Your wedding day is a happy time for you to celebrate your love for one another, surrounded by the friends and family you love the most in the world.
But what about when one or more of those people are no longer with us? Many of the postponed weddings I’ve conducted have been tinged with sadness because someone who would have been there on the original date has since died. And there can be very mixed feelings on your big day when your dad isn’t there to walk you down the aisle, you miss your best friend’s calming ways, or you’d give your right arm to hear your nan singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the top of her voice again like she used to do at all the other family get-togethers.
Whether you’ve been recently bereaved or your loved one died years ago, the loss is keenly felt at big, milestone moments they should have been there for.
Sadly, we can’t bring them back of course. But, with a little forethought, you can evoke your loved one on your big day, and in a way that honours them without taking the happiness out of the day. Here are some ideas of ways to do just that:
1. Lighting a candle and saying their name during the ceremony
At the beginning of your wedding ceremony, your celebrant will usually welcome everyone who has come to be a witness to your commitment to each other and to celebrate with you. Ask them to include a mention of those people who are no longer with you in body but are in your hearts too. It works best if you can say their names, but even a general acknowledgement of absent friends will bring them into people’s thoughts and so they’ll join in the ceremony that way. You could use this moment to light a candle to represent them visually too, and take a moment of pause in their name. (If you’re having an outdoor ceremony, you might want to use an LED candle instead of a real flame).
2. Having a framed picture of them on a table/chair
Some couples have a candle lighting moment in the ceremony and place the candle on a little table with small framed pictures of the person or people they are commemorating. Or, if you don’t like the idea of names being mentioned or lighting a candle, you could have just the table with pictures on it, either in the ceremony space or where you’re partying afterwards. I’ve also seen some couples save a space for their person by placing a photo of them on a chair in the front row. I’ve also had a life-size cardboard cut-out of a groom’s late best mate, who apparently got up to all sorts of shenanigans during the reception and was in all their wedding photos, as he would have been in life!
3. Wearing an item of their jewellery or clothing (or sewing something into your outfit)
A really simple but powerful way to remember your loved one on your wedding day is to wear a piece of their jewellery, whether that’s a ring, bracelet, cufflinks or another thing they wore regularly. Or you could wear a piece of their clothing – your mum’s veil from her wedding day perhaps, or your dad’s belt. This way, they can be with you throughout your celebrations.
If you want to be a bit more private, you could sew something of theirs on the inside of your outfit – a patch of their favourite jumper maybe. Or you could embroider their name or a quote of theirs onto your clothing, either outside to be seen or inside to keep to yourself.
4. Say it with flowers
You could decide to choose your loved one’s favourite flowers for your wedding day decorations, bouquet or buttonholes. Or maybe a flower that you remember growing in their garden or one that reminds you of a special time with that person.
If there isn’t a specific flower that comes to mind, maybe choose blooms in their favourite colour instead. Or you could put a memento among the flowers instead – a small photo worked into the bouquet perhaps, arrangements trimmed with ‘their’ tartan, or a buttonhole pin with their photos or initials on it.
5. Baking your cake (or making other food for the day) to their recipe
If the person you miss was a keen cook, you could perhaps use one of their recipes to make your cake or other food for the day. My mother-in-law was a Home Economics teacher who made legendary wedding cakes for friends and family in her spare time. Sadly, she died just before I met my husband but, when we got married, we made our cake together to her recipe in her kitchen using her pots and pans. It meant such a lot to us and to my father-in-law, and we made sure we mentioned it in the speeches before the cake was distributed.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be cake! It can be cheese straws, little pots of jam or a batch of fudge you give away as favours, or anything else they were famous for making.
Or, if your loved one was more of a consumer than a creator, maybe choose one of the dishes served at your wedding in their honour.
6. Using a skill they taught you
Did the person you miss teach you a skill or a craft that you could use for your wedding day? Maybe you and your mum macraméd together, and you want to make a wallhanging or decorate a ceremony arch in macramé to honour her? Perhaps your uncle loved reading and writing poetry and passed on that love to you, in which case you could write your vows or a speech using the poetry skills he taught you? Maybe your beloved friend had a passion for doing up old cars and got you into it? Pimp up your wedding wheels in their memory!
7. Playing their favourite piece of music (this would have got Jim’s dad up on the dancefloor…)
Music is a simple yet evocative way of commemorating a loved one on your wedding day. Whether you choose to walk down the aisle to the same music your grandparents had at their wedding, or you ask the DJ to kick the night off with a tune that would definitely have had your sister up on the dancefloor busting her moves, choosing your person’s favourite music can help them feel near.
8. Mentioning them in a speech (and/or raising a toast)
There’s power in saying names, and none more so than in naming the person who everyone is probably thinking about already. Yes, it might be a tear-jerker to mention your loved one at the wedding, especially if they have recently died and were known to many of your guests. However, they are being remembered in a joyful setting and, rather than bringing the mood of the day down, you are layering their memory with a happy association. They are already in your heart and possibly in the hearts of many others today, so don’t leave their name unsaid. Celebrate them and their part in your journey to this day. You can say how much you miss them and wish they were there of course, but keep their name on your lips. Why not raise a toast of their favourite tipple to them as you do so?
9. Making a donation or having fundraising favours for a relevant charity
If there’s a charity that your loved one supported, or was helped by, you could consider making a donation in their name to mark your wedding day. Or you could perhaps have a collection for that charity, or put donations to it on your wedding list for others to contribute.
Some charities have lapel pins, ribbons, bracelets or keyrings that you could perhaps use as favours for your guests too, as another way of supporting their charity and commemorating them.
10. Acknowledging them privately – together or alone – maybe taking flowers from the wedding to lay on a grave or similar
You might end up deciding that you don’t want to make a public statement of remembering your loved one at your wedding, and that’s fine of course. If you still want to acknowledge them on your big day, you can do it privately with your partner or your family perhaps. Take a few moments on the morning of the wedding to talk about the person you miss with someone who understands or shares your grief, and maybe light a candle or raise a glass to them. Or, if you would prefer to remember them alone, you could write them a letter, go through photos, light a candle or do whatever feels right to you.
After the wedding, you could consider taking some of the flowers and laying them on your loved one’s grave, or leaving them in a special place you associate with them instead.
Grief bites more keenly on milestone days, but you can find a way to mark and celebrate your loved one among the festivities. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself all the feelings. You’ve got this.
If you’re planning a wedding in the Sussex area and you’d like a celebrant who can help you to commemorate a loved one in your ceremony, give me a call.