Who doesn’t love a wedding story – especially one suddenly upended by the COVID-19 shutdown? For this wedding story we follow a couple creatively doing a 180 in their wedding plans, pandemic be damned.
Shayna Skolnik first met Eddie Gonzales at a scientific conference in San Francisco (he worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and she for her own company Navteca, exhibiting at the NASA booth). It wasn’t until the second such conference a year later they began talking and texting and “fell in love long distance, as he is from Los Angeles and I’m from Greenbelt,” Shayna writes. Eddie moved to the DC area in 2017 and took a position at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center nearby.
In August of 2019 Eddie proposed – with a ring-filled Tiffany’s box stealthily hidden inside what looked like a bakery bag. It was to be the second marriage for both of them. Importantly, Shayna notes that “He gets along really well with my kids and has been an amazing role model for them.”
Original Wedding Plan
The original date was April 11 of this year, when family-only would gather on the beach in Laguna Beach, CA. “The beach is very special to us and we were so excited. Eddie’s mom is losing her eyesight and he lost his dad at age 12, so we really wanted to have the wedding in CA for her.
“I rented a large house to host my whole family and we planned to take everyone to Disneyland for a day, as well as to NASA, and some of our other favorite LA spots. Only our immediate families were going to be there — his mom, sister, brother, and three adult children and their kids, and my parents, two brothers, and my three children (14, 11, 9), and my aunt and uncle, as my aunt was going to marry us. We found an adorable Hawaiian restaurant that was going to open up just for us to have a private luncheon and wedding reception.
“My whole family was flying in from DC (and my brother and his family from Africa where they are stationed with the Foreign Service), so once the pandemic and travel restrictions started happening we realized that our plans were going to have to be cancelled. When the courthouse in Laguna Beach called to apologize that they couldn’t issue our marriage license and the Royal Hawaiian restaurant told us they were shutting down, it was so sad! We love to travel and were hoping to go the South Pacific this summer for a honeymoon, but of course that is also on hold indefinitely.
“I was so sad and scared that something might even happen to us before we could get married, that I tried on the dress I planned to wear, thinking ‘at least he will have seen me in it’ if something happens and one of us gets COVID. When the date came that we were supposed to have traveled to LA, it was definitely a low moment.”
The Actual Wedding
“Luckily, we are both optimists and after getting over the initial sadness at having to cancel and seeing our date come and go, I started thinking – what if we do the opposite of our original plan to marry in a tiny private ceremony, and instead have a giant virtual ceremony and literally invite everyone?! It seemed crazy at first when I floated the idea by Eddie, but once we realized how long the pandemic and shelter-in-place restrictions were going to last, we thought it would be a great way to move forward, including all our family and friends, and bring some much-needed hope and love to the world in a time of darkness.
“We live in a beautiful penthouse condo [in Chevy Chase] that’s blessed with sunset views, so we thought if we can’t have a wedding on the beach, we can still achieve that beach feel on our roof! My aunt lives locally and agreed to come over and deliver a socially distanced ceremony. My girls planned to perform their Hawaiian song (“Someone to Lava”) on the ukulele and my son would be the ring bearer and wear his best Hawaiian shirt.
“The tricky part was figuring out how to include everyone remotely in a way that would make them feel like they were there. Luckily, being an entrepreneur, I know lots of other business owners and my friend Mary Windham offered her events company, Occasions, Inc. to help us with the logistics. She helped us find and hire an A/V company that could film and live-stream the event so that there was professional footage and sound.
“I did all of the decor myself by rearranging our roof and we bought candles, potted gardenias and lavender at the local garden center. All the other decor we repurposed from around the apartment and we made our houseplants be the “guests.” We even incorporated some meaningful items like my grandmother’s jewelry box to hold the rings and a book Eddie’s girls had given me as part of the ceremony.
“Eddie’s biggest challenge was that all the barbers were closed and he hadn’t had a haircut in two months, so the night before the wedding I drank a glass of wine and broke out the clippers for some DIY grooming of the groom.
“I was my own ‘glam squad’ and did nails, hair, makeup, et cetera as best I could. Environmentalism is very important to me so we tried to outfit ourselves for the wedding with secondhand and repurposed items (I did get some hair accessories from Etsy and splurged on some killer shoes). Eddie is a “sneaker head” so he had the difficult decision of choosing which kicks to wear. My 9-year-old was his “best man” and helped calm Eddie’s nerves and tell him he looked great before the ceremony. My girls helped me get ready and then it was time!
“The weather was absolutely perfect (the pandemic allowed us to wait to send out the invite until the week before, when we were pretty sure that the weather would be good for our outdoor sunset wedding). The planet Venus and the moon were shining bright and we had all of the sunset colors as our backdrop.
“My parents decided to come and wear masks/be socially distanced, so my dad walked me down the ‘aisle’ across the roof and my mom made us an amazing homemade chocolate wedding cake. We had the A/V company play some of our favorite songs and a video montage that I had made of us while the guests were logging in. Then we had the processional and it was a very special moment for us as it really felt like the universe had aligned for us to meet and everything leading up to the special day, May 2, 2020.
“My aunt gave a beautiful ceremony address. We both gave vows to each other’s children, in addition to our own vows. We then incorporated the Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love” as our recessional complete with the kids, my aunt, and my parents holding up placards with the lyrics and chorus.
“We then cut the cake and had a champagne toast – we had asked Eddie’s son and brother to prerecord the toasts and they were played on the live-stream for everyone. We even had our first dance right there as the sun was going down and we could feel everyone’s love and warmth beaming in remotely to us.
“At the very end we were able to see all of the people who were online and realized about 500 people had “attended” our wedding! (Photo right.) It was a truly magical event as it felt incredibly intimate – we were literally the only people there, and yet we had been able to share it with all of our loved ones remotely. I wouldn’t change a thing!
“The hidden blessing for sure was being able to include so many people who it wouldn’t have been practical or financially feasible to include in person. We literally put the invitation on our social media accounts, so we had work colleagues, elementary school friends, as well as family and friends from around the world tuning in.
“We had global attendees from Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, Germany, Spain, France as well as the U.S. and Canada – all very inclusive and eco-friendly, no air travel required.
“Some people got dressed up (I called it ‘quarantine chic’ in the invite) and they were able to bring their pets, and babies, and drink and eat whatever they wanted. So many people commented to us that they felt truly touched and cried throughout the ceremony and that our wedding brought them some much-needed joy in a time of tremendous sadness. I created a shared cloud drive for people to upload photos of themselves and photos of handwritten notes so that we can make a keepsake ‘guest book’ and we cried the next day looking through all of the beautiful things people had posted for us.
“Even some of the neighbors in our building anonymously surprised us with a handmade banner that they had written and left outside our apartment door. We felt so blessed to be able to share our wedding and our happiness with everyone.
Shayna grew up in Greenbelt, and moved back here with her kids until just last year, when they all moved to Chevy Chase. So while the ceremony took place there, Greenbelters in person included her parents Lola and Steve, and her children. Attending virtually were her brother Benjamin and his family, whose official residence is still Greenbelt but were quarantining in Wisconsin, and brother Kevin and his family in D.C. Lots more Greenbelters “attended” virtually – some who live here and many others who work with Shayna and Eddie at NASA.
As one Greenbelter attending virtually, the wedding seemed surprisingly normal to me, with all of us having a front-row seat. But when it came time to cut the cake and watch it being eaten, the Zoom “chats” on screen were hilarious: “I want some, too!” and “This part is torture!” I identified.
It was especially fun to scroll through the hundreds of virtual attendees, many of whom I recognized. My favorite was watching Ben and Libby’s children reacting to seeing their aunt, cousins and grandparents on screen.
Read about another covid-times wedding – Dee Sweeney and Tim Saurwein’s.
NOTE: By contributing these pandemic stories, photos, et cetera, Greenbelters are making an unconditional donation of the material to the nonprofit Greenbelt Online.org and the Greenbelt Museum/City of Greenbelt, which reserve the right to keep, lend, or otherwise dispose of the donated material, and may use the material on our website, for social media or other postings, in promotional materials or in future exhibits.