BEND — For a few hours this Thanksgiving, Matthew Romero and Ashley Cedzo will gather with friends and be able to laugh.

They hope to forget the grim events that occurred over the past 22 months. 

The burglary of Cedzo's mountain rescue equipment from their home in Bend. The nanny giving them COVID-19. The grief they feel over the death of Romero's grandfather. He was 91 when he died from COVID-19 on Nov. 23, 2020, days before the first Thanksgiving of the pandemic.

Instead, they plan to give thanks for their friends, their family and their 8 month old daughter, Noah.

"I like to say that Noah is the only thing we planned in 2020," said Romero, 39. "I don't want to sound like woe is us. We consider ourselves lucky. Many had a harder life than us. We're happy and grateful."

This year the couple will gather and give thanks for the Beef Wellington, Romero's specialty. While not the traditional meal, the sentiments they will share with their family and friends will be similar to a traditional gathering. Each year a group of friends and family gather but share a meal of a different theme, Romero said. Last year the gathering almost didn't happen, but then they all quarantined and shared a meal made by Romero's cousin — homemade ravioli using grandma's recipe.

 Thanksgiving is all about rituals and traditions. The couple started theirs five years ago when family was far away. 

Romero and Cedzo met in Bend.

In 2009, Romero had been hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, but wound up in Bend because he got ill while hiking. He discovered that Bend was the kind of town he was seeking. In 2013, he made the move to Bend. He met Cedzo two years later after she had graduated from college and was looking around for work. She too found Bend the kind of town she wanted to sink roots into.

The couple forged a life together in Bend, but then the pandemic slammed them hard. In March 2020, a month after the government closed bars and restaurants to indoor dining, Romero was laid off from his position at as Les Schwab Tire Centers as a help desk analyst. 

Cedzo at the time was six months pregnant. She would ultimately lose her job as a food safety sales territory manager at Romer Labs in December of 2020.

"It was tough financially. We know a lot of couples that during this whole process of COVID-19, that they were driven apart," said Cedzo, 36. "It was too much stress. For us, we talk about this often, but it brought us together. It solidified a lot of things for us."

Now the couple are both employed and working from home. He is at Wiley Science Solutions and Cedzo is an account manager. 

"I'm thankful we're both home," Cedzo said.

A month before the couple was scheduled to get married, on July 3, 2020, the search and rescue equipment Cedzo uses as a volunteer with the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office was stolen from their garage. They've since been able to replace the $4,000 worth equipment, but not without the help of the community, which made donations through a GoFundme account.

The wedding, which was complete with a venue, a wedding dress and bridesmaids, was scrapped after Cedzo's parents both got COVID and large gatherings didn't seem like a good idea.

They did get married, on July 3, 2020, but without all the fanfare. It was in a park in front of a tuna fishing statue in San Diego that  was followed by a steak dinner.  

No bridesmaids. No groomsmen and no wedding dress. But Romero's grandfather, who died four months after their wedding, was able to attend.

"Ashley's mom and dad were supposed to come, but her dad got COVID-19," Romero said. "It ended up a nice day and a great weekend."

The wedding dress still hangs in the closet upstairs, Cedzo said. 

This past summer the couple finally got to celebrate their marriage with family on both sides at a catered affair in Bend. Now a new tradition was formed. A celebration toasting life and their daughter, Cedzo said.

And then, in September the three of them — Cedzo, Romero and Noah — got sick with COVID-19. They believe the nanny brought the virus into their home.

They were both vaccinated early because they are search and rescue volunteers. Their daughter was too young to be vaccinated, but she experienced the least amount of illness, Cedzo said. Romero had it the worst because he didn't qualify for the monoclonal antibody treatment, and Cedzo did. 

"I had long term issues afterward," Romero said. "I was out of it for several days."

But like many things in life, out of the bad comes the good. While the government lock downs kept people at home and outdoors, the community of Bend, where Cedzo and Romero live, came together and learned to celebrate despite the pandemic — outdoors.

"How you face the challenges, and what your attitude is, is the most important thing," Cedzo said. "It helps to have a partner to face it too. That allows me to be strong."

There were some dark days, Romero said. But the experience of the past year showed them they can be stronger together than apart. 

"We lifted each other up," Romero said. "There were days that we both had dark days. But we couldn't have done this alone. 

"I think we can handle a lot of things. We had a condensed crash course last year."

Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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