Dearly beloved

Remembering lost loved ones at your wedding

By Andrew Blackburn
How to Honor Lost Loved Ones on Your Wedding Day

As wedding planning gets underway, many couples start thinking and talking about loved ones who’ve passed on…and who therefore won’t be present on the big day. Honoring a lost loved one in a way that’s elegant, meaningful and appropriate to a marriage ceremony can be a challenge, so we asked eight people who made it happen to share their stories.

When I got married, my dad had already passed, so I walked down the aisle by myself. I didn’t want anyone else to take his place. I had a red carnation as part of my bouquet of flowers, which symbolized him. He was from a deeply Polish family, and red carnations are a popular Polish symbol.
— Lori Ann, Virginia

My husband didn’t want to do anything extravagant for his late father. We lit a single large white candle and set it next to a single white rose at the altar with us during the ceremony.
— Lindsey, Missouri

We placed candles on each side of the altar for the relatives we wished could have been there. For my grandfather, who had died less than a year before, we had a candle made with his name on it and put it right next to where my husband and I knelt during the ceremony.
— Christina, Kansas

Both of us had lost a parent by the time we were married. We placed my dad’s signature cowboy hat and several of the milk-glass vases from Eric’s mom’s collection atop the piano in the front of the church. Everyone who knew our parents instantly recognized these personal mementos when they entered the church.
— Carri, Kansas

My grandfather passed away three days before my wedding. Our family is of Russian heritage, and polkas are a big part of family weddings. So at our wedding, I danced a solo polka in my grandfather’s honor.
— Kara, Connecticut

For my wedding, I decided to use music to honor those we had lost. I played a few specific songs both in my ceremony and at my reception. For example, we played “Let There Be Peace on Earth” during our ceremony, which was my grandmother’s favorite. I feel that music is very personal, and it brings so many emotions and memories to the surface.
— Holly, Pennsylvania

To honor my husband’s grandmother who had passed away shortly before our wedding, we had three of her great-grandchildren walk down the aisle with a garland of her favorite flowers. They hung the garland on the unity candle, and we noted the significance of this gesture in the program.
— Amy, North Carolina

We made a donation to the American Cancer Society. At the reception, we placed bookmark-sized notes at each seat informing our guests that a donation had been made in memory of friends and family that we’d lost to various forms of cancer.
— Barb, Kansas

Tips for honoring a loved one...

  • It’s okay to keep it simple. Not everybody feels the need to remember lost loved ones in an elaborate way. Sometimes the most meaningful gestures are the most understated.
  • If you lost someone who would otherwise play a role on your wedding day, consider leaving his or her role unfilled—a small symbol that no one can ever take his or her place.
  • You don’t have to honor everyone the same way. If you lost someone recently or someone who was particularly special to you, feel free to do something for him or her.
  • Music can be a powerful way to remember loved ones. You can use a song they loved or one that reminds you of them to honor their memory.
  • Another way to remember loved ones is to dedicate a moment in your ceremony to them. It will show everyone attending that they were (and still are) important to you.
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