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How To Honor A Deceased Loved One At Your Wedding

Here's how I included my mom in my wedding

My fiancé and I planned our wedding to be fun, simple, and representative of our respective quirks. Although it was hard work, and we weren’t always on the same page, the general vision for our wedding came fairly easily—except around the issue of my dead mom.

My mom and I were close for as long as I could remember, even throughout my teenage years, and her sudden and unexpected death from a heart attack two years earlier had been devastating. Not having her at my wedding was unfathomable, and yet, here I was, getting married without her. I am who I am because of her, and since we wanted our wedding to celebrate our community of family and friends, her absence was un-ignorable.

At the same time, the wedding wasn’t about her. My fiancé and I were celebrating our relationship, our commitment, and our future together, and we wanted it to be a happy occasion. So much of my life since her death had been spent in a dark, awful place, and I didn’t want to mire myself or our guests down in grief.

So. How to honor my mom without overdoing it, giving her short shrift, or losing sight of the bigger picture? After searching the archives of APW, which hadn’t steered me wrong yet; Googling different traditions for including dead loved ones; and asking trusted friends for input, these are the ways we chose to honor my deceased mother on our wedding day.

WHAT WE DID

Ring Warming: My mom had taken up pottery late in life, and I have several of her pieces. We chose a pretty candleholder to set the rings in and placed it in a conspicuous place at our wedding. We set it beside a sign that asked our guests to hold them and warm them with wishes or blessings for us, and included a note that my late mother had made the holder. It felt like my mom was warming the rings too.

Jewelry: I wore earrings that were my mom’s—actually, that I had given her as a gift right before she died. No one knew but me and my fiancé. When I see pictures of the wedding, I get a bittersweet twinge seeing them next to my huge smile.

Toast: As the designated public speaker of our relationship, I gave a thank you toast in which I shared our gratitude to everyone. My mom got a special shout out, and I had practiced it enough that I didn’t cry.

Program: We listed the different people doing different things and mentioned all of our immediate family members in attendance, and it didn’t feel right not to include her or other late loved ones. It took a while to find the right wording, but we ended up happy with mentioning her by name and all the others who weren’t there physically but were “with us in spirit.”

WHAT WE DIDN’T Do

An Empty Chair: I strongly considered leaving a literal physical space for my mom. However, I ultimately decided it was more conspicuous than my introverted mother would have wanted—and it turned out we needed all those chairs!

The Ceremony: We decided to keep our vows and readings focused more on us, and though we asked each family to stand up and welcome the other, we didn’t mention my mom specifically.

A Photograph on Display: This one was (unfortunately) easy because my mom hated being in photographs and we had very few of her. She would have hated being the center of attention.

Of course, my mom’s influence showed up in different ways as well. I remembered her randomly mentioning how good I’d look in an A-line dress years earlier, and that offhand comment was forefront in my mind when I chose my A-line dress. The crossword puzzle idea was influenced by her daily newspaper puzzle habit, and when our photographer was capturing my friends and me getting ready at home, I made sure to put a framed photo of my mom near us so she would be in some of the more private shots. And she was there in my mind and heart.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

How to honor my mom without overwhelming us was an emotional challenge without a clear right answer. In some ways, I felt like I was sharing a raw, private, grieving part of myself, and I was worried about doing it wrong, but I knew that between my fiancé and our wonderful guests, I was in supportive and understanding hands.

If you have a loved one you want or need to honor at your wedding, the best (yet annoyingly unspecific) advice I can give is to listen to your heart and trust yourself. Only you know what will feel right, and it can depend on your relationship, what they would have wanted, and any traditions you want to follow. Gather a bunch of ideas from the internet and do a gut check on which feel right to you. It’s okay to try something new or to change your mind last minute. It’s also okay to not make a dead person part of your wedding because it’s too raw, or you don’t want it to be about them, or for any reason at all. And it’s okay if not everyone understands or is comfortable with it, including your partner (though hopefully they sign off on whatever you ultimately decide).

In the end, I felt at peace with how my mom was present at my wedding, and I look back on the ways we included her fondly. Though I still live with grief, I also live with memories, and my wedding is one of the happy ones.

How have you included a dead loved one in your wedding? Have you been to a wedding where someone was honored?

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