There is so much excitement that comes from planning your wedding, from choosing your venue and décor to selecting pretty blooms and delicious food. At the same time, if there are loved ones who have passed away and won’t be present for your special day, it can also feel tough.
Saying "I do" without someone special present is difficult. "Feeling the absence of a loved one on such a monumental day can definitely add to the weight of an already emotional day," says Shealyn Angus, wedding officiant and principal planner behind Shealyn Angus Weddings & Events. "Weddings are one of those few occasions that are deeply ingrained in tradition, in family, and in expectations. And most of the time, those expectations involve seeing the faces of your nearest and dearest. Coming to terms with that not being the reality can be tough, but it's something we always aim to soothe through symbolic and experiential honoring."
Meet the Expert
Shealyn Angus is a licensed wedding officiant and the owner and principal planner behind Shealyn Angus Weddings & Events.
If you’ve lost friends or family members that cannot be with you on your big day, there are still beautiful ways to include them in your ceremony or reception. But of course, you don’t want to turn it into a somber event. Angus suggests finding options to honor loved ones in more understated ways, rather than outward displays.
So, how do you handle it? Read on for 15 meaningful ways to honor deceased loved ones at weddings.
Choose Meaningful Blooms
Flowers are such a great way to incorporate a special memory into your ceremony and reception, without making too much of an outward display. "Think filling the wedding with a loved one’s favorite flower," says Angus. Did they love orchids, lilies, or peonies? Feature those gorgeous blooms in your bouquet or table arrangements as the most beautiful nod.
Incorporate Sentimental Fabrics
Bringing fabrics into the mix can make you feel like your loved one is truly with you. Angus suggests wrapping your bridal bouquet in a sentimental fabric. "Think lace from mom’s wedding dress," she says. These small swatches of fabric could also be added to a wedding dress or sewn into the inside of a jacket.
Feature a Song
Consider incorporating a favorite song into your ceremony or reception. "The ceremony is probably the most spiritual or tradition-based element of the day, and there are always welcomed opportunities to read meaningful poetry or play a memory-filled song, perhaps on a different instrument than originally heard to give it a new perspective," says Angus.
Wear a Special Scent
Did they have a signature scent? Wear it on your big day. "Scent is the number one memory evoker in the human brain, and that’s something so powerful that can be incorporated on a wedding day," offers Angus. Consider incorporating a specific perfume or cologne to feel like they’re with you while walking down the aisle.
Think About Location
Often, the favorite places of our loved ones are also places we love too. Think about venue location if you're hoping to honor a deceased friend or family member important to you. It may be possible to celebrate in their honor in a place they frequented and loved.
Choose Cherished Jewelry
If there was a set of earrings, a necklace, or cufflinks passed down to you, consider wearing it on your wedding day. These items not only honor the loved one they once belonged to, but they will typically also serve as your something old!
Include a Quote
Was there a quote your loved one would always say? Whether it was funny or serious, there may be a lovely way to feature it. Consider including the quote in your ceremony program. Or, if it’s appropriate, print it on custom cocktail napkins for a special touch.
Use a Family Recipe
Did your loved one have a favorite recipe they’d always make? Maybe it was a cherished dessert or appetizer they made for every family get-together. Use that recipe! "Food and drink are always conversation starters and ways for guests to reminisce while still celebrating," says Angus.
Save a Seat
This option can be done in whatever way you like. Consider saving a seat for your loved one with a small sign, a memento, or a flower. If you’d rather keep this as more of an understated option, simply save the seat without anything else on it. You and your partner will know who it’s meant for.
Light a Candle
Another way to create a display within your venue is by looking to candles. Shine a light on those who cannot be with you. Set up a beautiful small table, or section of a table, with a floral arrangement and a single pillar candle. Print a small sign to let other guests know the light of the candle signifies those who are there in spirit.
Write It In Your Program
If you’d prefer to do something straight and to the point, think about your program. Add a special "In Loving Memory Of" section to acknowledge those that are there in spirit. List out the names of those who are not able to be with you on your wedding day.
Showcase a Signature Cocktail
What was their go-to drink? Whether it was a Cosmopolitan martini, a Moscow Mule, or a Jack and Coke, find a way to work it into cocktail hour. Consider naming the drink for that special person at the bar. Including signage with the name of the drink, such as "Mary’s Moscow Mule," is another great way to celebrate in their memory.
Don't be afraid to incorporate multiple ways to honor deceased loved ones. A small gesture that may honor one person may not hold as much meaning for the other. Include what feels best and most comfortable to you and your partner.
Select a Poem
During the ceremony, have your officiant read a poem that evokes a great memory of your loved one. Another option? Read the poem during your reception, or even choose to print it in the program for a more understated touch.
Display Favorite Photos
If you do want to make a larger display, go for it. After all, it’s your wedding! Consider setting up a table to honor loved ones. Display favorite photos in beautiful frames. Place a small sign on the table to share with your guests so they know who the people in the photos are.
Take a Moment of Silence
Consider incorporating a moment of reflection and silence into your ceremony. Ask your officiant to include this important time in the program. This is a simple, yet meaningful, way to interact with all of your guests and to honor others.