd and awkward, but it’s where we are.”

It’s easier to share joy remotely than grief, said Dr. McAleer, who, in addition to celebrating a wedding, on May 6 welcomed grandson Avery James McAleer.

The entire family – from Macon to Savannah to Atlanta – was able to video conference via Zoom to the Washington, D.C.-area hospital room to visit with Avery, Sarah, and Jeff McAleer in the moments after Avery was born.

“I have watched my son hold his baby and it’s a big deal,” Dr. McAleer said. “We figure out ways to be together. While it’s not as good, it’s also not nothing.”