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Montana brides find ways to celebrate special day amid pandemic

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    BILLINGS, Mont. (Billings Gazette) — For as long as Mikkayla Johnson could remember, she has always wanted to be a teacher, a mom and a wife.

Planning to marry her boyfriend of seven years, the elementary education student was ready to at least cross “wife” off the list.

Preparations were going smoothly, until the novel coronavirus prompted business shut-downs and public health officials advising against large gatherings in March.

With her wedding on June 6, she was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to celebrate the special day.

To add to the stress, Johnson’s mom, a Billings nurse, was called to help treat COVID-19 patients in Shelby shortly before Easter in April. Shelby, a town of 4,800, has been hit hard by the virus.

At that point, she feared her mom wouldn’t be back in time for the wedding. And even if her mother did, she still had to self-quarantine for 14 days, Johnson said.

“The date’s coming up,” Johnson said.

Luckily, her mom returned to Billings last Sunday and will be able to finish the quarantine by the time the wedding comes around, as long as she doesn’t show symptoms.

The plan is to have a small gathering on the couple’s desired wedding date, with an anniversary celebration at the Billings Depot next year.

The date is important, since Johnson’s parents’ anniversary is on June 8, and her cousin’s anniversary is on June 7. As the days went by, Johnson needed help with making bouquets and decorations, and she wondered how she’d finish it all if her mom didn’t return in time.

“They thought that she’d have to be there two weeks at the most, and it turned into almost a month,” Johnson said.

Because of the shelter-in-place order, Johnson and her bridesmaids couldn’t get their dresses altered at the bridal shop. She’ll wear her dress next year when it’s tailored to fit, Johnson said. The ceremony will include about 10 to 15 people, a major change from the 300-guest celebration she was planning.

“As long as I could remember, I just wanted to be three things: A wife, a mom and a teacher,” Johnson said, “That’s it. Getting so close to it and getting excited, I was heartbroken when we had to change it.”

Cake, gloves and face masks

Billings resident Jacquelyn Redfern remembers July 20, 2019, vividly. Her then fiancé, Brian Redfern, took her up through the Beartooth Mountains to visit Yellowstone National Park. The sun was shining and the air was warm, so they decided to go into the park and have a picnic.

She got the picnic table ready, and when she turned around, he was down on one knee.

“It was one of those fairy tale perfect days,” Jacquelyn Redfern said.

In March, businesses and venues started shutting down in response to COVID-19. The wedding was just around the corner on April 25 at the Billings Depot.

The couple decided to still get married in April, but they plan to have another gathering in July when more friends and family can attend.

Wearing her wedding dress and surrounded by immediate family, a few witnesses and a pastor, the couple was wed outside at a property near Laurel owned by Brian Redfern’s boss. All with social distancing in mind, Jacquelyn Redfern said.

They even posed for a picture wearing face masks and gloves by the cake.

“We thought it would be a funny photo and to remember the pandemic someday,” Jacquelyn Redfern said in an email.

But while she was still able to celebrate the special day, there were a few bumps along the way.

As businesses were on the brink of closing due to the shelter-in-place order, Jacquelyn Redfern had to explain to a tailor over the phone how her dress needed to be altered, and Brian Redfern’s custom suit was “held hostage” by Men’s Warehouse.

“It’s actually a comical story,” Jacquelyn Redfern said, chuckling. “Someday, I’ll be able to laugh about it, but back then, I cried.”

Because the elderly are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, Jacquelyn Redfern’s 94-year-old grandmother couldn’t attend the wedding. Family is important to the couple, and a lot of emotional decisions had to be made.

“I’ve been planning for this day for nine-plus months and essentially since I was a little girl, and to have it come crashing down in a matter of days, it was hard to process through,” Jacquelyn Redfern said. “I love Brian, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, so part of me was also ecstatic that I was able to come up with a solution where I could still marry my best friend.”

Hope for the future

Kaylah Taylor met her fiance, Brian Miller, by chance.

Miller’s sister introduced them, and after a few dates, they hit it off. They got along so well, they were engaged about a month later.

Preparations were coming together. The couple rented a venue in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Taylor bought her dress, and Miller’s sister was ordained.

Taylor recently moved to Baker, Montana, and as restrictions were put into place across the nation to battle the coronavirus, the future of the wedding scheduled for June 25 was unclear.

With so many family members living out of state, they decided at the end of March to postpone the wedding to another date, but Taylor said they haven’t chosen a new one yet.

“It was early on that we decided that there are going to be so many people that are going to be affected by this,” Taylor said. “What’s it matter that we have to put it off? We still have each other.”

Along with canceling the wedding, the couple had to cancel services from vendors that would have provided the cake, photography and more. Taylor’s Hayley Paige dress is still stuck in a warehouse in New York, and all of the decorations she made will need to be kept in storage for now.

But Taylor is looking at the bright side of things. While it was stressful trying to coordinate and then cancel the wedding, she’s learned to appreciate the little things amid the pandemic.

Even going to the post office in Baker is a blessing, Taylor said. When the wedding does happen, the couple’s song will be “Better Together” by Jack Johnson, which will remind her of its deeper meaning during the pandemic.

“You’re going through something that can truly make or break your relationship,” Taylor said. “… You learn so much more about each other and you have to be a team. Not everything will fall into place.”

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