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How to acknowledge a deceased loved one at your wedding

paying tribute to a deceased loved one wedding

Hey guys, Amy here. This post is going to get a bit personal, so I thought I’d raise my hand and put a name to it.

May I begin with massive well-wishes for your upcoming nuptials (yay!), but equally with our sincere condolences for the person or people that you’ve lost that can’t be there to share it with you.

A little while ago, we were emailed by a bride-to-be who was wondering if we could share some guidance on how to pay tribute at their wedding to a parent that had passed away.

It’s a subject close to my heart, as I’ve been in her shoes. I lost my dad suddenly five years ago and also had to navigate this experience at my wedding in early 2015.

Whether it’s a parent, grandparent, family member or friend, it can be tricky to figure out an appropriate way to honour and include a deceased loved one at your wedding.

And the truth is there’s no such thing as an inappropriate way to acknowledge that person – it’s entirely personal. You could put up a billboard with flashing lights and your loved one’s face on it if that makes you happy. All power to you.

But I thought I’d share my experience, in case it helps guide you and give you some ideas.


How I honoured a lost parent at my wedding (this applies to any loved one)

Everyone accepts and deals with loss in different ways. If you’d prefer not to make mention of any lost relatives or friends at your wedding that is totally fine. It doesn’t make you insensitive. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to – it’s your day after all.

A common concern when it comes to addressing deceased loved ones at weddings is that the mere mention of death will dampen the mood. We’re here to say that is simply not the case.

Of course, those who knew that person will probably feel some sadness, but more importantly those guests will be given a brief opportunity for reflection. And they’ll no doubt feel joy and gratitude for the role that the person played in your life.

Personally, I knew that it was going to be too emotional for me to have anyone talk at length about my dad or any other relatives that have passed during the ceremony. The ceremony is already emotionally overwhelming enough (in the best way possible I should add) – it was a favourite life-moment.

Instead, we decided to acknowledge and honour dad in a way that felt deeply relevant (espesh for anyone that knew my dad) by incorporating a toast of white port into our ceremony. Dad loved port and we sourced some from the region that we got married in and had beautiful ‘In memory of… ‘ labels made for the bottles.

Our celebrant accompanied the mid-ceremony toast with a few lovely sentiments and we all collectively raised a glass and ‘cheers’-ed to dad. It felt moving and celebratory rather than sad.

These bottles were placed on guest’s tables later in the eve for people to help themselves to, so that family could hold their own private salutation during the night.

You could do something like this during your ceremony too, either with a favourite tipple, or a food, or even a dance to a song that reminds you of them (hey, it gives your guests a chance to stretch their legs).

I asked my mum to walk me down the aisle and it was really special for her. My husband’s dad did offer, which was very kind, but it was important to me to give that honour to my mum and I know it meant a lot. We’ve seen brides have their brother walk them down the aisle too.

mum walk down the aisle
My beautiful mum walking me down the aisle (OK, paddock).
paying tribute to a deceased loved one wedding
White Mudgee port was handed out mid-ceremony.
paying tribute to a deceased loved one wedding
A toast to dad.
paying tribute to a deceased loved one wedding
paying tribute to a deceased loved one wedding

When it came to our wedding speeches, I spoke only briefly about how I wished my dad could be there, how much he would’ve enjoyed the day and how glad he was that I had met Chris. All of your closest family and friends will know how much love there is behind the words, so you don’t necessarily have to say many if you don’t feel up to it. Or you could have your partner or bridesmaids say words on your behalf.

Some more ideas on how to honour a lost loved one at your wedding

Here are some other ideas that you may like.

Display photographs of lost loved ones

We’ve seen couples display beautiful photos of family and friends that couldn’t be there for their big day in decorative frames at their venue.

Save them a seat

We’ve heard of a seat being reserved at the ceremony for lost loved ones, with a photograph of the person or people on it. Or you place a flower or other object on the seat that reminds you of them (for example, some knitting needles and yarn, a comic book, a favourite jumper). It’s a sweet gesture.

Wear or incorporate something that reminds you of that person, or that came from them

It could be a piece of jewellery or it perhaps a scrap of that person’s clothing sewn into the lining of your dress or pants. Or it could be displaying something they’ve given you that reminds you of them – a book, an artwork, a decorative item – the options are endless.

Light a candle for them

You could do this after you’ve made your entrance at your reception, or you could do it in private at some point during your wedding.

Dedicate a dance to them

Did they have a favourite song? Or is there a song that reminds you of them? You could ask your band to include this in their repertoire and have a boogie either with the rest of your guests, with your partner or just by yourself as a tribute to that person.

Incorporate a favourite food or treat into your wedding

You could request that your caterer include a certain dish, or if there was a certain something that the person was known for (for example, your grandma’s slice), you could kindly ask a relative to whip some up for your wedding.

Dedicate your wedding favours to their memory

Rather than giving guests more traditional wedding favours, you may like to give a money donation to a charity or foundation that is relevant to the person you’ve lost on behalf of you and your guests.  

At the end of the day, try and take comfort in knowing that your loved one is there with you in some way, perhaps by the influence he or she made in your life that led you to choose such an awesome partner, and in the impact they made on the people they met that are present at your wedding.

Wishing you the best big day ahead, and a big virtual hug from over here.


Photos by Mitch Pohl.

If you have any ideas of your own that you’d like to share, we’d so appreciate that in the comments section below. 

12th September, 2016

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  1. My Dad passed away three months before I was married and my mum three years earlier so I wanted to honour them in some way. When my parents were married my Mum carried a small bible with ribbons through it. Instead of carrying bouquets or baskets, I had two small wrist corsages made for my five and seven year old daughters and my eldest daughter carried my Mum’s bible. My other daughter carried five roses (Mum’s favourite flower). At the beginning of the ceremony’ my sister came to the front and lit candles placed to the side on the table where we later sat to sign our marriage certificate. I then took the roses and gave one to each of my siblings to hold in their memory.

  2. I lost my dad 3 years ago and will be married April next year. I decided I will have my Mum on one arm walking me up the aisle and will be holding a picture frame of dad on my other. That way neither of them miss out. Thanks for sharing your story Amy some lovely ideas in there!

  3. My dad passed 7 years ago. I get married next year and have bought 2 photo shoe clips that represent him walking down the aisle with me.

  4. Thank you for a beautiful article and for bringing up this topic. <3

  5. My dad has just passed away totally unexpectedly and suddenly . I’m in HK, I’ wasn’t able to say goodbye. It’s three weeks before my wedding and funeral will be 10days before. I’m not sure how I will cope.

  6. We did lots of things, as both of us had immediate family missing from our day. My husbands brother passed away more recently so that was important to have a lot of reflection of him in our day. We had his Van as a wedding car for the boys, we had his motorbike in our photos (we both ride), our wedding date even included his race number.
    I lost my mum when I was young, I had her garter, a locket with her photo attached to my flowers and we also had a toast of Yaegermeister for all our loved ones who had passed in the beginning of our ceremony including for the guests. It was awesome and made for great photos as well as being something different. Our celebrant was great about it.

  7. Both my parents and my Husbands dad had passed when we got Married, we let 3 Doves go, was just Beautiful

    Jodie Villani
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