Wedding Vows for Hard of Hearing People

What happens if the groom says “I Do,” and the bride says “Pardon?” 

If you don’t hear your partner’s wedding vows, are you legally married?

Some people dismiss a marriage certificate as just another piece of paper that has no bearing on the quality or substance of a committed relationship. That may be true for some folks, but I believe that for a person with hearing loss, this piece of paper is vital, a signed document that testifies to the ceremony being fully and properly completed. A hard of hearing person might assume that a spouse’s kiss means that the minister just said, “I now pronounce you Mrs. and Mr.” when in fact the almost-husband or wife might be jumping the gun, anxious to be finished with the legalities and be started with the fun stuff!

This past weekend, against the stunning backdrop of British Columbia’s lakes and mountains, my husband’s daughter was married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony.  And by this I mean visually beautiful, because I actually didn’t hear much of the spoken bits.

Although sitting in the front row, throughout the ceremony I looked at the back of my stepdaughter’s head, with only a half-view of my new son-in-law’s face. This made speechreading difficult. To compound my problems, there was no amplification and because the bride and groom were both emotional, nervous, and being watched by 150 people, their voices were softer than usual.

But I got lucky with the female celebrant, whose powerful voice carried across the lake and into the echoing mountains.  I could hear her voice and read her lips, and the ceremony’s words were as beautiful as the young people being married. I was hoping she might also recite Katie and Bryan’s vows  for them, but they chose the traditional route of expressing their own feelings, in their own words, and using their own voices.  But, lucky me again – at the appropriate time, the celebrant handed them their written vows to hold as a safeguard against any unexpected, embarrassing memory lapses. I plan to ask for a print or email copy of their vows when they return from their honeymoon.

Thinking back, printed vows would have been a good idea for my own wedding.  I’ve often written about how my husband proposed to me when my hearing aids were not in place, and I was just barely enough awake to read the marriage proposal on his lips.  But several months later, we were married.  Everything went well (I did not bluff once), until we came to the vows.

We had written our own vows, in private, to be delivered to each other at the ceremony.  Turns out both of us had practiced our short speeches on the same person – Doug’s then-10-year old daughter Katie (the current honeymooner).  When it came time to expressing his words of love and commitment, Doug took my hands and looked in my eyes. He said, “Gael, I’m…..”

His voice trailed off. He looked out the window, away from me and away from the gathered assembly. It’s not that I couldn’t hear him, he just wasn’t saying anything! I suppose his mind went blank from the stress. After what seemed like a lifetime, and a few increasingly violent hand squeezes from me, Doug managed to choke out something, although I couldn’t quite get all the words. Later, at dinner, little Katie very kindly recited her father’s entire wedding vows to me.  It’s somewhat odd, but very sweet, to have a 10-year-old look you in the eye and say, “Gael, I’m in love with you.”  

We were married several years prior to my immersion into hearing loss advocacy. But if I had known then what I know now, this is how we could have created a communication-accessible wedding for ourselves, guests and family members:

  • Itinerary of the days’ festivities
  • Wedding ceremony agenda, including names of the all the key players. While I would not include the actual vows, I would offer: ‘Written version of vows emailed upon request”
  • Real-time captioning of the wedding ceremony and reception speeches
  • Amplification, room loop and FM systems
  • Free batteries as guest wedding favors

Believe me, I have no intention of marrying for a second time, but it’s nice to know that I’m prepared, just in case.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

3 Comments

  1. When my son Matthew was married…The brides family all knew that I have a hearing loss. The brides grandmother, was the Wedding Planner; set the wedding up.
    It was in the brides mother and fathers back yard. the grand mother had the Bishop stand sideways and the bride and groom were almost facing the audience.
    I could see there faces well and read there lips…I can still remember the bishops sermon..about how important trust and communicatio is in marraige.

  2. Gael this was wonderful. Would to God that all ceremonies have printed programs. two years ago, we attended the wedding of a dear young friend in the cathedral (with soearing ceiling, stone walls & pillars, etc.) & no sign of assistive hearing devices, nobody to ask. Needless to say, I might as well have stayed home. Now, in 3 months, her father (who is like our son) will be ordained deacon in the same cathedral. I have checked out the website, no mention of any handicapped access, although there is an elevator for wheelchair access. I have sent an email to the rector inquiring about & suggesting a hearing loop. At least in our local parish we have an FM (less than satisfactory) system.

  3. Gael – I love your suggestions. So many of us can’t hear everything spoken at weddings because of dim lights (so much for lip reading), the loud background pianist/organist/soloist/CD music competing with the audience’s oohs and ahhs, and the monotone and whispered recitation of vows. This would make a great reality show: “Bride Misses Cue to Say ‘I Do.'” Congratulations to you, your family, and the new bride!

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