This past weekend, I faced my worst wedding nightmare and it couldn’t have turned out better.
On Friday, I ran the rehearsal for Sarah and Mike at the Mystic Arts Center. It went fine. On Saturday, I woke up sick. As the day passed and I got worse.
Several days earlier, I’d had lunch with three friends and fellow officiants, Mary Coburn, Judith O’Connor, and Victoria Burdick of Authentic Ceremony. Somewhere in the conversation, Victoria mentioned that she did not have a wedding on Saturday. She lives in the town where the wedding was to take place. So that Saturday I called her around 1 pm and asked if she could be my backup in case I got worse. She said yes. I emailed the ceremony to her.
Victoria comes from a sailing family. She was crewing on a boat when she got my distress signal. The boat brought her to shore. She borrowed a truck from the shipyard, drove home and, as she put it, “hosed off and put on a dress.” She printed the ceremony and met me at the Arts Center.
To set the scene, here’s a video clip of the ceremony space being set up and of Mike and Sarah sharing their “first look.”
An hour or so before the ceremony was to start, I introduced Victoria to Sarah and Mike and explained why I had asked her to join me. Instant smiles connected Victoria and Mike. He and Victoria’s step-son had played hockey together when they were boys! And, Victoria and Mike’s father taught school together for three years. You can imagine my relief. I had worked with Sarah and Mike for months and was eager to tell their love story and pronounce them husband and wife. That aspect of the day was not to be.
Sarah, is a nurse. Among her friends at the wedding were other nurses, a medic, and an EMT. They all agreed. My symptoms were troubling, especially for a woman with heart disease in the family. I asked them to talk with Victoria. In addition to being a wedding officiant, she’s a nurse midwife and a hospice chaplain. She agreed with them. They called an ambulance. It arrived without lights and sirens.
Meanwhile, the caterer, Ivy Mellow of Ivy’s Simply Homemade, stepped in and lined up the bridal party for the processional. Victoria handled the ceremony. Only a few of the guests knew that Victoria was the substitute.
After the ceremony, Victoria met me at the hospital and stayed with me until my daughter, Laurie Neronha, could get there. She was two hours away. After a battery of tests, I was relieved to hear that my heart is fine. The problem was vertigo. Heart heath assured, I was still in no condition to drive.
That night, Victoria and her husband, Vern, moved my car from the arts center parking lot lest it be towed. They drove it to my house the next day. That’s an hour’s drive, one way.
At another time in my life, I might not have asked for help. This time was different. This time, a couple’s wedding ceremony was at stake. To have started the ceremony and been unable to finish would have been disruptive for Sarah and Mike and for their guests. And this time, I was following “radical self-care, ” the key component of a pact I had made months earlier with several friends.
My whole experience is crystallized into something Victoria asked me in the ER. Her eyes sparkling, she said, “The world is so beautiful, so full of love. When have we not been held?”
I was, indeed, held. By friendship, by family, by the compassion of strangers, and by love. So much love.