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Love In The Time Of COVID-19: Two Couples Tell Their Stories

Couple celebrating their engagement
Constance Craik, Courtesy
Alessandro Shanks and Constance Craik had a masked wedding ceremony on the Burlington waterfront last weekend. "Sandro and I have a saying," Craik said. "In matters of love, we only do things the hard way."

A Tale Of Two Countries

Christine Lebiecki has been separated from her husband, Chris Lévesque, since the U.S. Canada travel restrictions were first instituted in March. Christine is a South Hero resident. Chris lives in the Montreal suburbs. Neither is considered an essential traveler, so the couple has been separated until travel restrictions are lifted. They spoke with Jane Lindholm about what that time apart has meant for them.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at 1 p.m. Rebroadcast at 8 p.m.

Our guests are:

  • Chris Lévesque, husband living in Montreal
  • Christine Lebiecki, wife living South Hero

Jane Lindholm: You two are married, but you don't live in the same house or even in the same country. Not to get too deep into your personal lives here, but can you explain why that's the case?

Christine:  Absolutely. I’m a chiropractor. And to practice in Canada, I would have to take my national boards all over again. And I haven't done that in over 20 years. I have a practice here. Chris has two children from a previous marriage, and we decided that it was best for him to stay put until the kids were a bit older.

So how long have you been doing this cross-border commute to see one another when you can?

Christine: Five years, four months.

Husband and Wife Under Flags in the Woods
Credit Courtesy Christine Leibecki
For the foreseeable future, Christine and Chris Leibecki will have to whether COVID-19 apart.

But who's counting? Chris, when we started to see cases appearing in Quebec and in Vermont, what were you thinking about how this might impact your life with Christine? I mean, certainly it impacts all of us in various different ways. But in terms of how your marriage and travel was working, did you have any sense that it might impact you?

Chris: Oh, yeah. I mean, right off the bat. On the last weekend that I crossed the border coming back, when I met with the customs officer, they made it clear that it was possibly the last week. Prior to that, we were concerned about that happening. But we decided to get together that last weekend because we knew that it would be impossible and that we wouldn't see each other for a while. I mean, it's difficult, but we’ve found ways to cope with it.

How have you been finding ways to cope with it, Chris?

Chris: Well, with the distance and all, we've talked on the phone since the beginning. We've worked a lot on talking and doing a lot of this psychology work together. We had a very strong connection right off the bat, and we just kept on talking and getting deeper into that connection together.

So in some ways, is that good? I mean, not that being separated is good, but being able to have that exercise in how to communicate with one another.

Chris: Sure. I mean, that helped us figure out what things were triggering us. It made us look at our stuff. I guess we could call it our shadows – you know, that kind of work. But it also made us appreciate the time we have together. When we when we got together on the weekends, it always made us really take the time to be together.

So, Christine, there some ways that this has been beneficial, I suppose. But still, it's hard to be separated from your spouse for what is it -- four or five weeks now? And you don't know when you're going see each other again, right?

Christine: That's correct. It's been six weeks and I find it extremely difficult. Yes, there are positive things where, you know, it's funny. Shortly before this all started, I was saying to my assistant that, “I'm always taking care of people and always with people. I just really could use some time to myself,” not realizing I would get what I was asking for. I have had plenty of time on the weekends to myself because Chris and I have lived our lives on the weekends with one another. And so that's been a really interesting space to fill up with things that I'm doing for myself.

A smiling couple by the ocean
Credit Christine Lebiecki, Courtesy
Even before COVID-19, Christine Lebiecki and Chris Lévesque were well-practiced at keeping close over the phone.

Christine, I understand that the plan was for Chris to move to Vermont. Does this strengthen that resolve or change your future plans in any way?

Christine: I'm pretty sure it strengthens our resolve, actually. We were in the process of collecting all the documentation. We would have probably submitted last month, but we've slowed down the process a little bit, thinking that there's probably a hold on those types of things right now. But as soon as things are up and running again, we'll probably start.

A Wedding In Masks

Constance Craik and Alessandro Shanks just got married in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Constance lives in Vermont and her now husband, Alessandro, is living here with his K-1 visa from Canada. While their wedding wasn't traditional, it was something to remember.

Our guests are:

  • Constance Craik, newly wedded wife living in Vermont
  • Alessandro Shanks, newly wedded husband from Canada

Jane Lindholm: So when did you get married? 

Constance: We got married this past Saturday on the Burlington waterfront.

Most people are having to postpone their weddings right now for various reasons. Why did you need to get married now?

Alessandro: Well, I'm actually over here on the K-1 Fiance Visa. And one of the stipulations of the visa is

"I looked at the news on my phone and it was announcing the border closure between our two nations. And basically that day I went to work, I picked up my tools, came right back home and started to pack my bags." - Alessandro Shanks

that my petitioner (my wife) and I have to be married within 90 days of my entry to the United States.

You were in Canada, right, Alessandro? And you had to cross the border pretty quickly once you knew that the border was going to be closed.

Alessandro: Yeah, I would say it affected us pretty significantly. I had been awarded my visa and we were in the final stages of making our plans for me to cross down. However, with the pandemic escalating, we started to become concerned about the border closure and how that would affect not only my plans for immigration, but our plans to be able to see each other because like the previous couple, we were really only privy to that time together on the weekends.

I remember I woke up that morning and I'm in construction, so I'm an early riser. I looked at the news on my phone and it was announcing the border closure between our two nations. And basically that day I went to work, I picked up my tools, came right back home and started to pack my bags.

As you mentioned, Constance, you only have three months on a K-1 visa to get married or you're out of status and you run the risk of Alessandro having to go back to Canada and not being able to come to the U.S. at all. But marriages are not considered essential right now. So what did you do?

Constance: Yes. So the same day that the border closure was announced, City Hall had also closed down and declared many services non-essential, including marriages. So I actually reached out to the city of Burlington 

Couple Says Their Vows, Wearing Masks
Credit Constance Craik, Courtesy
On April 25, Alessandro Shanks and Constance Craik were married, masked, on the Burlington waterfront.

through their “Contact Us” web page and sort of made a plea that we were finding ourselves in incredible circumstances. I hadn't given much thought to the fact that we wouldn't be able to even get a license. And I was very fortunate to be connected with someone who works in the clerk's office, who advocated on our behalf, presented our circumstances to her team and the Burlington City attorney general. And they decided to issue us our marriage license.

So you actually you had to go and pick your marriage license up in person, right?

Constance: Yes. We had to pick it up in person because they need to check your license and we have to sign it with them present. So they didn't get rid of that, but they devised some new circumstances for us to do it safely and remain separate from each other while we did it.

So you got married on the Burlington waterfront with Keisha officiating. Did you all have to wear masks?

Constance: Yes. My husband and I wore complementing bandanas and Keisha's neighbor had made her a mask with hearts on it. It was very sweet! We found a little private section of the park for us to stand safely apart and be married.

Was this what you had pictured for your actual official wedding ceremony?

Alessandro: Well, to be fair, it couldn't be further from what I'd actually pictured. But, you know, these are extraordinary circumstances. I like to think that years from now, once this is all past, we'll be able to look back on this fondly, as something that was very unique to the time.

I certainly didn’t think that I’d be getting married with my face covered, looking like a bandito.

Did you do that thing that some couples do, where the officiant says, “You may now kiss your spouse,” and if so, did you have to do it through masks?

Constance: We did do that and we did not kiss through our masks! We removed our masks. We do live together. So we hope that we can safely kiss.

"I certainly didn't think that I'd be getting married with my face covered, looking like a bandito." - Alessandro Shanks

You're now self-isolating together for as long as this continues. Are you guys making plans for the future?

Constance: Absolutely. We are still trying to charge ahead. And this is just one step in a very lengthy visa process. We already have about a year and a half under our belt since we first started this process. Right now, we have to file for permanent residency. And unfortunately, that has been closed down for 60 days and we have 45 to do it. So we're a little unsure.

How are you making it through all of that red tape and figuring out what you can do?

Constance: I am very lucky that I am a bureaucrat by nature and profession. So I think I am very well suited to trying to cross through red tape and very fortunate for some of the skills that I've been able to obtain in that it is very difficult.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Lydia worked for Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS from 2019 until 2022.
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