Sons who can't properly bury their fathers, couples calling off their weddings, and friends missing joyous events such as bachelorette weekends, bat mitzvahs, and 18th birthdays. Around the world, the coronavirus has upended people's lives in unfathomable ways, forcing them to make agonizing decisions to cancel meaningful and monumental life events.
“It’s bullshit he can’t have a funeral,” said Nils Van den Bossche of his late father. “I understand the severity of the virus, but at the same time I think it’s hypocritical to let people go on working, get sick there, but a gathering of a 100 friends family is not allowed?”
On March 3, Gerd Van den Bossche, 51, died suddenly after collapsing in his office from a heart attack, according to his son. For the past 10 days, the 24-year-old's mother and sister have been in overdrive planning the funeral. It was going to be a large memorial, with about 200 people who wanted to come pay their respects.
But then coronavirus fears started “lighting up” in Belgium with more than 500 infections so far. The Belgian government, like so many other countries, enacted swift, drastic precautionary measures to try to thwart the spread.
On Friday night, Nils’s family was dealt another painful blow: Less than 24 hours before the service was slated to start, they got the news that their memorial was officially canceled due to the restrictions on social gatherings.
It’s painful and infuriating for Nils to not be able to honor his father the way he should be, with his friends, coworkers, and members of the community. Gerd had worked at the same company fixing wires on streetlights for 18 years and also worked with a nearby soccer club helping injured players.
“It’s quite miserable,” his son said. “Especially when you know your father was loved by a lot of people.”
Now, due to new rules on social gatherings, only 10 close friends and family members can come pay their respects to Gerd's life. The Saturday ceremony will last about 15 minutes, then the procession will head to the graveyard to bury the body. After that, the small group will disband and go home.
“There’s nothing else to do,” Nils said. “We aren’t even allowed to be together at this moment.”
Nils joked that it’s probably what his father would have wanted.
“He’d say, ‘This is too much money, so either we cut costs or cancel it entirely,’” Nils chuckled. “I am just trying to stay as positive as possible as I have to call all these people and notify them they can’t come.”
One of the hardest parts of the tragedy is that the two had just started to become friends again. Nils said he'd had a rocky relationship with his father for about 10 years, since he became a teenager. But, the last few months, they had begun to repair it, grow "a lot closer and we started having an actual father–son relationship."
He wrote a letter to his father, which he had hoped to read at his funeral. Now, he said, he will publish it online.
“I want people who couldn’t attend to see one final time how much he meant to me,” he said. “He was always so proud of his family, his children. I want him to know I am proud of him, in the end.”
Thousands of miles away in Opoczno, Poland, Maja Szot had just finished telling the 40 or so teens who had RSVP'd to her 18th birthday party that the whole thing was off.
She'd been planning this day for a year — buying decorations, finding the perfect venue, locking down a DJ, creating the playlist, and nailing down her "really, really cool cake, which looks like Shrek."
"In Poland, the18th birthday is, like, a huge thing, many teenagers prepare for this day like a year or two before," the high schooler told BuzzFeed News. "To be honest, I was scared at first I didn't wanted to celebrate the fact I am going to be an adult, but my friends convinced me somehow and I really liked the idea."
Like scores of students across the globe, Szot's school is on lockdown for at least two weeks, putting their academic and social lives on pause. She's been spending a lot of time watching Netflix and connecting with friends on Instagram and TikTok, but it's been lonely. She and her friends were "really excited" to finally see each other on April 3, the day of her birthday party.
But Friday night, her dad called and told her they had to call it off.
"I got really sad and angry at the same time," she said. "It feels a little depressing, but I know it's for the better, so it's OK."
Instead, to celebrate she said a few friends will come over March 31, the day she turns 18, and watch a movie. It's not how she imagined ringing in the moment she "became an adult," but she knows she's not alone. Other teens in her grade are also preparing to cancel their big days too.
There's one thing, though, that's she's not canceling: the massive Shrek cake she ordered. "I will eat it all by myself," she said.
As the coronavirus continues to cause panic and bring daily life to a grinding halt, couples are being forced to make the painful decision to cancel or postpone weddings and bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Kristin Godsell was supposed to celebrate finishing the New York City Half Marathon and her upcoming May wedding with eight of her best friends in Boston next weekend for her bachelorette party. Now the 29-year-old won't be doing either.
After officials shut down the race, she had a feeling she'd be forced to do the same for her bachelorette weekend, which she'd been planning since October.
"It's this stressful waiting game for things to get canceled," she said. "It's a fear if we don't cancel that means I could be putting people's health in jeopardy, and I didn't feel comfortable with that."
With the help and support of her friends, she switched gears, called off the trip, and invited anyone who felt comfortable to her home in Norwalk, Connecticut, for a more low-key, intimate gathering.
As "upset," as she was, she said the experience gave her a deeper perspective of and appreciation for what it really means to get married.
"You learn who your friends are quickly. People who reached out to say, 'How can we help?'" she said. "I talked to my fiancé a lot and we realized you lose hindsight about the goal of these weekends. It's about being together. These times show you what you are capable of doing and remind you why you did this to begin with, and you roll with it. I am choosing to be on the other side."
In just a few hours on Thursday, bride-to-be Ashley Boyle went from buying a deep burgundy lipstick for her wedding this Saturday to canceling the whole event.
After 40 guests pulled out within 24 hours due to coronavirus concerns, she said she and her fiancé of six years, Steve Schiraldi, knew they didn’t have a choice, even if it was less than two days before their ceremony.
“I got home around 1 p.m. and basically just dissolved,” she said. “From that point, we knew we either have a wedding we didn’t want or we were postponing."
The 29-year-old had taken Thursday off from her job as a first-grade teacher in Washington, DC, to spend the day relaxing and running last-minute errands for the wedding, but her phone kept ringing. Guest after guest — many of whom lived in New York City, DC, Seattle, and Los Angeles, all areas struggling with the virus outbreak — kept calling and canceling.
“A lot of people who were canceling were younger,” she said. "And they were actually expressing that they didn’t want to risk that they were carrying it and passing it to our older family and relatives, which was hard to hear but commendable.”
Then, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and told people to avoid large gatherings. Ten minutes later, Boyle’s mother called, informing her that very close family members from upstate New York had contacted her, letting her know they didn’t feel comfortable traveling.
“To get that one fell swoop of these seven people who are so dear to your heart can’t come, I dropped the phone,” she said. “I can’t imagine turning to walk down that aisle and not having some of my closest relatives there to see it. I just can’t do it.”
They reached out to their venue, John Marshall Ballrooms in downtown Richmond, which immediately offered to reschedule the wedding at no additional cost. They booked Sept. 6 as a tentative date — the only weekend available for the rest of the year.
“It was incredible,” said Boyle. “So far every single one of our vendors said, 'No problem, no fee, we will see you in September.'”
But Boyle said she knows that since she is one of the first weddings to cancel due to the pandemic, future brides may not be so lucky with rescheduling.
She also acknowledged that in recent days, she’d been playing down the risk of the coronavirus and community spread to herself. “I was honestly trying to block it out and was in denial,” said Boyle. “As soon as we made the choice, it was, This is obviously what we have to do.”
All the roughly 200 invited guests have been reinvited to the wedding, which will now be in September.
As for her wedding day this Saturday, Boyle still plans on walking down an aisle. Since the couple had already gotten their marriage license, which needs to be used within 60 days, they are still getting married. Their parents, siblings, and few close friends will be in attendance and Boyle will carry a bouquet, since the wedding flowers were ready and waiting.
And then in six months they hope they'll do it again — just as she had always dreamed.
“The great thing that has helped it to be tolerable for us," said Boyle, "is we’ve just been inundated with messages with people saying, ‘This is the worst thing in the world but we are going to celebrate you and you are going to have your day.'"