Ask Team Practical: Honoring Lost Loved Ones

It’s Friday, so you know what that means! It’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. We kicked off this series with the two easiest, least controversial posts we could think of – sober weddings and thank you notes. What was there to discuss, we said? Well, lots, apparently. 300 comments worth of lots, both times. So now that Alyssa has had her trial by fire, we’re kicking it up a notch. Today we’re tackling honoring a loved one at your wedding. Which. We’ll see how it goes.  I suspect you’ll have a lot of wise things to say.

APW is an important community because we readers support each other.  Even when we disagree, we’re there to lend a hand when needed.  Meg wanted to start Ask Team Practical in order to provide an even bigger outlet for that support system, but we both knew that there would be questions that neither she nor I would be able to provide enough of an answer for, and today is one of those days.

J. and Renee both wrote in regarding honoring a loved one who has passed in your wedding ceremony or reception, and we thought tackling this after Tina’s heartbreakingly eloquent post yesterday was perfect timing.  J. is a wedding planner and she and her two other siblings tragically lost their sister three years ago.

“While I am not currently engaged, I want to begin thinking about creative unique ways to include the memory of her in my wedding party/ceremony. She was my best friend and would have been my maid of honor.”

Renee and her fiancé both lost a parent early.

“My father died of cancer 4 years ago, about a year before he and I met.  One of the many things that was hard to reconcile during my dad’s illness and after he died was the knowledge that my dad wouldn’t be there at my wedding, wouldn’t be able to meet my children, you get the idea. My fiancé has also lost a parent, his mother, who died of cancer when he was just a little baby.  So of course he wishes his mother could be there, but he doesn’t remember her at all and does not dwell on it.  He understands when I have my sad moments at weddings, but we don’t want me to be sad at OUR wedding.  I want to find a way to honor both my father and his mother, without it being something that I have to actively *do* on my wedding day. ”

These questions are way bigger than me and something I can’t answer with any sense of authority.  However, reader Morgan (who wrote this beautiful post on weddings in the face of death) and Tina are more than qualified to offer up some advice.

Morgan offers up this:

First and foremost, your wedding day should be a day of joy, of celebration.  It’s not a day of memorial, or a wake, and I think it’s important not to let sadness* or memorial activities fall too heavily on the day.  Remember those who you have lost, but do not let them become more important than the wedding.  I have every day to miss my father (and my grandparents and so on) but only one day to get married.

Between David and I, we’ve lost 8 of 9 grandparents, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a godmother and countless older relatives.  It’s pretty much a given that at any wedding, someone will have lost someone close to them.  As our Pastor, Steve Hall, said at our wedding, “One of those mysteries of God is the mystery of life itself and its shadow side death.  Hal wanted so much to be here this day to share it with Morgan and David and all of you.  That was not to be….  As the life of a new family is being born, we remember all those who have gone before and on whose foundation we, the living, build.  David and Morgan you will build on such a foundation. Remember whose you are!  Celebrate the wonder of each other! And become the family you are meant to be.  Thanks be to God.”

I think what you do can depend on how fresh the loss was.  In my case, when half the room had just gathered weeks earlier for a wake, having no mention of my father would have just been weird.  The pastor said a few things, and I think hit the right balance of memory and joy.  “We remember with sorrow and joy Hal, who so wanted to be here for this celebration.  We entrust him to your gracious mercy and give thanks for the time we shared with him on earth.  Bless all families throughout the world.  For in family life you have provided a locus for love, mutual support and renewal for the living of each day.  Make your love and grace known to all families of the world, but especially to those gathered here to celebrate the birth of a new family in the joining of David and Morgan.”  It was “on message,” with the sermon being about our baby family and love and community.  My husband raised a toast to my father during the speeches which made most everyone misty-eyed, and then followed it was a hilarious and very DAVID toast.  And that was about it for public memorializing, and it was enough for us.

Think about small personal things you can do – things that don’t need to be broadcast.  I wore my grandmother’s pearls and my father’s engagement ring. My engagement ring belonged to David’s beloved godmother, who died several years before we started dating.  After her cancer diagnosis, she gave the ring to him for his future bride. People weren’t told these details – their significance is personal.  Many may have recognized the heavy gold star sapphire ring, but it wasn’t important for me to tell everyone what it meant – I just wanted to have something of his close to me.  I’ve heard of other people who have tied charms or lockets on to the bouquet or the dress – another way of keeping something close.  Or wearing an item of clothing, or a handkerchief, or using lace from a grandmother’s wedding dress.

We asked the pastor to modify his final blessing, to a similar one my grandfather used when he was a minister.  My mother can still hear in her mind my grandfather, who passed away 12 years ago, blessing his congregation with those words each week.  Again, this was not noted to the crowd – it was just another small but touching way to connect with the past and those we love and miss.

An idea that I’ve heard mentioned was to leave an empty seat – that wouldn’t have worked for us, because my mother had no desire to sit alone, and needed the support of her sister beside her. Another suggestion was to have a table of photos of those we’ve lost, which didn’t work for us, as we had done exactly that for the wake.  Also, the thought of trying to track down photos of various other loved ones who should also be honoured was just too exhausting for me at the time.  Lighting a candle in memorial during the ceremony is another idea – I’m glad we didn’t try it though.  The ceremony was the single most emotionally transformative thing I’ve ever done, and I’m glad I only had David, the pastor and the meaning of what we were doing to focus on.  It would have pulled me out of the moment, and I wouldn’t have been able to bring my emotional focus away from the wedding and then back to it.  But that’s me, and I can see how it could work for someone else.

There is no right or wrong answer.  Talk to your partner, and your family.  Figure out what YOU need.  Make sure that doesn’t hurt anyone else, like making my mother sit alone would have, for the sake of symbolism.  Find small, personally meaningful ways to memorialize.  Jewelry, a toast, a ritual…  Work with your officiant if you’re comfortable having something said during the ceremony.  And remember, what ever you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, it doesn’t change the love you feel for those who aren’t there.

*Sadness may happen!  It’s okay if it does!  But there is no sense encouraging extra sadness.

Our wedding graduate from yesterday, Tina, has a few more  words to add on this subject.

I started pressured myself into thinking I should give a speech too and say something about my father, but I knew I was just going to bawl my eyes out and I didn’t want to do that. So I didn’t give a speech at all, and it didn’t feel wrong in the end, and I stopped worrying about it the second the wedding started.   My mum was awfully brave giving hers, and I can’t mention enough how much I admire her for it.

We all agreed before the wedding we had “permission to party” – I think it would have been a lot harder if anyone had thought it inappropriate to celebrate so soon after his death. So I think reaching a consensus with the entire family is important too!

And, since you guys are the wisest, one of yesterday’s commenters, Kim, mentioned exactly that balance of joy and memory that Morgan has so eloquently touched on:

My whole extended family still struggles with the loss of our beloved grandfather. He was a patriarch in every sense, and my wedding was the first of my generation where he wasn’t there. I didn’t know how important it would be to me that he be there in some way. But I couldn’t put my finger on how we could make his presence felt. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, while we were sharing memories of him on the anniversary of his passing, one of my aunt’s mentioned that she misses seeing him dance with a glass on his head (our family has particularly large heads, perfect for balancing things on, apparently). And with that, it was settled. We did an awesome “dance with a glass on your head” tribute to my grandfather’s favorite song (Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”) at our wedding reception. My husband had a tougher time balancing a glass on his conical head, but we had a good laugh once he finally got it! And my whole huge family had a blast honoring him, the best way we knew how.

And now we’re turning it over to the beautiful, smart, wise ladies of APW.   How can you honor your deceased family in your wedding?  And how do you do so in such a way that is meaningful AND that doesn’t make you unbearably sad?  Do you do anything at all? Go!

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like “conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit” (CARBDILID, duh).

*Note: If you could please add the date of your to-be wedding with your question, it would help us organize the timing of feedback. Thank you!

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  • That’s some great advice – you really do have to find out the best compromise for everybody.

    My Grandad was sorely missed at our wedding, even though my husband had never met him. My father’s speech made reference to him, and had so many of us crying. Tears are a combination of sadness and joy, and I really felt that remembering was important. I feel terrible that we married on my Great Grandpa’s birthday but did not mention him, and he had passed away more recently. I’m trying not to dwell on it, but I can’t help but feel like *that* bride who was so engrossed in her own day. Argh. Nothing can be done now.

  • This is such a helpful post. My best friend and I promised in college to be each others bridesmaids. I was her bridesmaid, but she will never be mine because she was killed in a car crash.

    Although the man I thought I was going to marry and I just broke up, I still think about how (when I do have a wedding) I will honor her memory and find a place for her, since she should have been my bridesmaid.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. A remembrance of her sounds lovely.

  • Just wanted to say thankyou for going in depth on this issue with the awesome question-answer feature :) I really appreciate both Tina and Morgan’s thoughts and perspective – both so gracefully and thoughtfully articulated. I have no real experience with or exposure to this issue in weddings I’ve been to or heard about, so I will be very interested to hear people’s thoughts in the comments.

  • My uncle died after a long struggle with cancer just a few weeks before our wedding. Kyle and I went to visit him a few days before he died, and as I sat there holding his hand he said “I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to the wedding,” Which made me laugh and cry at the same time, because there he was–literally on his death bed– and he had the wedding on his mind. He was a great guy. In his honor, we hung his Hope Quilt between two trees, under a big sign with our family’s last name (the sign was already there). We didn’t make a big fuss over it, but the family knew whose quilt it was, and that was enough.

    I also wanted to find a way to honor my 90-year-old grandma who was unable to travel to attend the wedding, and ended up wearing her pearl necklace. Even though most people didn’t know about it, that gesture was really important to me.

  • This is going to sound silly to the non-pet lovers on here, but I think it’s relevant.

    A week before two friends got married, their beloved dalmation died. Buddy was deaf, and temperamental toward people he didn’t know on his good days (in part because he couldn’t hear). But he loved my friends and they loved him. They would have been heartbroken regardless of when it may have happened, but having it happen so close to the wedding was worse.

    They included a segment in their ceremony listing off the names of people in their families who had passed that they wished could be their. Then, the officiant said, “And, our most recently departed friend, Buddy “Polka Dots” [Theirlastname].” I could see the groom choke up (it was his dog – he adopted him before he even met the bride), and I almost started bawling right there. (Hell, I’m getting teary just writing this!)

    It was simple yet touching.

    • Erin

      Not silly. My cat died three weeks before my wedding, and finding one of her hairs on my pant-leg was the catalyst for my day-before-the-wedding meltdown. While it’s definitely not on the level of losing a human loved one, the sadness was still there.

  • Mary Jo

    I carried a rosary that had been a gift from my Grandmother for my first communion. It was my “something blue.” My “something old” was a handkerchief that had been my great-grandmother’s, and it was on loan from my aunt so it was also my “something borrowed.”

    We made a little note in our programs noting the names of our lost grandparents, and my husband’s father, who I never met. That was a nice way for us to acknowledge them, and still not fill our minds with sadness on the day itself.

    My cousin tried to light a bunch of candles for lost loved ones, and the way they did it was not well-thought out. The candles were placed in a row on the altar, which in a Catholic church is a liturgically inappropriate place for them. She and her groom knocked the candles over in the process of lighting them, not once, not twice, but three times! I think if you do candles, it might be a better idea to just have them already lit when everyone comes in.

    • meg

      Is it horrible to think that’s a comic image? “I’d like to honor my, OOP! my OOP! my OH GOD I’M GOING TO BURN DOWN THE CHURCH!”

      Candles are tricky business, as you wisely remind us. Plus, if your Catholic they liturgically represent the light of Christ, so don’t assume you can use them at will unless you check with your priest.

      • Mary Jo

        It WAS comical! But the worst part of it was that they finally threw up their hands and gave up on it. What kind of horrible symbolism is THAT?

  • Jennifer

    My husband and I have lost a lot of people in our families, chiefly both of our mothers. While we couldn’t and didn’t want to ignore their absence, I knew I couldn’t make it a big part of the day. My mom has been gone over 20 years, but I knew that particularly public mention of the loss would make me cry. It would *definitely* have made my husband cry (he cried during our ceremony; I smiled.) We opted for a few lines on our program:

    “We would like to remember our mothers, Jamie and Barbara, who we dearly wish could have been here for this day, as well as all the other friends and family who we have lost from our lives.”

    It kept our blubbering to a minimum and it kept the tone of things happy, but we said what we needed everyone to hear, albeit in a quiet way. My father did mention my mom when he gave his toast, which was nice.

    We’re about to celebrate our first anniversary on November 7th, and I’m still very happy with our decision.

    • Carbon Girl

      Yes, we too had a few lines in our program honoring those who were not with us anymore. It was a simple gesture but I received several comments from people who were touched by it.

      • meg

        We did this too.

        As a cautionary tale, that’s pretty funny in retrospect, but was really not funny at the time: we were at a family wedding where they honored their grandmothers in the program. But, the bride got the name my grandmother wrong. Like, TOTALLY THE WRONG NAME, same first letter. Ladies? If that happens? Toss your programs in the trash. Eff it. Seriously. There were audible gasps when people saw it, and some of the most awkward apologies I’ve ever seen. “Sorry I put Grandma’s name down as, um, a different name all together. We kind of thought maybe no one would notice, when we caught it.” “Um. We noticed.”

        • Suzanna

          That’s awful/hilarious.

        • Please, please be careful when listing names in a program. In our wedding, we listed the names of my husband’s grandparents who had recently passed and my great-grandparents who are so incredibly important to me. As I was trying to figure out how to be joyful on the day of my wedding when one of the women who helped shape the person I am today was missing, I added the note to the program. Completely unintentionally I forgot to list my father’s parents who had also passed, I just wasn’t thinking of them, we rarely saw them but it hurt my father’s feelings and I will always be sad of that omission. It’s hard in lists to decide how to honor the people who really touched your lives and how many deceased family members to include before the thought is diluted.

          To me, the private remembrances were the most important. My bouquet was tied with my grandmother’s handkerchief and I wore the pearls she gave to my mother. No one knew it but me, but that’s what mattered on the day, not the public list. And you can have joy on your wedding day, you will! For me, the inclusion in the ceremony helped me mourn during our engagement much more than during our actual wedding.

          • FM

            Adding a late comment to suggest that folks send a word version of your program to parents or other relevant close family members before printing, to proof-read for you. Besides catching typos, it will help catch things like this where you are inadvertently offending someone by having the wrong name or not including names.

  • We had a fireplace mantel at our reception venue where we placed framed photos of our grandparents’ and parents’ wedding pictures with votive candles. It served as a memorial to the deceased among them and set the tone for the wonderful marriages we hope to emulate. I also had a few close relatives who had died and I placed pictures of them on a hutch by the main entry. It was a small thing that some people may not have even noticed but I really wanted to somehow acknowledge those that I was saddened couldn’t be there. Especially since they had meant so much to me.

    I wasn’t saddened by seeing any of this on the wedding day and I was told by a few people that they really enjoyed being able to see the pictures on the mantel.

    • meg

      I think this is great when it’s grandparents. I think this is way tougher if you had a parent or sibling die unexpectedly and/or recently, and young. Then the how-to-honor-without-causing-huge-pain becomes a little more tricky, I think. Hence this post.

      • I definitey agree with this. I know the pain of losing a grandparent (all of mine are deceased now), but it honestly is different when it’s a parent, sibling, or child (and all of those differ, too, but that’s a tangent), or someone very young or when it happens very unepectedly.

        With the latter, the grief seems to be more acute, harder to grapple with, and it stays close to the surface for a long, long time — at least in my experience. I suppose because it seems to violate the “natural order” of things…

        For my father, we wanted to have a tribute/reminder of some sort (because his absence would surely be on my and my now-husband’s minds, as well as in the thoughts of my relatives), but we didn’t want the atmosphere to become too funereal/morbid. We had a moment of silence and specifically mentioned his name, as well as the names of our 8 deceased grandparents. I also wanted to wear a locket with his photo, but I didn’t get around to making it in time. :-/

    • I was already planning on framing photographs of my parents, my partner’s parents, and both of our grandparents. Between us, we have lost three grandparents, so this will serve as both a memorial and a tribute to the relationships in our family.

    • That reminds me of the Indian way of honoring deceased loved ones. You put a framed picture, and drape a flower garland over it, put a candle in front of it, and put a mark with red kumkum powder on the image of the person’s forehead (which in religious ceremonies is what the priest puts on people’s foreheads).

  • Mary Jo

    Oh! I remembered, some brides go to gravesites to leave their bouquets there! I might have done that for my grandma the morning after the wedding if I hadn’t had to leave town in a hurry.

    One thing about the little secret things you do to remember someone–it’s nice to let the people who might care about those things know you’re remembering those people in that way. For example, I made a point to tell my great-aunts, my grandmother’s sisters, that I had carried that rosary and was thinking about her on my wedding day, and I think that meant a lot to them.

    • meg

      That’s lovely, and I’d forgotten that tradition. Really lovely.

      Though, “had to leave town in a hurry” after your wedding, sounds awesomly like you were on the run ;)

    • RKELZ

      My FH is Russian and lost his father to brain cancer – our wedding date is right around the 3 year anniversary mark. Part of Russian tradition is stopping by all these different places in between the ceremony and the reception, like the local historic monuments, the woods, and the cemetery. The cemetery is not on the way to the reception, but I am so down to stop by the next day and drop off my bouquet (or a bouquet… I hadn’t considered having a 2nd bouquet for tossing until now).

      • I had never heard of this tradition & it’s quite lovely. To be considered. Thank you!

  • Carol

    Thank you for all of the ideas. I started reading APW a few months ago. Started with post 1, and read every chance I got for a couple weeks until I was caught up. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to honor the people my fiance and I have lost, which includes all of my grandparents, all but one of his grandparents (who probably isn’t going to make it to the wedding) and his best friend. I don’t want to ignore the absence of their presence, but at the same time I don’t want to turn it into a 2X4 and hit everyone in the head with it.

  • tupelohoney

    My grandmother passed away 3 months before our wedding. Like others, I honored her in silent ways. When going through her belongings (which was heartbreaking and amazing at the same time) I found a pair of retro, glamorous, clip-on earrings. I removed the clip part from the earrings and super glued the jewel parts to 2 bobby pins and had beautiful hair pins. I showed the hair pins to my cousin on our wedding day and told her that she could have them for her wedding day if she wished, and she cried. That memory stands out in my mind and was a special moment between my cousin and me. I also wrapped my grandma’s pearl choker around my wrist for the reception and put one of her handkerchief’s in my dress. The day after the wedding, my father brought flowers from our ceremony and put them at my grandma’s and my grandpa’s graves – sheesh, that makes me cry right here at my desk.

    I had considered honoring loved ones in a more public, vocal way, but wasn’t sure how. It sounds silly, but, how far back did we go?… Would we say something about each person lost? Would we say something general? About each grandparent lost? What about cousins lost? Since we weren’t sure, we decided not to “say” anything, and I’m okay with that decision. I love what Morgan’s pastor said, “As the life of a new family is being born, we remember all those who have gone before and on whose foundation we, the living, build.” That is beautiful.

    • We had the same issue with saying something… we’d lost three people close to us in the last year, but many more before that, and we couldn’t figure out how many of them to include. Honestly, we wished that everyone we loved could have been there. We ended up using more private gestures, since that felt right to us.

  • Renee C

    These are a lot of great ideas! Now I’m thinking maybe I should carry something of my dad’s to make him feel more “present”. I could use a ring or tie tack of his and pin it into the tulle under my dress. Then it’s there, but not visible — only I and my family would know. I’m looking forward to hearing more about all your creative ways to honor your loved ones….this is really helpful. Thank you so much Meg, Alyssa, everyone!!


    • meg

      I did this for my grandmother, and it really really makes them feel present. It’s crazy and amazing, but true.

  • I’ve been struggling trying to figure this out lately. Our wedding is roughly 7 weeks away, and I’ll be going into it with several important and dear family members not there. My mother passed away when I was 15, I lost my brother at 27, and my father died right after my 30th birthday. On one hand, I don’t want to draw too much attention to it, but with a wedding of roughly 35 guests (immediate family and closest friends) it would also be strange not to, those 3 people should be there and they meant a whole lot to most people in that room and their absence will be obvious.

    I really like what Morgan’s pastor wrote/said regarding building the new family upon our foundations – I think that’s beautiful and am going to use that as a base of something we will have said during our ceremony as well. I think having our officiant make the acknowledgement is a nice way to draw attention to it and how those family members will always be a part of you and your new family.

    I think wearing/carrying mementos from your loved ones is a really subtle way as well, to keep those pieces close to you during the day so that you can feel the love and support from the family you’ve lost.

  • ddayporter

    ok crying at my desk two days in a row, sheesh. I have no advice to contribute, I just wanted to give a virtual hug to all those who need this post. <3

  • Yes, this is something that had a huge impact on my wedding three months ago. I lost one of my sisters to cancer in 2004, and my dad right before Christmas last year to heart disease. Having my immediate family shrink from 5 to 3 over the course of a few years has been tough. Their absences are especially noticeable during something like a wedding, when the whole family comes together, and they aren’t there. In addition to my sister and my dad, my husband and I have also lost 3 of 4 grandparents. So we definitely faced the question of how to honor loved ones during our wedding, without having the hurt of losing them overshadow the celebration of our marriage.

    We agreed to keep our rememberance of loved ones simple. In the beginning of our ceremony, when the pastor talked about the community coming together to support us in marriage, etc etc, we took a moment to remember those in our community who have gone before us… both in marriage (our grandparents), and in death. So he read each of their names out loud, we had a brief moment of silence, and moved on with the ceremony. Our ceremony felt much more meaningful having said their names like that, almost like inviting them to be with us in spirit. They are still a part of our community, and so important in our memories. My husband and I decided not to tell anyone we were planning to have that moment. I was a little worried that it would be a shock to some guests, but it turned out really well. Our parents were especially touched that we remembered our loved ones in that way. And then we moved on, focusing on the marriage ceremony, and the celebration after. It was a lovely way to do it, I think.

  • Zan

    Thankfully, I don’t have personal experience with this, but I can share what my friend did at her wedding — which was one year after her Dad, with whom she was very close, died.

    Her mom was the “ring bearer” and walked up the aisle with their beloved bulldog and kept the rings.

    My friend up the aisle with her fiance and when she reached the end put her bouquet on an empty chair where her Dad would have sat and where instead she’d put her absolute favorite picture of him smiling the world’s BIGGEST happiest smile — exactly what he would have looked like had he been able to be there.

    There was no way to get around being sad about his absence, but she said in the midst of that (missing him not being able to walk her down the aisle) seeing his smiling face actually, reflexively, made her smile back. She put down the flowers, she and her guy hugged her Mom who was there waiting, and they got married– smiling.

  • At our wedding this summer, my husband and I wrote this prayer to honor our seven grandparents who have passed away; we called it the Grandparents prayer:

    Through the joys and struggles of life, you two have emerged as unique people, thanks to God, your family and friends, including some who have gone before us. Our prayers go out to them this day as well to others who, for whatever reason, cannot be here in person.

    We offer prayers of thanksgiving especially for the grandparents who have fostered your dreams and enriched your lives. We remember today and always the lives of (NAME OF GRANDPARENTS HERE), honoring their contributions to your lives.

    All who cannot be here today still share in our joy through the Spirit of LOVE, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. We praise God for His presence with us, and especially in the solemn creation of this marriage covenant; through Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen

    We also lit seven candles in honor of our grandparents. The prayer was one of the most emotional parts of the entire ceremony for me!

  • My oldest daughter’s dad died when she was 12 and when she was married in 2004, we faced the question of how to include his memory in the ceremony. We were trying to be especially sensitive since her elderly grandparents were in attendance and they’d never gotten over the loss of their son to cancer at age 38.

    I agree that the situation is handled differently depending on the amount of time that has elapsed since the loss. We started out with me making a simple response of “On behalf of her family and in memory of her father, I do.” when the officiant asked, “Who gives Bethany in marriage?”

    Because I officiate weddings for a living, I took some of the ideas we used and put them into an article:

    I write many articles on ceremony-related topics and over the years, this one has been the most viewed and the most reposted. This is clearly a situation which many brides face and struggle with. I hope you find the ideas helpful.

    • Sarah

      This is lovely. Thank you for sharing such beautiful and simple words. =)

    • Morgan

      The pastor wanted my mother to say, “With joy Hal and I give her to this marriage” but she couldn’t – it was too raw. Even reading it in the rehearsal program rundown made her cry, so that was clearly a no for the wedding day.

      • In absence of my Dad who died when I was 13, I asked his two brothers, my beloved Uncles, to walk me down the aisle. My cousin suggested that they say something very similar when asked who gives me away in marriage. I was very touched that my cousin thought of it because it’s just perfect.

  • Amy

    My father-in-law passed away at the end of July this year, just 2.5 months before our wedding (we were married 10-16-2010). At first we thought about postponing our ceremony, but my husband’s family let us know they were looking forward to having a celebration and begged us to continue as planned. So glad we did! Our wedding was small (30 people), just close family and a few friends. Our families shape who we are and we felt strongly we should acknowledge our parents and their contributions in making us the people we are today. After mentioning our parents’ positive influence on our lives, the minister included a brief, but moving, statement honoring my FIL. My husband had not shed a tear for his father in front of anyone (including me) until the tribute at the wedding. No blubbering, just a couple of tears. But it was incredibly touching and we are very glad we included it in our ceremony. By honoring FIL, we felt he was there celebrating with us which only added to the happiness of the day.

  • We had a couple of different approaches on this, with our attire and at the ceremony, and also sort of at the reception. For all of it, we really felt it was important that the wedding not feel like it was being interrupted by a funeral moment (to everything there is a season, etc.)

    Like many others, we both wore personal items of significance. On my part, it was more a matter of connecting to both of my parents’ families in a broader sense. on the maternal side, I did wear a pearl necklace of my grandmother’s as a bracelet (and had originally planned to wear my mother’s wedding dress, which my grandmother had made). For my father’s family, all our bouquets had a version of the family tartan wrapped around the stems (which also represented my paternal grandfather, who had taken great pride in his Scottish heritage). I also pinned a brooch that had belonged to the great-grandmother I barely remember, but whose name was given to me as a middle name — this was less to honor her memory (as I barely remember) and more to honor the aunt with whom I share the same middle name, who was not at the wedding but who passed the brooch on to me in honor of the occasion.

    For my husband, whose father had died more than 20 years before, it was a more direct personal connection. I’m not sure he had initially planned to wear anything of his father’s, but the morning of the wedding, as he was getting dressed, he looked through his father’s armoire (we now live in my husband’s childhood home) and found that his father’s class ring fit him perfectly, so he wore that (and I love the photo we have of him showing the ring to his mother later in the day).

    In the ceremony, we had a similar approach of not having any focused memorial segment (no note in the program, no ceremonial lighting of a memorial candle, no prayer of remembrance) but his father was included in the officiant’s introduction and greeting – we did have an already-lit candle, and as the officiant thanked everyone for coming, and noted the significance of being married in the presence of our loved ones, he continued that there was one important person who was unable to be here, David’s father, but (gesturing to the candle) his father’s love for him lived on, illuminating the love David showed for me as the candle illuminated our ceremony. (Very roughly paraphrased, it really sounded beautiful and not clunky or cheesy in context.)

    At the reception, I had originally planned to display family wedding photos at our guest “book” table, but unfortunately that bit of organization fell by the wayside, which is the one project that I do regret letting go. It would have been a very nice and natural way to have his father included and honored, without dwelling too much on his absence. Another thing we did at the reception wasn’t part of honoring his father’s memory, but easily could have been and might be an option that works for some others, was including significant songs. For example, for our cake cutting, we used a (very very silly) song that my father had sung to my sister and I often, especially when we went out for walks together. My father is alive and well and enjoyed it very much, but I think we would have done that exactly the same way had he not been with us.

  • For my father, who passed away 5 years before we got married:
    1) we had our welcome BBQ at a beautiful state park that had been meaningful to me and my dad, and it was so wonderful to be able to share that special place and those memories of my dad with all of our family and close friends,
    2) I gave a very impromptu and teary speech (after a few glasses of wine) at the rehearsal dinner about how my father would have loved my husband, loved getting to know my husband’s extended family, and loved entertaining everyone all the out of town guests in our hometown,
    3) I carried his hankerchief with my bouquet,
    4) we skipped the father/daughter dance (although after reading other graduate posts, I kinda wish I had done a “fun” song with my mom or brother),
    5) I set up a framed photo of us together and a framed quote, where I thanked him for setting a wonderful example of the type of man I should marry and the marriage that was possible, and
    6) my maid of honor gave a wonderful toast that honored him.

    A few other tips: I made sure to set aside time the week before the wedding to cry – even forcing myself to listen to sappy songs and release some of the emotion. By the time friends and family started arriving for the weekend, I could focus on the happy and I honestly didn’t fall apart once the entire weekend. And, despite our generally “small,” family and close-friends only wedding, my husband and I decided to invite most of my dad’s close friends that I had grown up with but hadn’t seen since his memorial service. I think they loved being able to “be there for me,” and it meant a lot to me to have more bits of his life there.

  • I’m so, so thankful for this post. It gives me a lot to think about…in addition to the thinking I’ve done already about how to honor and remember my “FIL” whom I’ve never met, but passed away about a month before I met my fiancee. It’s a hard subject, and it’s different for everyone, but it’s really good to read ideas from others on this topic.

  • Ellen

    My mother died six weeks before our wedding. I wore her jewelry and my dad’s brother walked me down the aisle, but that was all the tribute I could manage to my parents without risking blubbering through the whole service (which I definitely didn’t want to do).

  • Steph

    Thank you so much for talking about this important subject.

    My dad died on Christmas Eve in 2008. Now, as I am planning my wedding for Sept. 2011, I’ve been thinking of ways to honor him, but without it being sad. Everyone in my family was devastated when he died and knows how hard it was for my brother and I.

    So far, I know that I am going to have a simple, untraditional ceremony with my brother walking me down the aisle. During the ceremony, I have a couple songs that will be played for my dad — a rock song he loved to dance to — that won’t be announced, but close family will know. My fiance is going to do dane iwth his mom, but not in the traditional way, so as not draw attention to me.

    The next challenge is how to introduce my mom — who’s going to walk her down the aisle to be seated (since my one brother will be with me) and who will escort her into the reception. She joked about having a date by then, which kind of freaks me out, but I’ll cross that bridge if I have to.

    I have lots to think about over the next several months and I am so happy to see this discussion and read how all you fabulous ladies handled this too, so thank you!

    • ddayporter

      So sorry to hear about your dad. Would you want your mom to escort you down the aisle along with your brother? I guess it might depend on how wide your aisle can be.. I don’t know what your grandparent situation is, but for our wedding we had my FIL walk Zach’s grandmother in, and then my mom and MIL walked in together – they loved being each others escorts! for the reception we didn’t really need an escort for my mom, it was right downstairs and we didn’t make any announcements for the wedding party arrivals. Could your brother escort your mom to the reception?

      • Morgan

        My mom and MIL walked out together, and I’m told it was really sweet to see them together. yay family bonding!

      • Steph

        thanks for your note!
        Those are all good suggestions. The mothers walking together is really cute!

        No grandparents, they have all passed away.

        My dad’s brother, my uncle, will be at the wedding, so I was thinking he might be a good escort for mom. Also my cousin, my dad’s side, is an option. My dad was very proud of this cousin because he’s a Marine, “Four generations of our family in the military,” my dad like to boast. (this is assuming my cousin can even make it with his military commitments!)

        Either way, I’m glad to be putting these thoughts out there and reading everyone elses’s emotional stories.

        I really am fascinated reading everyone’s comments!

  • I have no advice for close or recent losses but in some small way I do understand the sadness of not having a loved on at my wedding. My grandmother died incredibly young and suddenly 5 years ago and it devastated me. In this case, I will also be wearing my grandmother’s earrings (which just happen to be blue topaz and match my engagement ring but it wasn’t planned that way). It’s a small, private way that I can feel like she’s with me in some way.

    I know that won’t/can’t work for everyone but it’s comforting to me.

  • nat

    My husband’s father died 5 years before our wedding. It was very important to both of us that he be “present” at the wedding, without dwelling on his death. During our ceremony, our parents and grandparents each chose a reading to do (which was absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend letting people choose their own readings if you can make yourself feel comfortable with that!), and so we had his mother do a second reading, one which was “something she thought he would have picked to read”. She ended up reading excerpts from a letter he had written to one of my husband’s siblings full of life advice. For us this was the perfect way to remember him, and include him in our wedding.

  • Colleen

    One of my fiance’s best friends, Andrew, died in an accident a few years ago. As a result, we both grew very close to his friend’s brother, Dave, and his now wife. So close, in fact, that my fiance was asked to be the best man in their wedding. It was very clear that Andrew’s absence was going to be felt by everyone. He was Dave’s only other sibling, which made things very tricky, because since his death, Dave’s life has been characterized by the loss of his brother and being the only child in his family. He has a lot to deal with emotionally.

    Dave and his wife decided not to do a photo, memorial or candle because they wanted to focus the day on celebration. When my fiance got up to give his speech, he simply said “As we all know, the best man isn’t here tonight, but I am a proud and loving stand-in.” It was a beautiful and very eloquent way to acknowledge a very powerful loss and then refocus on the couple and their happy day.

  • Clairelizabeth

    I’ts like the APW team can divine what I need to hear/think about; this and yesterday’s graduate post are so, so relevant and thought provoking and helpful. Thanks, muchly.

    L’homme and I are at the veeeery begining of wedding planning (kind of still the “whooooo! we’re getting married!” stage) and haven’t figured out how to honour my dad on the day. But my aunt’s recent wedding was the best demonstration of gracious honouring of dead loved ones that I’ve personally experienced – although the ideas in this thread are wonderful.

    My aunt is actually my aunt-by-marriage – she married my mum’s brother in the 80s and they had a wonderful marriage until my uncle died suddenly of cancer 13 years later at 41. In the years since, my aunt and cousins have remained very close with our side of the family; which is kind of amazing because I’m sure the constant presence of her dead husband’s family in my aunt’s life was not always easy. Fast forward a bunch of years, and my aunt and her long-time man (a guy that my fam loves to pieces) decide to get married, and they invite my whole family – the father, sister, brother and nieces and nephews of her first husband – to celebrate with her family and her man’s family. So, in a sense, the wedding became the joining of three families rather than two. I’m not sure whether my aunt or cousins had private memories/tokens of my uncle with them on the day of the wedding, but in the speeches at the reception the groom particularly thanked my grandfather for his love and support over the years – noting that my grandfather refers to my aunt as his daughter-in-law, and to him as a “son-in-law-in-law”. There was no overt mention of my uncle, but the honouring was there nonetheless.

    • Elise

      My dilemma is similar to that of your aunt’s. My “bonus family” will also be invited to my 2nd wedding (though just the immediate family, since the extended family is HUGE and my former mother-in-law/bonus mother, my fiance, and I decided that it would be overwhelming to have more than half of the guests belong to my late-husband’s family, rather than mine or my fiance’s families). Unfortunately, many of the ways others can honor their loved ones don’t work for my situation (though I love the list of suggestions in the post!). I feel that anything overt or public would make many people uncomfortable- though my fiance is the epitome of supportive and loving (and has never, ever felt threatened by my previous relationship), it seems others would rather leave the past, if not forgotten, then at least never mentioned. And it IS a fine line- the day is about a new marriage and family, not a memorial to an old one. But it would feel disrespectful to me to not include some way to honor the love I had before, a marriage to a wonderful man who I know would approve of my new marriage. So I’ve decided to tie my first husband’s wedding ring on my bouquet and incorporate the brooch from my first wedding dress into my dress this time around. They’re small gestures, nothing that I’ll mention to my guests, but they’re a way for me to celebrate my past and to remember the lessons that I’ve learned and how they’ve allowed me to get to where I am today.

      • Clairelizabeth

        ohhh Elise… you are one strong and wise chicken! Sending hugs, because that fine line you are walking is a hard one.

        I do love the line from Morgan’s ceremony: “As the life of a new family is being born, we remember all those who have gone before and on whose foundation we, the living, build.” I’m totally going to appropriate this for our ceremony.

        • Morgan

          I’ll let Pastor Steve know – he’ll be so pleased!

        • Elise

          Thank you, Clarelizabeth! I just thought I’d throw my decision out there, since losing a spouse and remarrying is not something that comes up very frequently/ever on APW.

          Oh, and I also LOVE that part of Morgan’s ceremony- so Morgan, you can let Pastor Steve know there’s yet another couple who plan to use his beautiful language.

          • Amandover

            I second your wisdom, and think this (incredibly meaningful) viewpoint of remarrying after a spouse died could make a great undergrad post…

          • Clairelizabeth

            I second Amandover!

            I was thinking all day about how interesting and valuable a wedding graduate or undergraduate post from a bride whose first spouse had died would be. Because a) that particular circumstance is rarely covered, and b) women in that particular circumstance likely have a lot to teach us about being married through excruciatingly hard times, and being married to someone even though they are dead (I hope that makes sense…) and also moving from one type of love to another and from one aspect of onesself to another.

            Erm. I just read that over and it sounds manic and slightly kooky… sorry, long day. Essentially I’m boosting Elise to write a post, or anyone else in a similar position.

  • Nix

    My boyfriend and I have been talking about getting engaged, so I’ve actually put alot of thought into this subject, seeing as I was extremely close to my Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw (yes, I’m a Southern girl) who have both passed on. My “something blue” is going to be a pair of beautiful blue crystal earrings that Maw-Maw gave me, and we plan to have a dance to their song, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”. I also want to work the violin my Paw-Paw made me into things somehow, maybe as a display by the guest book.

  • My youngest sister died three and a half years ago and I am looking at planning a wedding soon. I am blessed that it’s not directly in-my-face and right now, but this is the first family wedding since then and I am nervous. My family is a teary one, and I know that we will cry, and that that will be okay and won’t overpower everything or mean less joy. It’s just a full spectrum.
    At her funeral, someone gave us flowers with curly willow branches in there. My mom still has them, and planted a curly willow tree that we each took branches from. She was cremated and we haven’t scattered ashes, so we don’t have a specific place to go talk to her or leave flowers (which I thought was beautiful).
    My way of holding her close will be to have curly willow branches in my bouquet. Since we probably won’t have programs, I will make a toast at some point, and have a “sister dance” where we play a song that was at her funeral (it’s upbeat, no one will know unless we tell them).

    Hugs to everyone.

  • Sarah

    I touched on this a bit yesterday … how we included my grandmother in our ceremony … but I’ll go into a little more detail.

    As a public gesture, we had a bouquet on the “altar” … in the ceremony program we mentioned (much as is the custom in the Lutheran Church … though I just realized this now) “The altar flowers are placed in honor and remembrance of all our loved ones who could not be with us today.” There was another nice sentiment at the end of that statement, but it’s escaping me now. We deliberately used a vague term because while all of the husband’s grandparents are living, they were all too ill/frail to travel for our wedding. We wanted to honor them as well, though they are living.

    For my grandmother, though, I needed to do something else. She was, by far, the member of my family I was closet to … she raised me. So there were many little things we did, many of which were only noticed by the people that would recognize them. Firstly, our ceremony was very much about family … so all of our parents, and my grandfather walked the aisle. Instead of him walking alone, my mother chose to walk with him. We incorporated white daisies into our bouquets (her favorite), and I hid one in my grandfather’s bout (I don’t know if he noticed it, but if not, that’s ok … he was kind of overwhelmed with the day in the first place. =) ). I wore the ring she’d willed me, and we used the blessing she loved (and instilled a love of in me). I included one of “their songs” in our playlist (What a Wonderful World). And (this one was really obscure, but we were happy about it while shopping) … the ceremony program paper was the same we used for the invites to my grandparent’s 50th anniversary party.

    So yes, there were a ton of references. But that felt right to me. We didn’t make any verbal references to her (no toasts in her memory), but there were bits scattered here and there, and it made it feel, to me, like she was everywhere. Which was just enough. =)

    As a side note … I had a girlfriend once who had lost her father a couple years before getting married. For a long time (during her engagement) we didn’t mention who would walk her down the aisle, as they had been very close. Such a long time that on her wedding day, no one had any idea (she had walked alone during the rehearsal telling us “she’d taken care of it”). When someone timidly asked her who she was walking with (about 10 minutes before the ceremony) she smiled and said “my dad.” Then she showed us her shoes. She’d attached a charm to the back of one of her shoes, with a picture of her dad. It was so, perfectly her. And, in my eyes, a fantastic way to include him.

  • Sarah

    And on the topic of losing close friends:

    A close friend from school once promised me he’d dance with me at my wedding. (It was a funny, but touching reference at the time … when we were in 6th grade he’d refused to dance with me once.) When he passed away, suddenly, at 20, that stuck in my head. So, I picked out a song to dance to, and included it in our music. When it came on, I gently brushed everyone away who wanted to dance, and sat and enjoyed the song. In my head, It was the dance I would have had with him. And no one knew it but me, and my best friend. Personal, quiet reference, but it meant the world to me.

    • This is wonderful. Thanks for sharing such a sweet idea.

  • Maddie

    I lost a sister as well, though it was many years ago. We incorporated her memory by having my other sister, who was my maid of honor, carry a second bouquet. I will probably do the same at her wedding. Since she would have been a bridesmaid, it was a nice way to acknowledge her presence in the wedding party.

    But truth be told, I’m not really one for outward displays of remembrance (not to devalue the above, which was an important symbolic gesture for me and my family). But what I found meant the most to me was to really incorporate my siblings into our wedding process. Sibling relationships can be particularly intense, and I felt like it was doing my sister’s memory a real honor by involving them in our commitment as much as possible. It felt a little like I was paying it forward, and it helped fill the void (to the extent that that is possible).

    • meg

      Teary. That’s… what could be better than that?

      • Aimee

        We’re doing this too. My older brother and I lost our younger brother 3 years ago. He was 15, and his youth makes things so raw still. No memorial pictures, no candles (we’re Catholic), just a second boutonniere on Chris’ lapel.

  • I am really struck by how strongly so many of us feel connected to our loved ones through personal affects, particularly jewelry, clothing, and other accessories like handkerchiefs. It really says something about the importance of material culture that we can feel close to these loved ones who are not with us through these objects, like their spirit is represented in them. These personal affects give comfort, remind us of those not present, and memorialize those no longer living.

  • Kim

    Alyssa – thanks for including my comment from yesterday…especially if it sparks an idea in someone’s mind for a way to honor their loved ones in an honest way. I’ll have to email you a photo of us dancing with glasses on our heads. It was a priceless moment I’ll never forget!

    • meg

      I edited Alyssa’s post to include it… shhhhh :)

      • Kim

        I won’t tell! :)

        I forgot to mention – my husband’s grandparents were unable to travel to our wedding, but we felt it was so important to include them in our day. So, we had their corsages delivered to them at home, and had a friend use his iPhone to stream the wedding online (via, if anyone’s interested). His grandparents had never seen the internet before, so with a little help from relatives, they were able to watch our wedding ceremony, before getting dressed up to go out to dinner. How cute are they!?! (The webcast was also a budget-friendly way to ensure our friends across the country and overseas could witness our special day as well. Double bonus.)

        Hugs to all!

        • meg

          DELIVERED CORSAGES? Meltssssss….

          That is seriously the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard for grandparents who can’t travel. And why haven’t I heard it before. It’s so easy, and so freaking thoughtful.

        • Sarah

          Man, where was this conversation 3 months ago?!?! I would have LOVED to do that.

          As is stands, we’re sending the grandparents a video of the ceremony around Christmas time.

          • Same! Both sets of my grandparents live overseas and it would’ve been too big of a journey for them to come to the wedding. We’re sending video/pictures to them soon, but looking back I really, really wish I’d thought to try to Skype them that morning in all my wedding finery so that they could’ve been more a part of that day.

        • Suzanna


        • Chantelle

          You are brilliant! I’m having an overseas wedding and my biggest sadness is that I’m not sure if all my family (and especially my grandma) will be able to attend. Corsages and streaming, you make it sound so simple! Thank you so much for sharing.

        • Wanted to also add that streaming is really not too complicated if you have family or friends who can’t make it for some reason. My cousin’s wife’s father was suddenly rushed to hospital the week before the wedding. He also lives in Russia so despite being in recovery, there was no way he could make it. They set up skype with a camera and mic at the front of the church and her father was able to watch from his hospital bed. Of course not the same as him being there, but at least he was able to watch her get married, and they greeted him at the start to let everyone know.

    • I’ve been reading APW for ages but don’t comment all too often. Your story was so perfect, I just had to tell you that you created the best mental image for me! What a lovely way to commemorate grandpa.

  • Pamela

    I went to a wedding recently where the bride had lost her father the year before. During the reception, instead of a father/daughter dance, they did a slideshow of pictures from both the bride’s and groom’s childhood. Most of the pictures were funny family pictures, so I thought that was a nice way to honor her dad without it being too depressing or funeral like – people were laughing and smiling at the obviously happy times both families had shared, without dwelling too much on the sad parts.

    Anyway, lots of love to anyone who is going through this. I’ve had to stop reading the comments twice now, because I’m at work and crying. So, lots of hugs to everyone.

  • meg


    Carry on!

    • Alyssa

      I KNOW! I keep wanting to comment on every single comment and be like, “I’m so sorry, you are wonderful and here is an virtual hug.”

      • Meg, can we have a “hugs” button next to the “exactly” button??

        • meg

          You guys and your buttons! Robin wants a “shut the f*ck up!” button. No passive “report” buttons for her.

          • Robin

            Well the hugs one is maybe better on a day like this with so much community building. Earlier in the week, though? I would have enjoyed my suggestion. :)

  • Susan

    I’m getting married in two weeks. To remember my groom and I’s grandparents, we copied my sister. Just like at her wedding, we’ll have a white rose bud in the front window of the church and a note in the program that explains “the white rose in the window is in memory of our beloved family members” and lists their names. It’s simple and it’s special to me to carry on the family tradition.

    • Lisa

      My mother passed away 10 years ago. When my brother got married, I was the Maid of Honor, and to recognize my mother, my bouquet was specially made with a single carnation (her favorite flower) amidst the other flowers. One single difference in the bouquet made a world of difference to me, my brother and his new wife. He also gave his bride to be a ring of my mother’s that she told him was specifically for his wife. He was 17 when she passed, although not engaged at the time, but he did marry his girlfriend that was able to meet my mom a month before she passed. Just a couple of sweet sentiments that made the day truly special without being extremely sad.

      Another thing that we did after the ceremony was go to the cemetary with the photographer and have him take pictures of us by her grave site. It was sad, but it was just us 3 there so it didn’t make the day gloomy for everyone…

  • Jenn

    I had planned to put a small locket in my bouquet with a picture of my late grandfather in it. That way, he’d be right there with me throughout the day. But, at some point as I worried about who would be our officiant, I finally realized that my grandfather’s very good friend was a minister. He was a controversial choice in a lot of ways, but my grandpa would have loved it. And, it meant a lot to my grandma who went with me to ask him to officiate and who loved every minute of the ceremony and the connection to her beloved.

    • Alyssa

      Small reminders, like these, make my heart hurt. In the best way possible. What a really great gesture….

  • I’ve been fortunate enough to have never lost someone that I was very close to thus far. (knock on wood) At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to relate to this post, but I was wrong. I think even if we haven’t lost a close loved one, there are still people in our families who can be honored in these ways.

    For example, my great-grandmother (with whom I share my name) died before I was born. I inherited a aquamarine filagree ring of hers that I wore on my pinky for a long time (she had very small fingers). When my grandfather saw that I was wearing it, it was the first time I ever saw him get teary. My grandfather was there the day I got engaged and there was immediately talk of me wearing my great-grandmother’s wedding dress. That idea fell through, but I plan on tying that ring to my bouquet. While I have no memories of this woman, she is dear to me by extension of my grandfather. And by honoring her in that small way, I am honoring him. I know we will both cry when I show him the ring on my bouquet that day.

    The last funeral I went to was my grandfather’s, when I was six years old. As the oldest grandchild, I’m the only one with clear memories of him and his loss is still felt by my grandmother and mother, so I’d like to do something to honor him but I haven’t decided what yet. I’d love to carry a trinket of his but I don’t have any in my possession. (Hmm, must ask my grandmother about that.)

  • Alyssa

    One thing people have touched on in their comments so far is also acknowleding lost loved ones in the wedding, not only for the bride and groom, but for their parents’ and siblings’ sake also. Which I think is so great. APW readers are ridiculously thoughtful.

    Our gesture was small, but in addition to having my grandfather and his grandmother mentioned in our ceremony, I made a scrabble pendant necklace with a picture of my mother-in-law in her mother’s arms when she was a baby. My husband lost his grandmother before we got engaged and I know it was upsetting, especially to my mother-in-law, for her to not be there for her grandson’s wedding and to not have even met me.
    It was less about doing it for us and more about my husband’s mother. The day was about her too and we knew that even though she’d never say anything, she had sadness mixed in with her happiness for that day. We just wanted to acknowledge that in a small way, and I think it really made her happy to have her mom close to her heart that day.

    I am so in love with you guys yesterday and today, way more than usual…

    • Liz

      I strongly second Alyssa’s comment. My father died when I was very young, and at my cousin’s wedding several years ago, her father (my dad’s brother) made a speech about family members who had passed away and said how proud my father would have been of me and my siblings. That small gesture meant so much to me, for him to remember that it wasn’t just the bride who was feeling the absence of loved ones on that day, and I will always be grateful to him for it.

      Thank you for this post, Alyssa and Meg. This is the one that I have been waiting for, and I will bookmark it for when it comes time to plan my own wedding.

    • Liz

      Oh – and today is my dad’s birthday. APW timing is uncanny sometimes.

  • I had the distinct gift of having both my parents alive and well throughout my planning and at my wedding last month. In the ceremony, we used my mom’s wedding band (that my dad wears every day). (My band has diamonds, which is a no-no for Jewish weddings.) If you’ve lost a grandparent or a parent, using their wedding bands as your bands, or even melting them down and using the gold is a simple and non-attention-grabby but very present way of expressing your love.

    • Alyssa

      I love that you said, “distinct gift.” Because as cracked-out crazy as they make us, it really is a gift.
      Posts like yesterday and today’s REALLY drive that home.

  • I went to a wedding where the both the groom’s parents had passed away (it was the grooms first marriage in his 50s). He honored his parents by keeping a chair open for them in the front row. It was important to his sister as well.

  • Robin

    Thanks for this discussion. It’s been really cathartic. I need to remember that we have permission to be wildly happy on our wedding day, despite any tragedies that may have preceded it.

    My guy and I are getting married in 6 weeks (Yikes!). Between us, we have one mother. My mom died when I was a teenager, his dad died about 10 years ago, and my dad had a massive coronary (at age 72, too young, and not even sick) last week. I just can’t believe he won’t be here for the wedding, and furious that he couldn’t have waited 7 weeks to go.

    My guy is using a copy of his dad’s wedding ring. His dad was buried wearing his ring, but for his wedding my future brother-in-law was able to get a copy made, and my guy is also getting a copy made.

    We are listing the names of our deceased parents & grandparents in our program, a common practice among the folks at my synagogue for both weddings & bar/bat mitzvahs..

    But the real “tribute” is going to be our tables. We had long ago decided our “table numbers” were going to be dates. My birthdate, my guy’s birthdate, the date of our first date & engagement, etc. We had decided to include our parents wedding dates, our siblings wedding dates, and our parents birthdays (we need quite a few “table numbers”). So this worked out nicely. Each table will have a framed wedding (or baby) picture on it plus a few lines about the person/people and their big day.

    I’m also going to tuck small pictures of our three deceased parents into the bible I’m carrying in lieu of a bouquet.

    • meg

      Hug hugs to you from all of us.

    • Kristen

      I want you to know first that I say this with complete and total kindness: He’s probably pretty furious, too. :)

      Take good care of yourself and know that there are a lot of people who will help you in any way possible at the drop of a hat. They just don’t want to be the ones to keep bringing it up. So if you’re having a particularly bad day, feel free to go to the neighbor’s and just say, “I need you to come to coffee with me and be funny and cheery.” Really, really, really, people want to help, they just need you to tell them how. Myself included. I pride myself on my trick monkey skills.

  • Thanks for posting this – it’s hugely helpful. I’ve actually been thinking of ways to honour my mother even before we got engaged. (This isn’t as weird as it might sound, we planned out engagement, and my step-sister’s wedding had been several months before, so it would have been harder not to think of what I might to for mine than not to!) My mother died when I was six and beyond peskily reminding my stepmother that she wasn’t my mother throughout my teens, I haven’t done much to honour her (and that was a dubious sort of honouring in any event!). One of the things that we have already done is choose our engagement date – which was the 31st Anniversary of my parents marriage,

    If anyone wants to see, I wrote a blog post about my engagement over at

  • Kristen

    I’ve thought about this for a while, too. For me, it is my maternal grandma I feel a special need to honor. Others, I am content with pins in my bouquet and such. She was the only grandparent I ever really got to know and she was a really good one. If she were around, as soon as I had my dress, I would have stuffed it in my car and driven the 13 hours to show it to her (macular degeneration, she’d need it up close and personal).

    But, it’s been almost five years and not a lot of people will understand how important she was. Or that she was what was holding the extended family together. (My Thanksgivings and Christmases have gone from 30ish to 5).

    So, my mom and I are going to bake her Boston cookies and we’ll package them to give out at the end of the night for evening cookies and milk. Not everyone will know that those were her favorite ploy to keep you at her house. “Okay, well, we should get going. ” “Oh, I just remembered. I have Boston cookies in the pantry…” But her family will know.

    Sweet tiny baby Jesus. No more APW at work. I’m a mess now.

  • rebeccajean

    First time commenter — and a non-engaged/non-married one, at that! I lost my father when I was nine years old, and over the years, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought about what would be the best way to honor him if/when I get married, in a way that is actually meaningful. Most weddings I’ve been to tend to have floral arrangements at the altar that are in memory of departed loved ones. That’s nowhere NEAR being good enough for my situation. I’ve recently come up with what I think would be the ideal memorial tribute. One of the things that I associate most with memories of my dad is music, particularly from the 1950s. Dad loved his oldies. :) Anyway — what I’ve decided I would LOVE to do would be to choose songs from that era that specifically remind me of my dad and use them as the prelude/postlude music for the ceremony. I absolutely adore this idea, and look forward to the day that my boyfriend decides to give me an excuse to put this plan into motion. :)

  • Rachel

    Well me-oh-my. Thank you APW community for this wonderful post and discussion. My fiance and I are in the process of discussing how to honor our loved ones in our May wedding next year. Reading all these comments and ideas has been cathartic and edifying for me – we all just do/will do what feels right for us.

    thank you thank you.

  • ka

    i cried my way all down the page, and now i’m grinning, because this is an amazing resource created by amazing women who i’m totally in love with. i haven’t given this topic a ton of thought yet, and am so glad i now have lots of ideas to steal.

    i mentioned yesterday that i want to walk down the aisle to my Poppy’s favorite song:
    “unforgettable” so i can have him with me in that moment. i also wear my grandma’s anniversary ring as my engagement ring, so that’s always there. and i have to have moonlight serenade and in the mood play at some point, for my grandparent’s memory and cause i love them. that’s as far as i’ve gotten.

    i don’t know if anyone else has ever heard of this, or this is something my mom invented, but when i was little we used to buy a balloon for a deceased relative’s bday and attach a note and let it go. i’ve since figured out those balloons don’t reach a physical “heaven” but have held the idea dear. in fact, 21 years old or not, the first bday of my mom’s after she died, i went out to the beach and released a balloon with one hell of a letter attached. and it really helped. so i think i may try to incorporate releasing whole bunch of balloons. (i know it’s littering, and i probably won’t do it because of that. but funnily, when we first visited our venue i saw a balloon stuck in one of the trees, and thought it just might be a little sign.)

    (and alyssa and meg – i’m glad you guys are having a less controversial friday, even if it’s a little teary!)

    • jlc12118

      you should SO do it… it was a sign… you can litter – it’s the one day you can do it, but you can… ;-)

    • Sarah

      I really, really like this. If your mom made it up, she was one wise, wise lady. Heck, even if she didn’t, incorporating it in your life from so early on shows she was a wise, wise lady. =)

      I’d say, do it. Or something similar. Make sure to check and confirm that you CAN (at the venue, and by law) and then go for it.

  • jlc12118

    Hi all – 2 weeks from today here… 11/12/10… gah! Anyway, we have several grandparents/great-uncles and other assorted special people we want to remember, but rather than listing everyone and being worried about leaving someone out, we are just keeping it simple.

    My paternal grandmother’s brother (great-uncle) passed away the same year as my maternal grandmother and both are still a little raw for our family. My great-uncle was very close to all of us as he had no children of his own – he was very close in age to my father and was almost more of an uncle to us. But, we couldn’t honor him and grandparents without honoring the other great-uncles who also won’t be with us, but whose wives (thankfully) will be. I started out wanted to have everyone sing a verse of a hymn, then got to having someone read “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep”- but we decided all of that was too sad.

    So, instead, my one cousin (who told me after his brother’s wedding that I had to make sure I did something for Uncle Charles – which of course I would have) is going to light a candle at the beginning of the ceremony that simply says “In Loving Memory” – no names. We’ll have a note in the program that it’s a memorial candle in honor of all who couldn’t be here with us on the day and then have the lines from the poem that we really love “I am in the flowers that bloom, I am in a quiet room. I am in the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing.” and keep it at that…

    So much love to all of you who are struggling with such bigger losses…

  • Kayakgirl73

    We honored our deceased grandparents in our program. All of mine and one of his. We also let a candle at our rehearsal the night before. It was one of the standard candles on the candle rack that are available in almost all Catholic Churches. They were also mentioned in our Catholic Prayers of the Faithful, along with such things as prayers for relatives who were ill, prayers for those who traveled to have safe travel, prayers for church leaders, prayers for the new marriage and all marriages.

  • Sarah M

    Our religious ceremony included “Prayers of the People.” We used the standard wedding ones and then added one more to pray for those who had gone before us, especially our grandparents (we’ve lost of 7 of 8). I was only really close with one of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother, and I was able to take a scrap of lace from her 1951 wedding dress and use it in a head piece I made for myself. My aunt (her daughter) just got married (for the first time, at 56) last weekend and as the maid of honour, I really struggled with how to address the fact that both of her parents weren’t able to be there with us. I was able to use another piece of the lace from my grandmother’s dress to wrap around her bouquet and I offered my toast from all those present and from those who had gone before us. It was subtle, but the sentiment was there.

    All of my grandparents had passed by the time I was ten, so I hadn’t really experienced loss at an age where I could fully understand what was going on. My husband’s grandmother (who practically raised him) died in March and when we were saying our goodbye’s she sadly mentioned that she would not make it to the wedding and all she asked was that we made sure we just loved each other. I think that’s the best thing we can do to honour her.

  • Thank you so much for this post & the thoughtful comments! I have been searching & searching for ways to honor my Dad. I want to honor him in a way that is quiet & graceful without taking away from the marriage celebration. Nothing seems like enough. I mentioned yesterday that we’re dedicating a Bells of Ireland arrangement at the altar in my Dad’s memory & we’ll include a short explanation in the program. I asked his two brothers to walk me down the aisle because not only are they my beloved Uncles, I know he would have picked them to take his place. And maybe that’s all that is needed, I don’t know. It’s a definite struggle. But I was lucky to have an amazing Dad & I know something will feel right. When it’s time to make a decision, I will be coming back to this post & re-reading the comments for inspiration.

    Hugs & more hugs~

  • Stephanie

    My dad died of cancer about 2 years before our wedding. I felt pretty torn about how to honor him in a way that wouldn’t make me feel full of grief on such a joyful day.

    I carried my dad’s handkerchief with my bouquet as my something old, which he always carried, and which I remember him letting me use to dry my tears many times in my life. We also included a note in the program: “We also want to acknowledge those in our families who are no longer living and could not be with us today. We are especially conscious of the absence of Stephanie’s father. He is so loved and so missed on all days, but especially today. Though he cannot be here, we feel his presence in our hearts and through those present who knew and loved him.”

    In the end, I decided to do just these things because they felt meaningful to me, knowing that whether or not we had any outward signs, my dad would certainly be a presence, as he always is.

  • my father passed away from cancer when i was twelve, and the moment he told us of his cancer diagnosis and the poor prognosis, one of my first thoughts was, “who will walk me down the aisle when i get married?” i decided long ago that i was going to walk alone, but it was hard. i was steadfast in this decision and even though my brother asked me multiple times if i was sure i wanted to walk alone and offered more than a few times to walk me down the aisle, it was important to me to walk myself.

    my mother surprised me with a charm with my father’s picture on it that we attached to my bouquet with “happy trails” inscribed on it. “happy trails” was the song we played at my father’s funeral as we let balloons off into the sky (i know, very eco-unfriendly, but it was the early nineties and i was a young child and it was my idea at the time, so my mother supported me).

    as i stood on the deck of the lodge where we got married and my girlfriends walked away from me one by one i had a huge moment of panic. i felt incredibly alone and even thinking about that feeling tears me up now. i had no idea how much i would miss my father in that moment. i had trouble breathing, i started getting choked up- i almost lost it. i took a few shaky steps forward feeling faint and not sure if i was going to be able to go through with walking alone, and then i saw my husband standing with our dog surrounded by all the people i love most in my life and all of a sudden i could walk again. i was choked up. i walked down the aisle with a crazy smile and tears in my eyes and still having a hard time catching my breath. it was not graceful. i didn’t look like a glowing bride, but i did it, and that was important to me.

    would i have walked alone had i know how i was going to react? its hard to say. i don’t think i had ever given myself permission to think about how it would feel. i knew it was going to be hard, but i didn’t want anyone standing in for my father. i didn’t want anyone else. i had him in spirit, and i missed his physical presence, but i did what i needed to do and when i look at those pictures i remember how i felt- saddness was overcome by happiness.

    then during the later hours of the evening while we were dancing the dj played “happy trails”, we thought someone had requested it knowing the significance but as it turned out the dj had chosen it because he saw our wedding cake had a hiking trail on it and two hikers as the cake topper, so he thought it thought it was appropriate. i took that as a sign that my father was with us and making his presence known.

    • Sarah, you have me in tears. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Anna

    My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a year before my twin sister’s engagement. When we began planning, we all knew Mom would be absent on the big day . Coincidentally, my sister chose my parents’ anniversary as her wedding date. It just worked best. My brother-in-law lost his mother as a child, so both moms were missing. We wanted to honor the mothers explicitly, but to maintain a uplifting mood. In lieu of a unity candle, my sister had a “unity” bouquet. During the ceremony, the bride and groom placed two clusters of daisies (my mother’s favorite flower) into a single vase. Daisies were also (incidentally) the wedding theme, so it felt like a cheery, natural way to honor the moms. My dad replied “Her mother and I do,” when asked who was giving my sister away. The minister used my parents’ marriage (my dad nursed my mother at home up to the day she died) as an illustration of during the sermon. A friend sang Sara Grove’s “He’s Always Been Faithful”, a modern rendition of the hymn my parents sang at their wedding, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. We also placed my mother’s wedding scrapbook on display at the reception. The wedding was the first time my family had all been together since the funeral, and the day proved to be deeply healing. We went the the DIY/DIT, all the more so BECAUSE Mom was not there. Everyone knew that the day was about much more than my sister and her husband; the wedding was a celebration of our family’s dedication, resilience and the promise of one day being whole.

  • I’m way behind on commenting – but just wanted to add that we used a lovely poem from a plaque that hung in my grandparent’s bedroom in our program to remember them on our day. So many family members noticed and appreciated the quiet gesture…

    Also – hugs out to all of you ladies! These comments had me all choked up… xo!

  • Hi! First time commenter here! Love, love, love this post. As a way to honor my grandfathers/the FH’s grandfathers, we’re doing a guestbook on Shutterfly full of old family pictures, so people can browse the pictures of us as children with our grandparents, as well as write a nice message. We’re going to include old pictures of my grandparents weddings, as well! This way people can browse through the guestbook and have an intimate moment with our loved ones as they look at all the family pictures of two families joining together.

  • Such good suggestions – that’s really helpful advise and so great it’s available to us! Thanks guys!

  • Amy

    This has been such a struggle for us, we are 3 weeks away from our wedding and while we have both lost beloved grandparents, this loss has been overshadowed by the loss of my future MIL 7 months ago to cancer. We are placing a rose on the altar with a note in the program in her memory, because she should be there… but then again, they should ALL be there. arg.

    Mostly, I think we will keep it personal. I inherited her jewelry so I’ll be wearing a bracelet that was hers and I am planning to give my guy a locket that belonged to her for him to keep with him… and do this far enough in advance to allow time for the inevitable waterworks.

    I guess no matter what, ever wedding day ends up being a delicate balance of sadness and joy. Thanks for a post on a topic that we don’t hear so much about :)

  • Hope

    First time commenter and newly engaged lady.
    My situation seems to have all kinds of complications.
    My mum died about 5 years ago and had attended my first wedding. Since she died I have divorced and, as I said before, got engaged again. My Dad has also remarried.
    My fiance asked my Dad and my sister for permission to marry me since my Mum’s not here to ask. He also asked my Dad for my Mum’s wedding band which he used as an engagement ring- cue many surprised and delighted tears from me when he proposed.
    I know that I will miss my Mum during the planning and wedding process. My whole family lives overseas so I’ll be pretty much alone for all of it. I’m obviously remembering my Mum and my parents’ marriage everyday through wearing my ring. But I have no idea how/if I can show an outward sign of this remembrance on our actual wedding day without alienating my new step-mum.
    It’s nice to not feel alone going through this.

    • Alexandra

      Hope, since you are a grown lady, I don’t see why your step-mum would be alienated by honoring your mother. Your mother was obviously a very important part of your life, and it is natural that you’d want to honor her. There are a lot of good comments here with ideas on how to honor people. Hopefully one will feel right to you, or you or someone in your family will think of something that does feel right. Best Wishes.

  • Jaime

    My father was terminally ill since I was 12 years old and passed when I was 18. So I knew very early on that he would never be at these important times with me. Even though I’ve had a decade to deal with it when I was first engaged (only 2 months ago!) I spent the first week crying knowing that he wouldn’t be there to share this with me. I always felt like I could never have the wedding I wanted because he wasn’t there, and I’m so sad that he will never meet my husband.

    We are planning a home wedding, and we will be putting up pictures of our parents on their wedding days, and pictures of others who have passed. I really can’t put anything into the ceremony itself because I would completely lose it, as I’m about to lose it now!

  • There were a few family members that passed before my husband and I got married. We had a small sentence in our ceremony, along the lines of “we honor those who are not among us, but whose presence is felt in our lives and in this day”
    but, my favorite tribute was to my husband’s grandmother. I never met her, but I know she was quite a broad. She had a Jack Daniel’s every night and said it kept her young. So, among our desserts (whole foods cakes, what’s up you delicious blood orange) we made a Jack Daniel’s whiskey lemon cake. The family knew, and appreciated it, and we just had a little note on the label (all the cakes had little signs – german chocolate, red velvet, etc) and this one just said “Tipsy Cake, for Mary Snow”

    It is the little things.

  • Bri

    At my wedding this August we hung a couple of windchimes in the trees as a symbol of our lost loved ones. We chose to explain it in the program and then actually our officiant mentioned them and had a moment of silence just before everyone walked down the aisle.
    It started to rain about 15 minutes before the ceremony and we were forced to move the ceremony into the reception site just down the road. It was a bit crazy, but amidst the chaos a friend of the family remembered the chimes and how important they were and made sure they got moved to the new site, where she hung them on some decorative branches. I didn’t know this until I had walked down the aisle and was facing my fiance in front of everyone. At that point, it symbolized not only the loved ones we’d lost but the people in that room who loved us so much – all I could do was smile and it is one of my most poignant memories from the whole day.
    And now we have the chime to hang outside our new home to continue reminding us of all the love! I loved it and it was the perfect memoriam for our wedding.

  • Alexandra

    My situation is a little different–my father is gone but not especially missed. He wasn’t mentioned at all in my sister’s wedding. He was a better dad to me than most of my siblings, though, and I’m not sure if I want to acknowledge him or not.
    My fiance’s side has more important, and more recent, losses to acknowledge. I think we may just make a generic “those who’ve gone before” type of message. Definitely something to think about.
    Thanks for the post.

  • A friend had a vase of tulips up near the ceremony. Part of the ceremony included the officiant saying that there was one flower for each person that we wished was still with us to celebrate the day. There was no moment of silence, no huge outpouring, just a simple symbol of recognition. It was perfect.

  • mandy

    I’m a little late in commenting, but when we were married last October, we didn’t have a cake at all. Instead, my grandma, aunt and I made SEVERAL batches of my grandfather’s infamous cookies that he was so proud of. We lost him 3 years ago to cancer and he was one of my biggest cheerleaders. Our wedding was so simple; the cookies were on trays here and there in the barn where the dance party was with little signs that mentioned they were Grandpa’s Cookies (Here’s one of my favorite pics of our time making them:

  • Jennifer

    I am 32 and getting married for the first and only time. We do not have and can not have children we did have two dogs that we consider to be our baby’s. Ruff our yellow lab and Lelu a spaniel. Ruff was to be our ring bearer and Lelu the flower girl. Ruff just past 4 days ago in a farming accident we are heart broken. I am trying to find the best way to mention in our ceremony that our beloved Ruff should have been here with us…. Please help. Thank you.

  • Monique

    Our only son passed away in an accident and we’ve always used the Dragonfly as a symbol of his spirit.So we will be releasing a bunch of dragonflies before the ceremony begins. Nothing needs to be said. Those who knew him will know what it symbolizes.

  • Sandra

    My father died of cancer recently and I want to honour him in my wedding. It will be exactly 8 months since his passing on my wedding day. I am planing on purchasing a collection of charms that remind me of him and attaching them to my bouquet. My fiance and I will also light a candle for him during our church ceremony. I also thought I may have a passport size frame with a picture of him on the bridal table near me.

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