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Saying 'I do' at a distance

Couple hosts wedding in East Rockaway backyard after canceling big party over coronavirus concernts

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When John and Danielle Garren got engaged in 2018, they pictured a large wedding surrounded by about 100 family members and friends at St. Raymond’s Church in East Rockaway, followed by a reception at Watermill Catering in Smithtown.

Their big day was set for March 27, but when the coronavirus pandemic forced them to cancel their plans, Danielle’s parents, Toni and Frank Keane, hatched an idea. They offered their East Rockaway home, where Danielle grew up, for a small ceremony, so their daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law could get married on the date they originally planned.

“It’s unbelievable times that we’re living in right now, so the whole situation was very weird,” Danielle said, “but it meant the world to us to have our friends and family come together and actually care so much and want to see us get married on our day, and make that happen. It just means everything to us.”

John and Danielle wed in the Keanes’ backyard in front of eight close family members, and Danielle’s family friend Stacey Sieger performed the ceremony.  Danielle’s grandmother watched the nuptials from an upstairs window.

“I always pictured myself getting married in a church and having that big, traditional wedding, so it was a little strange,” Danielle said, “but the fact that our family and friends came together . . . it was amazing.”

Danielle’s parents decorated the backyard and made sure the chairs were at least six feet apart. They also had hand sanitizer set up as the limited guests entered the backyard. To help ensure they were following health experts’ guidelines, they turned to their other daughter, Marissa Keane, who is a nurse at Stamford Hospital – Bennett Medical Center in Connecticut, for guidance.

Marissa also had a surprise in store for the couple. She called relatives and friends who were unable to make it because of the size restrictions and organized them in a parade down the street in their cars after the ceremony. Honking horns, throwing rice and blowing bubbles, dozens of the newly married couple’s loved ones joined in, as a line of cars and enthusiastic participants drove by the house one by one.

“Under the circumstances, everything that’s happening now with the world, it was just something happy,” Toni Keane said. “It was a happy occasion just to brighten everyone’s spirits, and we tried to make it uplifting for everyone. We just wanted it to be a happy time.”

Danielle said it was important for the couple to keep their wedding date, and though it was smaller in scale and at a different venue than they imagined, she added, it made the event all the more memorable.

When the coronavirus initially forced the Garrens to cancel their wedding, they were still planning to hold a ceremony on March 27 at St. Raymond’s with 10 people in attendance. Those plans changed, however, when the diocese shut down all churches until further notice.

“It kind of weird coming to terms with the fact that I’d be getting married in my backyard with eight people,” Danielle said, “but it turned out to be a great day. We were a little bit nervous, but our friends and family that were there made everything perfect.”

Danielle said she met John, who grew up in Levittown, online, and they dated for four years before getting engaged. The couple recently bought a home in Commack, and spent a year and a half planning their wedding.

Though their dream nuptials did not happen on the date they planned, the couple intend to hold a ceremony at St. Raymond’s and a reception at Watermill Caterers on Sept. 20, which is John’s birthday.

“I think a lot of people don’t picture and plan a wedding to happen the way it did for us, but this is actually going to be very memorable,” Danielle said. “We’re going to have two wedding dates now, which is cool.”