After more than a dozen years of officiating weddings, it’s always a surprise when something new comes up. Just recently more than once I found myself saying, “Well that’s a first!”
Pregnant brides are definitely not a first. We’ve had many expectant couples as well as those with older children acting as ring bearers and flower girls and/or bridesmaids and groomsmen. However, this particular pregnant bride, stricken with morning sickness, poor dear, found it necessary to keep a waste basket handy throughout the ceremony, just in case. Okay I hadn’t run into that before. Fortunately, she got through her vows while holding onto the contents of her stomach. Hopefully her queasiness will subside long before the joy of being a newlywed becomes normal everyday married life. (Better yet, we can always hope the joy of the honeymoon will last forever, especially after the first trimester!) And speaking of joy, I believe it was at that same wedding in which I encountered another first: the groom’s mom let out a joyful “WHOOP!” when I pronounced the couple married. I hope it didn’t startle the massage client in the office next door. But at least it was a happy sound.
I've seen some unique rings, but none more so than the skull ring one groom wore. was also a first. I say hey whatever floats your boat. If you and the bride like it, I like it!
Then there was the planning session of the upcoming ceremony with a couple, who requested that after I ask them the “I do” question, I add one more question: “Do you pinky swear?” Apparently it was a private joke they often tossed back and forth between them. They had even given one another pinky commitment rings. Well that’s a new one on me, but if that’s what they wanted, I told them, sure, why not? It reminded me of another wedding in which the couple wanted me to follow up the “I do” question with, “Is that your final answer?” Sure, why not, I say. I’m all for firsts of any kind when it comes to love and creativity, and a couple wanting to commit the rest of their lives to one another. After all, creativity and humor are good ingredients to a long-lasting bond.
Together 'Til Death Do Them Part
I've officiated a few weddings in which one or the other party was terminal. I recall a bride who had cancer. Her doctors had predicted she had only a year to live. This couple made the most of their celebration with beautiful clothes and a fancy venue, a posh hotel in downtown Portland, with guests attending from near and as far away as Japan. Most notably, there was a lot of love between the bride and groom. It had to be bittersweet.
On another occasion I received a call to officiate a deathbed wedding later the same day in a hospital. The man was apparently in the final stages of his illness. He and the bride had been together for over 20 years and he had wanted them to be legally married before he passed. I expect this was partly to provide for her in the way of benefits, which I find admirable. Naturally, I made sure he was of sound mind and knew why I was there before proceeding. I had been prepared for a sad tone for this wedding, but everyone was surprisingly upbeat. They put on their bravest, smiling faces. She and her mother, a sibling, and a spouse were all there to witness, and were quite supportive. He had clearly been considered part of the family for years.
Then there was a deathbed wedding I had officiated in which the couple were both fine—it was his mom who was nearing her end. Her dying wish was to live long enough to see her son get married. He and his longtime girlfriend simply took Mom’s request as the inspiration needed to make it official. They didn't have time to get a license, so I did a non-legally recognized ceremony at Mom's bedside in a care facility. The peaceful smile on her face when she heard me pronounce them husband and wife (symbolically, of course) was priceless. A few days later after they obtained their license, I met them again in a different location and officiated their legal wedding. Interestingly, they reported that Mom had still not passed at that point. Possibly a part of her was still hanging on, wanting to make sure her son was legally and officially wed before she could die in peace.
Two other weddings come to mind, which I performed in my office/chapel. Both were May-Decembers. In each case, the 75-plus-year-old groom arrived by medical transport in a Hoveround in order to marry a 40-something-year-old bride. In the first instance, it was obvious he was marrying his caregiver, possibly as a way to thank her. There did not appear to be a romantic relationship between them; she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek after I pronounced them. She also gave me a hug afterward and thanked me for not judging her.
For the other May-December couple, it was purportedly true love, though I have often wondered about that one. Was she really in love with him, or was she more in love with the notion of gaining her new husband’s financial assets? Despite my reservations, it is still not my place to judge. Believe me, I made sure to ask specific questions of that elderly groom to satisfy myself that he knew what he was doing. If both parties are of sound mind and if the proper paperwork is presented, I will go forward with the wedding. It is my job to help a couple tie the knot, not to judge their motivations. That is between them and their conscience—or between them and God, for those of a religious persuasion. Either way, after I do my job, the rest is up to them.
Nothing like presenting the wrong marriage license to throw a curve ball at your officiant. That’s what happened to me. I had driven from my Portland, OR home over the bridge into Vancouver, WA for my first wedding of the day. Carefully following Mapquest’s directions—I’m still behind the times and do not own a GPS—I arrived at the couple’s home where the wedding was to take place. The young groom met me in the entryway, dressed in a cream colored tux and looking like a million bucks! A curved staircase led up to the bedroom wing of the house where the bride was still getting ready. With a thick Russian accent the groom introduced me to his mother; who appeared not to know much English at all. A cheerful cloud of brightly colored balloons floated near the ceiling in the dining area, where a cake and spread of delectable food was laid out. In the kitchen other dishes still simmered, and the aroma filled the house. The celebration had clearly been well planned. Except for one thing. When I asked to see the Marriage License, it was from the wrong state: Oregon. Oops.
I explained the legalities: a wedding must take place in the state in which the license is issued. Period. For their Vancouver wedding, they would need to get a license from any County in Washington State—Clark County being the nearest one. Then there’s a three-day waiting period before it can be used. And since this was a Saturday, they would have to wait until Monday during regular business hours for the County marriage office to reopen. Once they got the right license, the first day they could have a legal wedding here would be 3 days later, on the following Thursday. The mother became upset and actually laced her hands together in a prayer-like pose, begging me, “Please.” That was one English word she knew. Guests were coming to fill the house very soon and we were miles from the Oregon border. It was a crisis that could have become a disaster!
Time was ticking and I had another couple of weddings still to perform that day, elsewhere. Fortunately for this couple, I also have a small chapel in Oregon. I told the groom that we could have them go ahead and say their vows before their family and friends here in their home, now. But I would explain to the guests that to make it legal, the couple and two witnesses would have to meet me in Oregon later that day with their Oregon Marriage license in hand. That would be their legal wedding; this one would be a symbolic one. Fortunately, I had an opening at 6 p.m. that day in my chapel. They agreed. To his mother’s great relief they could still share a wedding celebration and feast with their guests, as planned.
The guests all arrived, and the bride finally made her grand entrance down that curved stairway, dressed in a lacy white gown with a long, sweeping train. I explained the plan to the guests, also telling them how much this couple wanted to make their promises in front of their family and friends. And so they did. I’m not sure whether the guests fully understood English, either, but the bride and groom knew and that was the most important thing. The couple did follow through that evening, meeting me at my chapel, still dressed in their wedding clothes. The bride’s train practically took up the entire chapel.
The couple then said “I do” a second time that day in the presence of the two witnesses they brought with them. We signed the proper documents on the proper lines, in the proper State. When all was said and done, I wished them a happy life, and they left hand in hand, officially and legally married. Crisis and disaster averted!
What to Wear and Should it Matter?
I firmly believe in minding my own business on a couple’s wedding preferences. This includes whether and when to marry, whom to invite to the wedding, and what to wear. That last item can cause some discomfort for traditional folks who have fixed ideas on what is proper wedding attire. The fact is here in Oregon many of us are pretty laid back. At local weddings I’ve seen my share of tank tops, shorts and flip-flops among the guests—and sometimes the couple themselves. I prefer to follow the old adage of not passing judgment until I’ve walked a mile in their moccasins—or possibly socks with sandals, a common fashion misstep in these parts!
Anything goes, really. I see all kinds from brides who arrive in a big ball gown that practically takes up half the chapel, to couples that dress like they are on the way to the beach—and quite possibly they are. I would never dream of judging a couple’s fashion statement. It is only my job to help them tie the knot in whatever style is comfortable to them. I have no idea what’s happening in their world or what is behind their choices. However, when they share their story, sometimes it can be very illuminating.
Case in point was a couple who arrived for their elopement-style wedding both dressed in t-shirts, cutoffs and tennies. Their demeanor was just as casual. The bride kept cracking jokes during the ceremony, like: "Can I skip that part?" And when I was talking about life-long commitment, she said, “He gets five years and then we will have to renegotiate!” They were laughing the whole time, she especially.
Afterward she shared with me that she's been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She showed me the scar on her scalp from her surgery; at least she got to keep most of her hair. Her docs have given her five years to live. I see now that humor is her way of coping. My heart goes out to both of them. I don’t care what they wear on their big day. What really matters and what I so respect in the groom in particular, is his heart full of love and devotion for his new wife, while knowing he is likely to lose her all to soon. The courage and grace with which they face an uncertain future is a wonderful thing and should be an inspiration to us all. I wish this brave couple all the best in their journey together.
The Long and the Short of it
Have you ever noticed that weddings seem to be getting shorter? Short and sweet is what many couples want, and the most guests appreciate it, too. It’s kinder at outdoor ceremonies where everyone is made to bake in the sun or when restless children are involved. That said, there is also such a thing as too short—which may not be so sweet. The guests will likely feel shortchanged if the wedding becomes just a blip on the screen.
I have always made it a practice to send couples a script of their ceremony beforehand. This leaves some tinkering room if they want to add or omit a poem or other ceremony segment and to make sure the language reflects their style. Some couples panic when they get five pages of script, assuming that the wedding is going to be an hour long. I’ve seen them start snipping and cutting until there’s not much left. So I tell them I will do it that short if they really really want me to, but my original script would not translate into a wedding that is nearly as long as they think.
First of all, I use a large type font so I can easily read it on their big day; that fills more sheets of paper. Secondly, it takes very little time to read through text. Five pages amounts to about ten minutes, tops, even when I speak slowly and deliberately as I will on their big day. If there’s a huge wedding party, the processional can add a bit more time. But even if there’s a long distance to cover and they space out the bridesmaids and groomsmen rather than bunching up, the whole parade rarely lasts longer than two to three minutes.
Candle lightings take a minute or so and sand ceremonies slightly longer, particularly if children or other family members participate. Still, it normally does not amount to more than a couple of extra minutes. Poetry readings may take a minute or two each. For couples who choose an additional two or three ceremony elements such as a ring warming, presentation of flowers to moms, or a wine ceremony, all told, these will likely add only a few minutes. In my experience, the entire ceremony from processional through recessional rarely exceeds 20 minutes. More often it is 10-15.
What is much more likely to eat up time at a wedding is the waiting beforehand. Uncle So-and-So takes the wrong exit and is retracing his steps on the freeway; or I’ll get everyone lined up and invariably a member of the bridal party will be MIA in the rest room; or the bride has a wardrobe malfunction and/or her hairdo won’t do what she wants. There are lots of reasons why a wedding may take more time than expected, but it won’t be because I’ve gotten longwinded! I will leave long discourses to the orators and sermons to the preachers. As a wedding officiant, I vow that my words will be elegant and yet succinct. I will make the ceremony long enough to convey the meaning and feeling, and short enough to keep everyone awake.
Love Among the Felons
A recent bride told me she was so glad to have found our little chapel for her second marriage. She explained that she wanted a simple civil ceremony, which we are happy to offer. But she definitely wanted to skip the courthouse setting she’d chosen the first time around. That wedding was apparently interspersed between divorces; when the clerk had announced the next item of business on the judge’s docket, he had called them up as, “Smith vs. Brown.” She should have known then that the marriage was doomed, she told me!
Some courthouse weddings might be sweet, and judges friendly. But a couple cannot expect immediate service. First of all, they may not always get right in. During busy times it may take weeks to get on the docket. Then once there, it may take awhile for their turn to come up. And they may not be the only ones waiting. I’ve heard about criminals also hanging around in the courtroom, waiting for their cases to be heard. One couple joked that their courthouse wedding was “love among the felons.” That gives a whole new meaning to the term “ball and chain!”
Then, too, courthouse weddings by nature are very brief, virtually no more than a blip on the screen in a busy judge’s day. After all, the court has to work you in around other important business. With us, a couple is our only and most important business--and you won't have to wait. Once you have your marriage license, we can often marry you the very same day (though you will need to get a waiver of the 3-day waiting period--just ask the clerk when you get your license). Even if you prefer short and sweet, we will make your wedding warm and personal, something to remember fondly as you begin your married life together.
We live in an electronic age for sure. While virtual weddings aren’t legal yet, at least not in this State, guests are finding inventive ways to “attend” a wedding from afar. While officiating one such ceremony I noticed the bride holding something next to her bouquet. I mused: A small Bible? A photo of a departed loved one? Nope, turns out it was a cell phone. Dad couldn’t come, but he was right there with her on speaker phone.
At another wedding of an older couple, their daughter stood with them holding her brother, or at least the laptop through which he was Skyping from Hong Kong. After the ceremony, the family posed for an interesting picture; the sister stood between her newly married parents, holding the electronic version of her brother, whose smiling face filled up the entire computer screen. It gives a new meaning to the expression “talking heads.”
Speaking of “talking,” it’s a good idea for the guests to hit the mute button at their end. I recently officiated a wedding at our chapel in which guests were Skyped in from New Zealand. I’m sure they were not aware that we could all hear their running commentary, in a thick New Zealand accent, amongst each other. "Crackie!"
At still another in-home wedding, a young couple traded vows in front of the fireplace before a dozen or so guests. They perched on the living room couches and chairs, with two more on the coffee table—that is, two laptops. One was connected to loved ones in California and the other to a branch of the family in Canada. Following that ceremony, the couple squatted down in front the coffee table with a glass of champagne, in a virtual toast to each computer, and to the kinfolk who could not be there in person. I wonder if wedding invitations will change their RSVP Yes-lines to: “I plan to attend in person,” or “I plan to attend via cyberspace.” Yes, it certainly is an electronic age we live in!
Ready-Made Family Weddings
Some families come ready made. On Friday we officiated a simple elopement-style wedding at our chapel for Sondra and Al. Included in the package deal were two little ones, a 4-year-old boy and his red-headed sister who is, well, terribly 2! She responded to every question or comment with an emphatic, "No!" Due to this restless little native, we skipped the unity candles for a short and sweet ceremony. As soon as she was back in her mother's arms, all was well with the world.
Some couples want to show off their love to the world and others prefer to keep it a private affair. Over the weekend at our chapel we officiated for two couples who wanted privacy. They were kind enough to allow photos of their hands displaying shiny new wedding rings.
We had a special celebrity "guest" at yesterday's wedding at the chapel. Tony Stewart, in cardboard form, stood with the couple for a photo. Congrats to Lorie & Jack. Love their sense of humor!
I'm the founding minister of Wedded Your Way. I love helping people tie the knot!