8 Ways to Honor Deceased Loved Ones at Your Wedding

Ceremony chair memorializing bride's late grandfather with a photo, dog tags, a silver heart, Carhartt hat, and a Carhartt vest on the back of the chair

 Photo by Samantha McFarlen / Planning by Bixby + Pine

Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life and it's never easy to spend it without someone who was very special to you. That's why deciding on how to honor a deceased loved one at your wedding is something you'll want to put extra thought into. You want to remember your friend or relative with a meaningful gesture or dedicated moment on your wedding day—you just don't want to make your wedding feel like a funeral.

We spoke to wedding planner Tay Wall of Bixby + Pine to find out how to incorporate the memory of your loved one without dampening the joy of your big day. "Honoring a loved one who's passed is completely personal—it's a private moment for others, a display table for some, or an ode in food or music choices to some," she explains. "There are different things that are more popular, but when it comes down to it, do what feels right for you two." Whether that's displaying photographs throughout the ceremony, dedicating a specific time during the day for a moment of silence, or leaving a seat empty for them during the ceremony, do whatever resonates with you and your relationship to your late loved one.

Focus on the happy, special details they loved and would get a kick out of—not the fact that they're gone. Here are eight ways to include the important people in your life who may not be here physically, but are kept alive by honoring their memory.

Meet the Expert

  • Tay Wall, along with Ash Aske and Jordan Wall, is one of the three founders and owners of Bixby + Pine, a wedding planning and design team that's based out of the PNW.

Reserved a Seat in Their Honor

Wall recalled how one of Bixby + Pine's clients paid tribute to her late grandfather, "One of our favorite ways to honor someone was at Vanessa and Ryan's wedding—her papa was a really instrumental person in her life, and they honored his memory by giving him a spot up front at the ceremony, with his old vest and hat." Saving a seat for your deceased relative or friend is a heartfelt way to make sure they are every bit as included in your day as the rest of your guests. And you can imagine them sitting there bearing witness to your "I do's" as you stand before the altar.

Keep in mind any relatives who may be extra sensitive to the death (especially if it's recent) to help guide your decision.

Make a Note in Your Ceremony Program

Inside your program is "a fitting spot to write a sincere message that everyone will read, while still keeping the ceremony itself very joyful," says Amy Kaneko, owner of Los Angeles-based Amy Kaneko Special Events.

Add an Heirloom to Your Bouquet or Dress

Adorn your bouquet or its ribbons with a locket, photo pin, handkerchief or another small but sentimental trinket that once belonged to your loved one. "I myself pinned my grandmother's initialed handkerchief to the lining of my gown," says Erica Taylor, partner at Tinsel & Twine Event Design Studio in New York City.

Share a Favorite Pastime or Memory

"Seeing some of their favorite things will bring a smile to your face, but also gives your guests the opportunity to learn more about your loved one," says Jaclyn Fisher, owner of Philadelphia-based Two Little Birds Planning. Incorporate loved ones' favorite candies into your favors, or go the extra mile with an activity that brings them to mind. "Feature a special toasting station with Grandpa's favorite bourbon and cigars," she suggests.

Display Family Photos

"On our guestbook table, we created an installation of framed photos of all of our grandparents and both sets of parents pictured on their wedding days," says Taylor. "This is a great, joyous way to honor family members—both living and deceased."

Incorporate a Special Flower

"Add a rosemary sprig to the boutonnieres or place setting because they remind you of summer days spend in Granny's greenhouse—rosemary also symbolizes remembrance—or include your grandmother's favorite flower in your bouquet," suggests Fisher.

Play a Song

Pick a tune that meant something to your loved one, or reminds you of him or her. One former groom honored his late mother by walking the processional to a Beatles song, says Kaneko.

Bake a Loved One's Favorite Dessert

Chuck a traditional cake in favor of serving your grandmother's famous chocolate chip cookies or peach cobbler. "We chose to serve guests my husband's Nana's 'famous' apple pie," says Taylor.

If photos or favorite recipes are too personal to display on your big day (we totally get it), consider donating to a cause they supported in their honor in lieu of a wedding registry or wedding favors. If you choose the latter, display a sign at the reception.

No matter what you choose to do, take this advice to heart: "Focus on the happy, special details they loved and would get a kick out of—not the fact that they're gone," says Taylor. "Instead, make sure they are actually very present in the day."

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