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Honoring the Memory of Loved Ones in Your Wedding Ceremony

Published Friday, Oct. 16th, 2020

Honoring the memory of loved ones as part of your wedding ceremony can be subtle, like stitching a photo into a suit jacket, or choosing a special processional song. Or, it can be fantastically unsubtle, like inviting spirits to join the party, or hosting a rowdy all-night feast...


However you go about it, there are many creative options to suit your personal style and the relationship you had with a departed friend or family member. Here are a few ideas from the past and present to get you started. 



A quick note: As you begin planning ways to remember a deceased loved one, consider how recent the loss is and how those most affected by it might be feeling. If you’re not sure how something might affect their grieving, talk to them about your plans. Also consider how public you want the act of recognition to be, and then choose accordingly.




Save them a seat with a keepsake


This is a visually compelling and joyful way to honor a loved one. Reserve a seat for them right up front! 


Attach a placard with their name to the chair, or pick something more personal and unique, like a favorite sweater or book. 


Have a favorite grandmother or aunt who loved to collect ceramics? Who never missed an afternoon tea? Bring their favorite tea cup and saucer to place on the chair! 


Have a grandfather or uncle who loved football and making jokes at inappropriate times? Place his lucky jersey on the chair and write down a few of his favorite one-liners for guests to enjoy.



Leaving a seat open is a beautiful symbol of rememberance.


Read or recite their names


This is one of the oldest traditions for honoring the dead in ceremonies--reciting their names at the start of a celebration. It’s also a great way to acknowledge several generations or centuries of ancestors and culture in your ceremony.


An officiant might say something like:


“Welcome, beloved guests! We’re gathered here to support this happy couple in marriage, and are so grateful you could all join us today! As we begin, the couple would also like to take a moment to honor those who are no longer able to be here physically, but who remain in their hearts and minds…,”  followed by the names of those being remembered. 


Similarly, if you choose to embrace a more supernatural or spiritual approach, you can invite the spirits of the deceased to join in the celebration. In these cases, an officiant might say, “We call upon the spirits of the ancestors to join us here today, if they wish. We also invite the spirits of those we’ve known and lost in this life to join us…,” followed by the names of those being remembered.


(For a more public gesture, pause for a moment of silence if you’d like, or just keep the ceremony moving.)




Play or perform music they loved


Want to honor a friend or relative who loved classical music, 80s pop, obscure metal bands, or swore by the genius of The Kinks? Build a playlist you know they’d want to dance to, and cue it up for after the ceremony! 


You can also pick a loved one’s favorite song to play during the processional or recessional, or plan a time during the ceremony for you or your guests to perform it yourselves. Music, along with poetry and favorite quotes, are some of the most versatile and enjoyable ways to pay tribute to those we love.


(If you’re an officiant looking for help on how to personalize a ceremony, read Tips For Personalizing a Wedding Ceremony)




Wear something of theirs


This is a classic for a reason. ("Something Old, Something New"… you know the drill.) If you have an old wedding dress or suit jacket stored in a closet, consider pulling it out and making any needed alterations! This can be a powerful and stylish way to keep your loved one close to you on your wedding day. 


If you want something subtle instead, you can stitch a  square cut from an old shirt into the lining of your dress or suit jacket, or tuck a photo into your pocket. Vintage accessories and wearable heirlooms are also a beautiful addition to modern wedding attire.


(If you’re on the other side of things and wondering what to wear to officiate a wedding, read What Does a Wedding Officiant Wear?!




Candle lightings are a symbol of hope and guidance.



Light a candle, or a whole lot of candles


Candlelight is romantic, but it’s also beautifully symbolic of hope and guidance. Keep a candle lit on a small table up front during the ceremony as a reminder of your loved one’s lasting light and influence, or invite all your guests to light a candle before the ceremony in their honor. 


Then let the warmth and glow of the light be a reminder of the place your loved one held (and still holds) in your life.



Talk to them


Even if you’re not usually someone who believes in spirits, or who makes a habit of contacting the other side through seances or mediums, sitting down to have a conversation with someone who’s passed away can bring a great deal of closure and increase feelings of closeness and love. 


Find a quiet moment leading up to the ceremony to sit down and talk with your loved one over a cup of coffee or while out for a walk. Tell them what they mean to you, and what this new milestone means to you. Let them know what you’re hoping for in the future. Tell them whatever you’d want to say to them if they were there, in person. (If talking out loud feels too far-fetched, writing a letter might work better for you.)


And if you do choose a more supernatural approach, that works too! Pull out the tarot cards, spirit board, or just sit down for a heartfelt conversation, as part of your pre or post ceremony activities.



Have a feast and include their memory in the meal


Honoring the deceased doesn’t have to be a sad or somber event. If you want to take a really festive approach in including the memory of loved ones, have a feast with them in mind! 


For thousands of years, and continuing to this day, families have held vibrant parties and feasts to celebrate those who have passed on.


So cook their favorite dishes and sides, prepare their signature apple pie or chocolate chip cookies, and make a big pitcher of their favorite sweet tea or margaritas... And then gather with your closest friends and family after your ceremony to celebrate your new milestone with laughter and conversation over a meal--while keeping those who have passed on in your mind and heart. 


(For more inspiration, read about a modern interfaith Pagan couple who found ways to honor their loved ones and hold a feast as part of their Year and a Day betrothal handfasting ceremony.)



Updated June 14, 2020


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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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