Weddings on hold, funerals scaled down, in coronavirus crisis

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Robert Pepper and fiancée Cherizar Bourget had put a lot of thought into getting married. But the couple’s ideal springtime Rhode Island ceremony didn’t include social distancing.

When the COVID-19 pandemic scratched the record on most public celebrations, about 200 people were about to descend on Saint Rocco’s Church in Johnston from across the country.

“I just got off the phone with the priest, with the venue … everyone is kind of confused,” Pepper said Monday as he scrambled to figure out what to do with the wedding a little more than two weeks away. “They are saying the government wanted two weeks to reassess.”

That day Gov. Gina Raimondo had ordered restaurants to serve only takeout and limited gatherings to no more than 25 people.

For Pepper, a 39-year-old truck driver, 25 people at a wedding was not going to cut it. He’s from Johnston and she’s from North Providence, but they had been expecting family from as far away as Los Angeles and Hawaii.

“The church said they are canceling masses, but they can do a wedding if it is small. But I have 200 people coming,” he said. “I waited a long time to get married and now this? I guess we are kind of in limbo.”

Across the state, social gatherings have had to change, and not just the joyous ones.

Funerals and wakes are also being altered, postponed or downsized.

“Our guidance remains to avoid large events and crowds; that does apply to funerals, wakes and memorial services,” state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott told reporters at a Tuesday news briefing. “At wakes more than 25 people will likely be gathered and we are asking more vulnerable populations to not attend.”

Funeral attendance should be limited to “select” family members, not including those with underlying medical conditions or who are sick.

Another idea: live-stream services so family members can watch from home.

Raymond Butterfield III, immediate past president of the Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association, referred questions about funerals to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines issued earlier this week.

On Sunday the CDC said funerals should not have more than 50 members, but the Funeral Directors Association notes that President Donald Trump on Monday recommended gatherings of no more than 10 people.

“It would appear this would impact funerals/viewings in that they would be limited – perhaps to immediate family only – for the next 15 days,” the National Funeral Directors Association said on its website. “Funeral directors could offer livestreaming as an option for these services/viewings and, perhaps, recommend the family hold a larger memorial gathering at a later date.”

Back in Johnston, Pepper on Tuesday said he had rescheduled the entire wedding, including the reception at Cranston Country Club, for early September.

Another bit of good news for the couple: they hadn’t booked a honeymoon, so they won’t have to scramble to cancel flights and hotel rooms.

“I want to go forward with what we have been planning,” Pepper said about why moving to September was the preferred option. “We were able to lock something in, same vendors, same DJ and photographer, for another date, so everything’s going to be about the same.”

panderson@providencejournal.com

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On Twitter: PatrickAnderso_

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