For the entire week leading up to our wedding, I couldn’t sleep.
I was so nervous. When I’d toss and turn at night, Chris would wake up and comfort me. “I’m not nervous about being married to you!” I’d say each time, because that was true and I wanted to make sure he knew it. I told him that I wasn’t totally sure why I was feeling so nervous, which was also true, though I tried to figure it out. Maybe it was the stage fright, maybe it was throwing a wedding during Covid, maybe it was just all the last-minute logistics. I never really figured it out. But damn, the anxiety was pretty overwhelming.
I also knew that my level of anxiety meant that there was no way I’d cry at the wedding.
I tried to prepare Chris for my impending lack of emotion. “I will not cry,” I told him for many days leading up to the wedding. “It doesn’t mean I’m not happy!” I’d insist. “But I know I’ll be nervous, and when I’m nervous, I don’t cry.” He said he didn’t care, but I still wanted him to know that I’d be just as excited to marry him, even if I didn’t cry. Because I definitely wasn’t going to.
I don’t cry when really great or really terrible things happen, at least not right away. It takes me time to process big life events, and thus I often have a bit of a lag before the crying sets in. I cried when we got engaged but not in the moment when it happened – it took a bit of time. I do cry at movies or watching Super Bowl ads or listening to a sweet song. But I need some time to process and understand when the stakes are high, and I certainly don’t cry when I’m overwhelmed by nerves or excitement. And as the date of our wedding drew closer, I got even more nervous.
I told everyone, because that’s how I process emotion. “Of course you’re nervous!” said everyone. “It’s normal.”
In an effort to focus myself, I read over emails and notes from our discussions with our priest, Jonathan. Thinking about our talks with him reminded me that while my nerves were normal, there was no real reason for me to be worried about the wedding. In our discussions, Jonathan had spent a lot of time talking with us about how important it was for us to focus on our love, above all else. In fact, he said with conviction, it wouldn’t be right to hide a love like ours. It was our responsibility to share it.
When he first told us that, I balked, a bit. There’s so much hedging that I do as a widow, because you never know what will happen. I mean, really, how can I say “we’re so happy” without any caveating? If I do, the world might come and bite me. I know this isn’t an original feeling I have. Many widows I know are scared to say when they’re happy, whether from a job or a new love or an accomplishment or merely from a sunrise. You have to hedge, you have to be careful, you have to make sure that you emotionally plan for any upset.
Of course, this is no way to live a full life. I know that. I’ve pushed against it time and time again, and somehow, I’ve been able to (mostly) live without fear dominating my life. And so as I read over what Jonathan had told us, I reminded myself that I should focus on how much I love Chris, and how great it was going to be to share that love.
The day of the wedding, I woke up really early and almost jumped out of bed. “I’m so nervous!” I said to Chris, but I was smiling. “I think I’m also just so excited!”
We opened up the curtains to our hotel room and saw that it was raining. That wasn’t something I’d thought much about. Rain at our outdoor wedding! Maybe it would stop?
But as I prepared, left for the farm where we would get married, did my hair and makeup and helped Claire do the same, and as I peeked out the windows throughout the day, I saw the same thing: rain.
I figured it was okay. I mean, who cares, right? I was marrying Chris, and that’s all that mattered.
By the early afternoon, it was time for us to see each other for the first time. We were doing a “first look” at the forest near the outdoor ceremony, so we could take photos beforehand. When I got there, my two brothers-in-law were there, but I asked them to leave. “I just want it to be the two of us,” I told them.
Chris was standing with his back to me, and the photographer was off to the side. She was talking to him, telling him that I was coming down to meet him. When she saw me, she stepped away. I looked down at my white dress, already caked with mud from the farm. The rain started to fall even harder.
I didn’t care about any of it.
There he was, right in front of me. I’d just seen him a few hours before, but the world seemed to have shifted around us. He was about to become my husband. My heart thumped.
As he waited for me to get closer, I saw him reach his hand back, as though he was trying to touch me. He knew I was too far away, but he wanted to show me that he was there. He was waiting for me.
And right then, to my great surprise, the tears came.
He turned around and ran to me and I threw my arms around him and I cried and cried. The nerves were gone. It was just us, in a forest of trees with the rain falling everywhere. I didn’t hedge, I didn’t worry about what could go wrong. I was simply there, with him, crying about everything that I was happy about in the whole world.
Yes, I eventually recovered, and yes, we had a great time posing with the kids and, eventually, our entire family. By then, I wasn’t crying anymore. Furthermore, I knew I really wouldn’t cry at the ceremony. We’d had our moment, and I’d felt overwhelmed by seeing him. And that was it. I was done with crying.
My dad met me a bit later to walk me down the aisle. The rain had stopped. I felt a bit nervous, again, though this time I knew it was only stage fright. “Don’t worry about all that,” he said, in the way that he always does. “You’re doing great.”
I knew he believed it.
As I walked down the long aisle across the farm, I focused only on Chris. I smiled at him, and he held my hands and I looked at the kids and I felt the calm rush over me.
When we got to the vows, I was grateful that Chris went first. As he repeated the words, he looked right at me, but after a moment, his voice caught. I don’t know exactly where we were, but it was somewhere near the “in sickness and health” part, and I watched his eyes brim with tears. I smiled at him. I knew this would happen. He even knew it would happen. He composed himself and we smiled at each other.
And then it was my turn. I knew what to say. I’d rehearsed it in my head dozens of times.
But when I started to speak, I felt the emotion wash over me. Yes, there were dozens and dozens of people watching us. But all I saw was Chris and all I could think about was my life with him and how I couldn’t believe that I was there, with him. I was so grateful, so happy, so in love and so overcome with every emotion. I started to cry and kept crying, even as I choked out the words and even as the tears ran down my face.
For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.
Yes, I said those words so that everyone could hear them, but I could only see one person in that moment. I could only see him.
The ceremony went on. We exchanged rings and there were words from our priest. At one point, we all read a prayer together, and I looked out at everyone there.
It was only then that I realized that many of our guests had been crying.
It surprised me, a little bit. I had been so wrapped up in Chris, and in thinking about our lives together that I’d not thought about anyone else. But, of course, they had been wrapped up in us as well. And somehow, our feelings for each other had spread throughout the gathering.
At the end, the kids came forward to present us, saying in unison,
We wish to present our parents, Mr. and Mrs. Chris and Marjorie Hale!
And as we kissed and the kids wrapped their arms around us, and as the the music played and everyone clapped, and as the clouds parted for just a peak of sunshine, I didn’t just feel my own euphoria. I could also feel the delight that was all around me.
There were no more caveats and no more nerves. I simply felt pure happiness, and so did Chris. I was reminded, once more, of our priest’s request of us:
Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey Photography.