09/11/2012 03:21 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

The Next Phase: Weddings

The bride floated above the aisle, sparkling like a spirit and glowing with happiness. Her parents, our good friends, steadied her on either side as if anchoring her to the earth. Their wedding smiles were gigantic.

My husband swiped a finger across his eye. I knew better than to look at him. One glance and we'd both be bawling. He was not a crier; he could watch the Hallmark commercials on television and not even hiccup. But weddings were different. Weddings unnerved him. And we'd been going to a lot of weddings lately.

The father of the bride lifted the veil and kissed his daughter and my husband let out a soggy sigh.

I thought back to my own wedding. I was at ease and light-hearted right up until the notes of the Wedding March sounded, at which time I suffered an instantaneous panic attack. "Just a minute," I'd said to my father who stood next to me. "I need to think about this."

"Move your feet." He urged me forward. I clamped his arm tightly to my side and whispered, "Don't let go." He sobbed through the ceremony but that was nothing new. My father loved to cry.

I was the first in our family to get married. My mother insisted I watch the movie Father of the Bride so I'd better understand the emotional upheaval my father felt. "Have mercy on your father," she said. "He is in a very delicate condition." My father? Delicate? This was a man who bellowed at the dinner table: "This is not a democracy! This is a dictatorship!" The father of girls, he joked about how he intended to buy a sturdy ladder so we could all elope. At least I think he was joking.

My father joked about everything. At the meeting with our wedding caterer, we sat at a small round table decorated only with a single sheet of paper: The catering bill. My father glanced at the sheet, folded his hands very politely and asked about the incidence of cancellations. Then he issued a final question: "Do you do funerals?" My mother and I nearly fell over laughing but the caterer didn't join in. She'd probably seen more than a few fathers using the threat of death to dissuade a bride from changing her mind.

The bride and groom stood with their backs to the audience, as if carved in crystal. This wedding was perfect! Not all weddings are like that, I thought to myself as prayers wafted through the floral chandeliers. The wedding for the child of a business associate nearly went up in smoke, literally, before the ceremony even began. Dozens of candles illuminated the church, casting the aisle in romantic hues. The bride walked alone among the flickering wicks until her veil caught fire. A quick-thinking guest snatched the flaming headpiece moments before the veil ignited her most likely flammable hair-sprayed bouffant; the veil disappeared into ash amid gasps from the congregation.

Another ceremony uniting two medical students turned into a rescue operation when the best man fainted and fell over like a tree, knocking down the groom and the ring bearer at once. Someone called out: "We need a doctor!" and the entire congregation raced forward leaving no one in the seats except a few couples our age and the bride's grandmother who squinted at us, repeating, "Is it over?"

One of my friends spent nearly a year finding the right dress to wear to her son's wedding, only to discover, half way to the altar, that she had the elegant garment on backwards. At a family wedding this summer, a flash flood stranded us under two separate tents where we stood with our shoes in our hands, wondering how to cross over to the other side. You never know what is going to happen at a wedding.

My husband took my hand as the wedding ceremony came to an end. "I'm glad our boys are younger," he said quietly. "I'm not ready for this." His eyes were watery and red. I bit my lip. Yes, our boys were slightly younger than this bride and groom. They were just beginning their adult lives. But, truth be told, they were at the exact same ages as we were, my husband and I, when we got married. I wasn't going to say that, though. Why kick a man when he's already down?

As I hugged my dear friend, the bride's mother, she shouted in my ear: "This should happen to you!" I'll have to ask her later if she meant that in jest.