If Youtube videos are anything to go by, one of the most common calamities to occur at a wedding is the bride or groom fainting during the ceremony. I was a wedding Registrar for 10 years and conducted well over 2000 weddings and I never saw anyone faint at a wedding.
Until my ninth year there.
I’d spoken about it with my colleagues just the week before this particular wedding and none of them had seen anyone faint either. Perhaps I tempted fate.
I turned up at the venue early and had time to observe the groom joshing about with his best man and the ushers. They were like schoolboys, running to and fro, ruffling each others hair and laughing too loudly at silly jokes. The groom was in his early twenties but looked younger and acted even younger still. His cheeks were rosy red.
I called the groom over to talk through the ceremony with him and check if he had any questions. He was fidgeting like a naughty child who was about to be told off, and I had great difficulty getting him to engage with me. He kept looking to his best man for direction. His breathing was irregular and if anything his face was getting redder. I gave him a glass of water and ordered him to drink it. He gulped it down so quickly I had to ask the venue for another glass. I tried to settle him down ‘You’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘I’ll take you through everything, just go with the flow.’ He looked uncertain.
I went up to the bride’s room to interview her. She was the complete opposite of her groom. She was also in her early twenties but had the bearing of a women in her thirties or forties. She was direct, practical and largely dispassionate.
Not for the first time at a wedding I conducted, I wondered what the connection between the bride and groom really was.
Back in the ceremony room the families took their seats. Traditionally the bride’s family would sit on the right of the room as the Registrar looks at it, while the groom’s family sits on the left side. In modern weddings however, it’s rare that wedding parties stick to that seating plan. Nowadays everyone mingles together without regard to sides.
There is usually a background hum of conversation while everyone waits for the bride but everyone here was sitting in stony silence other than the occasional cough. The groom was standing up front with his best man. He looked like he was on the verge of tears. Not tears of joy, but fearful tears. Tears that said ‘Oh my God what am I doing?’ I told him to take deep breaths and he would be okay but he couldn’t take in any of the words I was saying. I gave him some more water.
The bride entered and took her place next to her groom. Normally there is some show of affection such as a kiss or the couple hold hands but here there was nothing. The bride stood looking straight at me while the groom couldn’t make eye contact. He just looked off over my shoulder into the middle distance. The couple hardly acknowledged each other. This continued throughout the ceremony.
The groom stumbled over his words and the best man and the ushers sniggered like schoolboys. He just couldn’t get his words out. The groom got even redder. It was as if he had suddenly realised the import of the ceremony.
I had almost finished the ceremony. The couple had just exchanged rings and I was about to declare them husband and wife.
I noticed that the bride was no longer looking at me. She was looking over my left shoulder with some concern. It made me stop in my tracks. I turned to glance behind my left, to see what she was looking at. The best man who had been standing there during the whole ceremony was moving quickly toward me with a look of panic on his face. I was confused. A cry rose up from the guests. I looked to the groom and suddenly understood.
The groom’s eyes were empty and dark, like the lights had been switched off. He was swaying. He was fainting. I dropped my order of ceremony and caught him as he fell.
Here’s where it got odd.
I thought people who fainted got floppy and became a dead weight so I braced myself to hold him up. To my surprise he went as stiff as a board. I could hold him upright without any effort at all.
My Registrar brought a chair over and I tried to get him to sit down. Only I couldn’t, because I couldn’t get him to bend his knees. I ended up leaning him against the chair like a plank of wood.
It took several minutes for him to come around. His face became less vacant as he regained his senses and as he did so he became more pliable and I got him sitting properly on the chair. I didn’t know what else to do so I gave him some more water.
The guests were all chattering amongst themselves now.
The groom’s best man knelt before him, held his hand and talked him round to fully functioning consciousness. Five minutes after he fainted I finished the ceremony.
During the photographs of the signing of the Register I kept a close eye on him and he didn’t look happy. Somehow his face had changed. He looked burdened now. It was like someone had turned the gravity up on the earth and he was weighed down more than he had ever been before.
Why had he fainted? Was it because he had suddenly realised what getting married meant? Or was it something else?
As they left the room the bride turned one way and the groom turned the other with his best man.
I never saw them again.