A change of plans, not of heart: Angelenos say ‘I do’ in weddings scaled back by coronavirus

Kathleen and Russel Sion, in their wedding clothes, sit on the front steps of Caroldale Learning Community school in Carson.
Kathleen and Russel Sion on the front steps of Caroldale Learning Community school in Carson, where they first met as children. Their wedding, like many others, was postponed because of the coronavirus.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

It takes enormous effort to arrange a big wedding — to find the perfect spot to say “I do,” to settle the guest list, the music, the food.

This spring, countless couples saw that work swept away when the coronavirus nixed gathering in crowds.

QueJonné and David Cross of South L.A. were just a few days away from the sparkly, elegant Sunday evening they’d planned when Californians got the March 19 order to stay home.

“It wasn’t just us. Everyone was losing something,” QueJonné said of the moment, in the middle of her Las Vegas bachelorette party, when they were forced to put off their 350-guest celebration.

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QueJonné Cross models her wedding gown, with David Cross Jr. in the background in his tuxedo.
QueJonné Cross, foreground, and David Cross Jr., background, quietly got married before 20 guests instead of the 350 they had planned for.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Still, she said, they feel blessed to have quietly gotten married before about 20 loved ones in their church on that day — and to have their health and each other.

Russel and Kathleen Sion celebrate those last small wonders daily — especially now, when his work in particular carries great risk.

A respiratory therapist at a downtown hospital, he has treated many coronavirus patients, helping to intubate them and manage their care. He has stood at the heads of their beds as they cough. A colleague he’s close to had to be intubated, but thankfully recovered. Other patients haven’t.

Kathleen is a nurse practitioner at a family medicine clinic, where she’s also been in contact with those with COVID-19.

The couple met in school when they were 8 and dated briefly at 13.

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April was to be their perfect month — with celebrations each Friday. First their fifth anniversary, then his 29th birthday, then hers, then the wedding. They’d planned their vows to focus on becoming a family, for Russel’s 10-year-old son Jayden.

The big April 24 wedding had to wait. But on April 23, the pair went to the parking lot of the Honda Center for a civil ceremony — via walkie-talkie.

It wasn’t the stuff of all their dreams, but their biggest was to be married. Now they are.

Jonathan Gryn and Debbie Rey model their wedding clothes barefoot in the street at night near their home in Huntington Beach.
Jonathan Gryn and Debbie Rey signed their wedding license, but postponed festivities planned for guests in San Juan Capistrano.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

So are Debbie and Jonathan Gryn of Huntington Beach, who signed their marriage license on their March 27 wedding date. Postponed: the picture-perfect San Juan Capistrano venue, the Italian buffet, the deejay.

They broke that news to their 130 guests in a photo, writing a tentative late July date on the surgical masks they posed in. In that moment, said Debbie, “we felt this weight lifted off our shoulders.”

In the end, so did Martha Suarez Ballesteros, who had been anxious about her April 17 wedding near Puerto Vallarta. She hates being in the spotlight, she said, and had tried to get Frank Sanchez to elope.

Then, in late March, their wedding planner called to describe the mass exodus of tourists.

Martha Suarez Ballesteros wears her wedding dress at home in Fullerton.
Martha Suarez Ballesteros is excited about her wedding near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, tentatively rescheduled for next April.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Somehow rescheduling for next April eased Martha’s jitters, she said. “Now I’m excited, whereas before I was nervous.”

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Meray and Rafi Halajian got married May 16 — their planned date, at their planned church. Just 10 relatives could be there out of 500 guests, though they livestreamed the ceremony.

Rafi was looking forward to the reunion of 28 first cousins. His parents, in Armenia, couldn’t be there.

“We’re waiting for the dust to settle,” he said, before they replan the big party. For now, they’re simply happy.

On the couch in Rafi’s Glendale condo recently, Meray realized, “I didn’t have to go home, I was already home.” It felt wonderful.

Meray and Rafi Halajian in wedding dress at home in Glendale.
Meray and Rafi Halajian had to cancel their 500-guest wedding, but are happy just to be together at home.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)