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Betsy Kneepkens: Son’s COVID-modified wedding focused on what matters

Nearly two years ago, my family was out to dinner when my oldest son informed us of his plans to marry. We were all delighted, because his girlfriend is a wonderful person. After dating for over five years, a two-year engagement seemed long to some, but I knew that the discernment process to marry is one of the most serious journeys they may undertake. My son’s fiance was also in graduate school, and the timing seemed right.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

The two years ended, and the decision to be married was sealed by sacrament on June 20. I could not have been prouder and more humbled by this thoughtful and loving couple, who made their vows the most critical part of their wedding day. Neither of the two let the pandemic mar this significant occasion.

I often have shared with my children that engagement is a period that one discerns whether they are called to marriage, not a statement that they are getting married. I have tried to impress upon my children that the call to the sacrament of matrimony is most like being called to the priesthood or religious life. In other words, you might think you should get married, but what does God desire for you? The time of engagement should be used to answer that question.

My prayer these two years was that they would hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and keep what was most important, their promise to Christ and each other, the focal point of their wedding day. You can never know what is written on someone’s heart, but COVID-19, although it made the situation difficult, helped keep their priorities straight.

The planning started a couple of months after they decided to be engaged. My daughter-in-law has skills I only dream of having. She is always delightful. She is super organized and does not procrastinate. She is thoughtful and does a marvelous job relationship-building. I let her know early on she would likely get frustrated with me during this planning process. I quickly learned I could be her understudy, because she was strong in areas where I struggle. Sons usually marry someone like their mother, and I can confidently say my son must have been attracted to my opposite. One of the best parts about her is that she is patient with me and did whatever she could to simplify what I needed to do for the planning process. She never appeared frustrated, always grateful, and made me feel like I was helpful in each of the duties I needed to do.

The planning of what was most important seemed to be accomplished first. Since my son’s and his fiance’s lives were in transition, they sought a parish to marry at a location that was easy for family and friends, and they connected with their local priest to help prepare them. They attended the engaged weekend retreat early on. They discussed the parts of the wedding mass and learned what details they needed to plan for the sacramental portion of the day.

The remainder of their reception details were forthcoming and spectacular. It seemed that every aspect was meticulously covered and nothing short of elegant. Since we all came from large and extended families, the invite list was long. In late fall, the Save the Date cards were sent, and almost all the wedding invitations were delivered by mid-winter. The menu, cake, photographer, clothing, flowers, everything was completed with precision. The bridal shower was set for mid-March, and every detail imaginable was covered. We all waited in anticipation for what we knew was going to be a grand affair.

COVID-19 hit Minnesota in March. At first, everything was put on hold. My son called about March 15 and said, “Mom, I am not sure the wedding and reception can happen with all these COVID restrictions.” I said, “Are you serious? Your wedding is almost four months out. You will be fine.”

I was so very wrong. Everyone and everything backed out, a Stay at Home order was put in place with no end in sight, and everything was up in the air. Slowly things did become a little less restrictive in June, but it was not much help in the wedding matters. The critical unknown was whether the church would be opened.

It was with all the COVID-19 limitations that I could see where my son and his fiance’s priorities were. After two years of careful planning and organizing, this couple just wanted to get married. Without even a tear, and I can’t say I would have been the same, they made adjustments so what was on their heart could be accomplished, to become husband and wife. The potential list of 350 had to be pared down to 16. The list included the immediate families and a wonderful priest and the union of two people who vow to “have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

The rehearsal dinner was social distancing with pizza in a nearby park. On the day of the wedding, there were no salon visits, and most people wore what they had in their closets. The bride’s dress could not be altered, so she was shopping online for her wedding dress a couple of weeks before the wedding. There were no flowers; rather, masks and hand sanitizers strategically placed as you entered the church. Their wedding party was reduced to each of their older siblings signing off on the marriage certificate. There was no carriage or limo to depart from the church, just a well-cleaned family car where the bride, groom, and little sister shared the back set as his dad chauffeured us to dinner. The reception was reduced to a dinner served family-style, cooked up by a chef who generously opened his place so these newlyweds could at least have dinner with their family. Their two-week honeymoon to Italy was replaced by a drive to the East Coast.

Other than the church and ceremony, nothing was as planned.

What did this couple have? Their day was simple, beautiful, and to the point. The hype that often overshadows the day’s meaning did not exist. There was no ounce of stress, and since they could not expect anything, everything seemed perfect. The day was about the Mass, with the sacrament with their vows. It was a church filled with everyone that had unconditional love for the couple, all those who will be with them to support them during their married lives.

Most people dream of their wedding day their entire young life. I do not wish a significant world crisis on anyone’s wedding day, but in the end, it can often be through difficult situations that we see what is most significant. Words cannot express how proud I am of my son and my daughter-in-law who were able to keep what ought to be the most important on a wedding day the center and focus of what they were doing.

These two showed my other five children an excellent example about the Sacrament of Matrimony and how to order the essential things in life rightly. I can’t say I would have been as mature on my wedding day. In a way I did not expect, my prayers were answered in a manner greater than I could have ever expected, because God is good and always faithful.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.