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We all know that weddings are a time where people come together – even during a pandemic, the wedding industry has adopted virtual technologies to bring guests together, even when they are miles apart.
Sadly, sometimes the people we want most to attend our wedding aren’t able to be there, physically or virtually, because they have passed – but that doesn’t mean they can’t play a special role in your day.
There are two ways of honoring the deceased at a wedding: visibly, and non-visibly.
This means that you can opt to create a moment that your guests will be a part of, as witnesses, or you can do something a little more private that your guests may not necessarily be aware of. If you’re nervous that honoring the deceased at your wedding will take away from the moment, or will cause sadness among others, you may want to consider an act that is more private and intimate, so it doesn’t become a focal point of the day. Other times, you may find comfort in the support of those around you – if this is the case, perhaps a more prominent, or visible tribute, is best. People grieve in different ways, and as a result, we honor the deceased in different ways, too!
Visible Ways to Honor the Deceased at a Wedding
Save a seat – you can save a seat at the ceremony as a meaningful yet subtle way to pay tribute to those who have passed. You can make the effort a little more visible by adding a photograph, or personal items, to the seat.
In the program – if a written message is more of your style for honoring loved ones, consider dedicating space in your wedding program to honor them. This can be as simple as a general line that would apply to multiple people who have passed, or something a little more specific to each individual. Other couples will list missing guest names and their relationship to them.
Incorporate them into your ceremony – you can have your officiant share a few words about the person, or even dedicate a song or musical performance to them as part of your ceremony.
Create a memorial table – this is one of the most common ways couples honor passed loved ones at their wedding. You can set up a table of photographs of those who have passed so guests can take their own time to reflect and remember. Some couples have expressed to me that this feels a little morbid, one bride even referred to it as a “table of dead people” and it has stuck with me, even years later. If you share the sentiment, use only wedding photos of all relatives, living and past, to make it more of a “weddings through the years” display and less of a memorial to only those who are no longer with us.
Pro tip: use copies of your family’s photographs, just in case. In the shuffle of getting personal belongings to – and from – the venue, things can go missing.
Save a dance for them – although it’s tradition for the mother of the groom to dance with her son, and for the father of the bride to dance with his daughter, sometimes that’s not possible. If this is the case for you, consider a special dance in their honor: you can ask another family member to stand in, or dance with your partner and choose your mom or dad’s favorite song and have the band/dj pay a special tribute as they introduce you to the dance floor.
Include them in dinner – you can ask your caterer to incorporate family recipes, or even just a favorite dish into your wedding menu. If your grandma had the best cookie recipe, for example, share it with your caterer and have them bake off a few batches for you to give out as favors.
Give back – if you do favors, we think you should make them meaningful or edible – it’s something we’ve said for a long while now. If you go the meaningful route, in lieu of a favor, make a donation to a cause that honors your loved one. It could be a donation to an organization committed to curing an illness, or to a social cause your friend or family member was passionate about.
How to Privately Honor the Deceased at a Wedding
Keep them close – wear a photo of your loved one. For brides, consider a locket, or a photo charm attached to your bouquet. For grooms, you could keep their photo in your wallet, or even wear photo cufflinks.
Accent your dress – for brides, you can incorporate pieces of your loved one’s clothing into your dress. If you’re nervous about it clashing, remember it can always be added as part of the lining.
Something borrowed – whether it’s a piece of jewelry or even a watch, borrowing something that belonged to your loved one is a meaningful way to cross off “something borrowed” from the list, and can be a special way to keep them close on your wedding day.
Incorporate their favorites – you can incorporate their favorites into your wedding: whether it’s their favorite color in your florals, a favorite song while you and your guests enjoy time on the dance floor, or their favorite food in your menu, or even their favorite beer/wine/cocktail on your bar menu, there are many ways to add their favorites into your special day.
Use a family heirloom – I’ve heard stories of couples who had their wedding bands created by melting down gold from their loved ones’ jewelry; using a loved one’s favorite book (or bible) as a “ring pillow” during the ceremony; and even using remnants of their clothing as hand-fasting cords during the ceremony.
As someone who has lost a parent, I’m a big time believer in feeling the presence of a loved one even after they have passed. Although it’s painful to imagine a wedding day without them by your side, please know that no matter how you choose to honor them, I’m certain they will be watching along as you celebrate your day.