Big wedding plans become small ceremony amid pandemic

DOVER — The backyard wedding that unfolded Monday wasn’t necessarily what Shannon Sampere and Michael Thompson expected when they planned their ballroom wedding for two years. But, Ms. Sampere said, “When it comes down to it, when you really love somebody, it would take a lot more than a pandemic to stop you from celebrating that, at least for us.”

With large group gatherings on hiatus as the pandemic warrants social distancing, weddings throughout the state and country have shifted to meet the laws under various states of emergency. Many couples have been faced with changing their dates to later in the summer or into the fall, or coming up with a new game plan.

Shannon Sampere and her husband, Michael Thompson, tied the knot Monday, after their original wedding was altered due to the pandemic. From left to right, groomsman Michael Voshell, bridesmaid Shelly Weaver, Cynthia Sampere, Michael Sampere, Shannon Sampere, Michael Thompson, Gary Thompson and Lynn Thompson, pose for a photo. (Submitted photo)

Ms. Sampere — soon to officially be Mrs. Thompson — and Mr. Thompson had originally planned to tie the knot on April 4. Beginning on March 19, however, Delaware offices began to close to the public under the state of emergency. While marriage licenses can still be ordered, the licenses aren’t available for pick up until after the state of emergency is lifted, according to the website.

“We appealed, we had the interview — we did anything we could to get it processed,” Ms. Sampere said.

The week of April 13, the couple got a call from the Kent County Levy Court that their marriage license was able to be processed. Getting an officiant was the next hurdle — and Ms. Sampere’s father stepped into the role and was ordained online.

And surrounded by the both of their parents, one bridesmaid and one groomsman — and about a dozen people watching on Zoom — the couple was married in the sunroom of Ms. Sampere’s parents’ home.

“We all dressed up to the nines and did the whole thing as big as we could,” she said.

She said that they kept the ceremony purposefully small — under the 10 person gathering limit — to follow social distancing recommendations. With immunocompromised people in their families, they wanted to be careful to make sure everyone had been quarantining, she said.

The day was bittersweet, she added.

“It was very, very hard not to have everybody there,” she said.

She noted that her sister is an essential employee in California, who is working weekends, which is why they opted for a Monday wedding.

“Having my sister there on a screen was great to be able to see her, but not the same as being able to hug her on my wedding day,” she said.

Her friends took photos, those watching on Zoom were able to record a part of it and family friends at a local restaurant helped with delivering food.

“It was really sweet to see how everybody came together and they were so understanding, so patient, so helpful,” she said. “They’re just happy for us and wanted to be there with us. We were beyond grateful for that, and I think all of those little things stood out a lot more.”

Ms. Sampere and Mr. Thompson have known each other since they were 16 and Polytech High School students, she said.

“We actually started out as friends, dating each other’s friends,” she said.

They stayed in touch through college and some time after they graduated officially started dating. They’ve been together for about eight years now, she said, and have known each other for more than half of her life, she added.

“I’m still soaking it in,” she said of marriage. “The day is going pretty similar to any other Tuesday we’ve had together for the last eight years of Tuesdays — but it’s a little different. … It’s an interesting mix of years of familiarity, that’s now also new — dressed a little differently.”

The morning after their wedding, the two, who are essential workers, were right back to work, she added.

When they began preparing for their walk down the aisle two years ago, Ms. Sampere said that they decided to work hard and save up because “we did not want to take on any debt, but we did still want to have a big celebration.”

The couple saved for two years and have already paid for everything. (She noted that “everything but the cake” was ready for their original date.)

“A backyard wedding with eight people and delivery dinner was a big difference from the 125-person ballroom wedding that we had planned,” she said.

The couple plans to try again in November at their original venue, she said.

“We are still very much looking forward to the big party with everybody,” she said.

While it was upsetting to hear that they weren’t going to have the wedding they initially envisioned, Ms. Sampere said that everything that has happened shifted her perspective in a positive direction.

“It also made it very clear that, at the end of the day, it’s just about the two of us wanting to be together forever, and be married and celebrating that,” she said.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.