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Memorializing Deceased Family Members In Your Wedding Ceremony

by Maureen Thomson

Your wedding day can be a bittersweet occasion if you’ve lost a parent or other close family member.  At the same time that you’re excited to be publicly stating your love and commitment in front of your friends and family you are also dispirited that your mother is not there to give you away or that your lifelong childhood friend can’t be there to share your happiness.

It’s doesn’t matter if your family member has recently died or if much time has passed, you will feel the sharp pain of their absence on this day more so than any other.  How do you balance the exhilaration of your wedding day while publicly remembering those who can only be with you in spirit?

Here are a few ways to incorporate a memorial without turning your wedding day into a melancholy experience.

You must discuss your desire to honor those passed with three very important people—your fiancé’, any surviving spouses of the deceased and your wedding officiant.  You’re fiancé’ needs to understand the degree to which you want your deceased family member commemerated in the ceremony, be sure you are both on the same page in your comfort level with this. Also bear in mind that this is also a difficult time for the surviving spouse.

Don’t forget that your officiant is an experienced resource that you can solicit for ideas and help.  He or she will be able to assist you in writing a memoriam that is both heartfelt and appropriate.  {Your officiant should also know that the wedding day will be a difficult time for certain family members and he or she can assist by extending comfort and support where needed.}

Instead of honoring your loved one during the wedding ceremony, it might make sense to celebrate them at the rehearsal dinner. Since it is customary for the bride and groom to toast their parents at this dinner, it would be a natural extension to say a few words in tribute to your deceased family member. The rehearsal dinner will have less people than the wedding so it might increase your comfort level in speaking about such an emotional occurrence. Also, it is likely that your closest friends and family will be in attendance at the rehearsal dinner, making an emotionally intimate moment all the more meaningful.

If you’d rather include a memorial on the wedding day itself, consider the following options.

  • Place some words of tribute into your program.
  • Have an empty chair in remembrance of your family member. The bride or groom may place a rose on the chair as they pass, in silent tribute.
  • In response to the question, “Who gives Bride in marriage?” the response might be, “In memory of her mother (father), I do.”
  • The bride could carry a treasured memento of her loved one-a small photograph, her mother’s engagement ring or some other small item of great personal significance.
  • After guests are seated, your wedding officiant may add words saying, “”Before we commence our celebration today, Mark and Susan would like us all to take a moment to remember those family members who can be with us today in spirit, especially (insert names).
  • Include a photo of the deceased family member on the altar or unity candle table.
  • Have a memorial candle which the bride or groom (or both) will light at the start of the ceremony.
  • Compile a floral centerpiece. Have a vase on the altar, or at the back of the ceremony site. Give each guest a flower as they enter and have them place it in the vase. During the ceremony, one last flower can be placed in the vase in memory of the deceased family member. As a final symbolic gesture, the bride and groom can each insert a red rose into the center of the arrangement, signifying them being surrounded by the love and support of their family and friends. The arrangement can be used to decorate the head table or in another location at the reception.
  • Have a song or reading at the ceremony and dedicate it to your deceased love one.
  • At the reception, if the deceased was either the groom’s mother or the bride’s father, the bride or groom can dance the “parent’s dance” with another partner, but dedicate that special dance in memory of their parent.
  • If you have a blessing said prior to the meal, the minister can incorporate a few words about the deceased.

However you decide to memorialize your loved one, remember that it is an intensely personal decision and there is no right or wrong way. What matters is your comfort level. Expect that your wedding day will be a roller coaster of emotions (it is for everyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve experienced the death of a family member) and be gentle with yourself and each other. And remember that you and your new spouse will have a very special guardian angel looking over for you as you enter your married life together.

Maureen Thomson is a wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth’s Wedding Officiants, serving California, Colorado and Oregon.

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