74: You’re Getting Married Where?

74: You’re Getting Married Where?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

You’re Getting Married Where?

He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My church is almost 200 years old. The sanctuary is enormous and features two breathtaking Tiffany stained-glass windows. One is two stories tall and depicts Christ’s ascension, and the other illustrates the women at the tomb on Easter morning. Our pulpit is carved from a block of green marble, also made by Louis Tiffany. You could not ask for a more beautiful church for a wedding.

And I was married there, in a ceremony befitting the setting. While the wedding was perfect, the marriage was not. Ten years later, I was a single mother of three small children. I prayed each night for a new husband who would love my children as his own and commit to spending his life with me. And, in time, I met the man who would become my second husband.

My first wedding had been huge, a true fairy-tale extravaganza. I was a bit older, wiser now. I did not want to be married a second time in the same church; it felt wrong. This time, I wanted an intimate, family ceremony, but still a religious one with a personal connection. I can still remember with perfect clarity the day I took Eric by the hand and asked, “Would you marry me in the cemetery?”

Before you think of a sacrilegious satanic ceremony complete with black wedding gown, let me explain. I grew up across the street from my hometown’s historic cemetery. Built in 1883, it is the final resting place of soldiers as far back as the American Revolution. My ancestors lie there as far back as my great-grandfather. As a little girl, my father and I took long walks there every week while he pointed out the graves of famous locals and our relatives. I learned to ride my bike there, and when my children were babies I pushed their stroller around the curving roads so familiar to me. Riverview Cemetery for me is a place of peace and happy memories.

Just past the wrought-iron entrance gates is a large marble chapel named The Grand Army of the Republic Chapel. It was built in 1897, a gift to the cemetery by Civil War veterans and their families. Carved along every side are the names of Civil War battles, and as true history buffs, the Chapel was always especially significant to my father and me. Inside, it can seat 120 people, and has a center aisle ending at a pulpit. There are stained-glass windows, candelabras, and stands for flowers. It exudes an atmosphere of serenity and beauty.

I was ecstatic to be planning my wedding, yet at the same time it was bittersweet. My parents now lived almost a thousand miles away. Neither was in the best of health, and they could not make the trip to be there. I had spent so many long childhood hours in Riverview Cemetery with my daddy; it seemed the perfect way to make it feel like he was there. Eric understood and gave me his complete support, saying the only thing that mattered to him was marrying me; whatever location I chose was fine.

With a great degree of nervous hesitation, I called the superintendent of the cemetery. It was easy to talk to her; I had gone to school with her children from elementary on through high school. We attend the same church, and she had been a Sunday school teacher to all three of my children. However, this was an unusual request.

My worries were groundless. She never thought my request was morbid and said it would be wonderful for the Memorial Chapel to be used for such a happy occasion. Not only did she agree, but she even offered me her home to get dressed for the ceremony.

The day was bright; the flowers outside the chapel were in full bloom. Since my father could not be there, my older son walked me down the aisle, and my other son and my daughter were ring bearer and flower girl. The chapel was filled with our friends and families. After we finished our vows, my older son played the trumpet recessional as Eric and I took our first walk as husband and wife.

As the years have passed, we have both begun to carve careers as dark fantasy and horror writers. It makes an interesting anecdote to include in our bios that we were married in a cemetery. But the greater truth is it was truly a beautiful and spiritual service. Even though he was not there physically, I felt my father’s presence as the sunbeams streamed through the stained glass, warming the chapel with a rosy glow.

Though many people at the time thought my choice of location was gruesome, it was not. Seventeen years have passed, and I would not change a thing about that day. Our wedding may have been held in an unusual place, but for us it was unique and personal. My parents have now passed away and lie within sight of the chapel. It is quite meaningful to me that I can stand and see the memorial to the people who began my life and the spot where my current life began.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, one of the darkest times for our country. I like to think of our wedding in the Civil War Memorial chapel as a commemoration of reconciliation; a way of bringing two different entities together and forming one union, stronger together than either could be apart. Symbolic of the small skirmishes and the full-blown battles we would face, joined together in union as one, we are able to withstand just as the United States has done.

~Anna M. Lowther

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