Your wedding day can be a bittersweet celebration if you've lost a parent or other close family member. While on the one hand, you're thrilled to be proclaiming your love and commitment before your family and friends, you can't help but be saddened that it's not your father's arm upon which you'll be walking down the aisle or that the place of honor for the groom's mother is conspicuously vacant.
Whether your family member has recently passed away or it has been many years, the void is felt on this day more so than any other. How do you honor these family members while balancing the joy of your wedding celebration? Here are some tips on how to incorporate the memory of your loved ones without turning your wedding ceremony into a funereal experience.
Be sure to discuss your wishes with three very important people--your fiancé(e), any surviving spouses of the deceased, and your officiant. You will want to let your fiancé(e) know to what depth you want your deceased family member mentioned in the ceremony. Be sure you are both on the same page in your comfort level with this. Bear in mind that this is also a difficult time for the surviving spouse. You'll want to ascertain their comfort level with whatever honorarium you elect to incorporate. And lastly, use your officiant as a resource. He or she has done this a time or two and can make suggestions as to how to tactfully memorialize your loved one. Your officiant should also be alerted to the fact 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.
It might be easier for you to honor your loved one at the rehearsal dinner than on the day of the wedding itself. 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 might want to carry a memento of her loved one--a handkerchief, a piece of jewelry, or a small photography tucked into her bouquet.
After welcoming the guests, your officiant may add words saying, "Before we begin our celebration today, Bride and Groom would like us all to take a moment to remember those family members who can be with them today solely 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.