Planning a wedding can be stressful and emotional even under the best of circumstances. But when you've lost someone, the process can feel downright overwhelming. At The Dinner Party, we understand the difficult tightrope walk of balancing the joy of your special day with the sadness of their absence. We get it. It's hard to imagine your wedding day without all of your people there to share it with you, especially during those in-your-face moments like the father-daughter dance (can this be canceled?) or the getting ready photos with your mom (sorry mother-in-law, but it's still not the same).
So when our friends at Provenance - a website that helps you craft personalized and meaningful wedding ceremony scripts, vows, and toasts - asked us to collaborate on a guide to honor the ones who can’t be physically present during this life milestone, we were in. While we all know we can't make the hurt go away, we wanted to share ways to bring the people you’ve lost into your wedding day.
Here are some meaningful ways to honor the deceased at your wedding:
K Scarry, The Dinner Party’s Director of Partnerships, shared:
“I wanted a way to honor the family and friends that my husband and I had lost at our wedding in a way that told a more full story of who they were to us. We chose a detail to include in our wedding day for each of our people. Some of those:
- A piece of art with our seating chart that was painted by Aunt Maggie’s favorite artist
- Pens for our guestbook made from the branches of the tree in Jake’s Granddad’s yard
- A poem Sal wrote that was read in our ceremony
- Pizza on the menu for Uncle Dennis
When people arrived at the reception, each seat had a welcome letter from us- that shared how delighted we were that our guests joined us in our celebration, and that pointed to these details as a way of introducing each of the people we lost to the whole room. That introductory letter told about the detail we chose, why, and gave a sentence or two of a story of that person. It was a way we could include them in the spirit of our day, and I loved that every one of our guests got to know how amazing our people were. It felt like folding them into the joy of the day while still being honest about the hardship of their absence.”
As you consider other ways to honor deceased loved ones at your wedding you might consider:
Displaying their photos
Set up a display of photos at your wedding. This could be on a memory table or as part of your reception décor. You could also include a special tribute, story, or message alongside the photos. We’ve seen this as solely a memory table, but we’ve also seen people set up tables that include photos of both partner’s families, as a way of marking the joining of families, and including those we’ve lost, without centering on the loss itself. Either way could be incredibly meaningful.
Reserving a seat for them
Reserve a seat for your loved one during the ceremony. This can be a way to physically acknowledge their absence while also symbolizing their presence. You could put a special marker on the chair, like a flower, or even their favorite book, movie, or album. You could also order their favorite drink and have it at one of the places at the family table.
Including a note in your invitation, program, or in a welcome letter.
There’s a bit of a choose your own adventure option here. You could stick with the common language, and write “in loving memory.” Or, if it feels right, you could take a lighthearted approach by having on the reception card of the invitation “guac will be served, because that’s what my dad would’ve wanted.” As mentioned in the story above, you could include a letter at everyone’s place that draws their attention to the details you’ve chosen to represent your people, and tell a story so they can get to know those who you are carrying with you on your wedding day.
Holding a moment of silence
Perhaps you want to take a moment amidst an already busy wedding day to just pause and remember the people you’ve lost. It can be meaningful to create a designated space to say a name out loud, or to invite all of your guests to join with you in bearing witness to those who aren’t here, and to the grief that might accompany that reality. We've included sample wording for this below in the FAQs.
Including some of their clothing in your attire
You might sew part of their tie into your outfit. You might wear the veil they wore. You might use a piece of their favorite cardigan to wrap your bouquet. You might affix their favorite tie clip to your tie. No matter if you mention it out loud or not, incorporating something of theirs into your attire can allow you to have them close to you during the whole day and night.
Another option is to use their ring (or parts of it)
Another way to include something of theirs in your attire is to do this with jewelry. You might use their engagement ring or wedding band, or you could melt down a piece of their jewelry and create something new. Your officiant can even speak about it in the “exchange of rings” portion of the ceremony.
Incorporating their favorite flowers, colors, or a charm in the floral arrangements
If they had a favorite flower or color, incorporate it into your wedding décor or bouquet. Having trouble thinking of their favorite thing, and feeling the sting of not being able to call them up to ask? That’s ok too, perhaps add a charm with their photo on your bouquet.
Lighting a candle
Lighting a candle can be a powerful way to symbolize their presence and honor their memory. If you want your guests to know this, you can mention it in the ceremony, include a photo or name card next to the candle, or mention it during the ceremony.
Doing a seed planting ceremony
Whether they had a green thumb (or you just like the symbolism), you and your partner can pour soil into a pot dedicated to your person. You can pull soil from places that were meaningful to your person, and if you’re having a more intimate wedding, perhaps include all of the guests by having them pass around the plant.
Having their favorite food or drink menu
It could be that you include their favorite treat, a meal that was particularly meaningful in your relationship, or connected to a memory you cherish. For example, if your dad loved Mountain Dew, you could include that in one of the signature cocktails. This not only pays homage, but it can also serve as a conversation starter for guests who may not have known your dead people, but can now learn a bit more about them.
Choosing a wedding date that’s personal
For some people, it feels special to have their wedding on a birthday, anniversary, or any dates that mattered to you or them. For others, it might be helpful to keep those dates and memories distinct. Think through a wedding date that might resonate with you accordingly.
Donating to a charity in their name and/or ask your guests to do so
Consider donating to a charity in honor of a person you’ve lost, or including a charity donation as an option on your registry. You can also donate a small amount in each of your guest’s name, and include a card that notes this at each of their seats in place of a favor. This can be a meaningful way to carry on a legacy, and make a positive impact in their memory.
Including a special dance or song
Include a special dance or song during the reception. This could be a favorite song of theirs or a song that holds special meaning for your relationship with them. You could also have a special dance with another family member, as one of our community members shared:
I have lost both my parents. I got married last year and I knew I wanted to honor them in a joyful way, knowing that's how they would have shown up for me (earth side, anyway)/ I'm the youngest of 5, so I did a special choreographed sibling dance to one of my parent's favorite songs ‘I wanna dance with somebody.' I danced with each sibling individually and we all danced together. It was joyful and beautiful. I know a lot of the time milestone moments bring feelings of sadness, fear, anticipation, anger. I definitely made space for that too. But day of, I wanted to feel and experience joy in grief. And a way for them to celebrate alongside me in spirit <3.
Inviting others who knew them to mark their absence with you
If you’re grieving a family member who others might also be grieving, it could be meaningful to just invite those who knew them to participate in marking their absence with you. Perhaps you light a candle together before the ceremony, or you invite people to share stories about them as part of your rehearsal dinner. Or, you could ask another friend or family member to bring something from the person you’ve lost that you can tuck in your pocket or purse for the day. This is a connective way to mark the loss alongside others who are feeling it, too.
Doing… none of the above
It's important to remember that not everyone may want to include their deceased loved ones in their wedding weekend, and that's okay too. Grief is a deeply personal experience, and everyone's journey is different. If including tributes to the folks you’ve lost is too painful or overwhelming, it's important to honor your own needs and do what feels right for you. It's your day, and you should feel empowered to create a wedding that reflects who you are (both individually and as a couple).
For more resources on grief, check out the thedinnerparty.org.
For tools to help you make your wedding ceremony script, vows, and toast feel authentic to you, check out provenance.co.
Q: What are some ways my officiant can mention them in the wedding ceremony script?
A: Some sample ideas below:
At this time, we'd also like to take a moment of silence to remember those who are with us today solely in spirit.
[Partner 1’s] grandparents, [First and last name]
[Partner 2’s] grandparents, [First and last name]
[Partner’s] parent, [first and last name]
*PAUSE FOR MOMENT OF SILENCE*
May they live in our hearts forever. Thank you.
“____ and ____ believe that this day would not be possible without the many who have stood with them, who have helped them become themselves. That conviction necessitates that we recognize now those who we carry with us today- those who couldn’t join us for any number of reasons, and we also pause and think of those they’ve lost- including _____, [and then include the relation.]”
________, take this in. All of these people - your tribe - have traveled here - to bear witness to the most important decision of your lives.
But looking out, we also see some empty spaces. So I’d like to invite a few more people to pull up a chair and join us today. And if you were lucky enough to love any of these people, please take a moment to conjure them up in your own minds and help bring them here.
[List of relations and names whose spirits you’d like in the space with you, include any notes “who would have especially loved to see this day”, any particular gifts they’ve given you “your dad is here in your unquenchable addiction to sports, in your all American good looks and big dimples, he’s here in the chip on your tooth – the result of an intensely competitive basketball game between a grown man and a five year old.”]
SAMPLE 4: (for those who have been together through the loss:)
There is something profound about a relationship that knows that life together means weathering both joy and hardship. You arrive today having accompanied each other through [include other details], and you’ve accompanied each other through the loss of [ex: Partner 1’s mom, name]. [pause].
Consider all of the details you might have included from the suggestions above, and invite your officiant to nod to them in your ceremony. You may even have the officiant explain why that was the detail you chose, or give your guests instruction on how to engage with those details.
For example, if you chose to include some of their favorite flowers, your officiant could say something like: “You’ll notice the white roses in all of the arrangements, which was Amy’s mom’s favorite flower, We invite you to honor her memory with us every time you, too, notice and appreciate those white rose details in this day.”
To add these directly into your ceremony script, check out the Provenance Ceremony Builder.
Q: How can I still include them in those special moments like the father-daughter dance or getting ready photos with my mom?
A: This can be especially hard, but there are still ways to do something commemorative and special in the midst of the pain of these moments. You could play a particular song during the dance that reminds you of them, or have a special photo of them nearby. For getting ready photos, you could wear something that belonged to them or incorporate a piece of their jewelry into your outfit.
Q: What if I feel overwhelmed by the grief on my wedding day?
A: It's perfectly normal to feel emotional when remembering a loved one who has passed away. If you feel like you need a moment to yourself, don't hesitate to step away and take a break. Remember, this day is about celebrating your love and the people who have shaped you into the person you are today. It's okay to feel things and it's okay to take a moment to collect yourself.
The most important thing is to honor your own needs and feelings throughout the wedding planning process. Whether you choose to incorporate tributes to your loved ones or not, the decision should ultimately reflect what feels right for you and your partner.