Weddings are one of those rare happy occasions when entire families are in the same place. Unfortunately, some of our most important family members have passed on, and we want them represented in some special way.
Here are some of my favorite suggestions for honoring parents, grandparents, and other loved ones so they can be a very present part of your wedding celebration.
As a photographer, it’s probably no big surprise that this is at the top of my list. The idea is to set aside a table on which to display photos and other memorabilia honoring your loved ones. You can set up elegant framed photos, preserved bouquets, military medals… anything that represents who they were.
Decorative bulletin boards or “clothesline” displays let your guests bring their favorite photos of the people you wish to honor. You can let them know in advance with your wedding invitations, but be sure to ask them to write their names and addresses on the back so you can return them.
If you ask to hold onto the photographs for a while longer, you can scan the images and return them with a DVD “album” to those who contributed as a thank you.
If you want to keep a special person close to you for your day, or especially for your walk down the aisle, a locket and photo around your bouquet is a special and sentimental way to keep that person near. It’s a beautiful and gentle reminder that they’re here with you for your entire wedding day.
Music is sentimental. You’ve got your first dance song all picked out, and chances are, there’s a tune that will always make you think of someone you’ve lost. Perhaps it’s your parents’ (or grandparents’) wedding song. It could even be that old classic they’d embarrass you with as they drove you and your friends to the mall on Saturdays. If it has significant meaning, it can be a moving part of your day. Dedicate a song just for them, and invite those closest to that person to join you on the dance floor.
Most couples these days aren’t interested in holding onto their grandmother’s china, and the tradition of giving elaborate dinnerware as wedding gifts has long since passed. That doesn’t mean you haven’t inherited a beautiful set of Spode or Royal Copenhagen, or that it doesn’t hold meaning for you.
If you have family china… or if another family member would lend you what they’ve kept… then there’s no better occasion than your wedding day to dine off a family heirloom. This is a wonderful idea for intimate weddings, or for place settings at the bridal table.
An alternative to a dedicated dance might be a dinner toast honoring lost loved ones. During this speech, you might also point out other honorariums incorporated into your day, like that locket in your bouquet, your groom’s father’s cufflinks, or the topper from your aunt’s own cake.
Just a note: These toasts can be tricky, especially if another family member feels their spouse, child, or parent has been left out, or if an elderly family member is honored in the same toast as the deceased… or not at all.
Some brides decide to sew or pin a part of a family member’s wedding gown into her own or wear a piece of jewelry once belonging to—or given by—someone special. These are classic traditions, but they’re still powerful tributes today…
Did you grow up with the dream that your father would walk you down the aisle? He still can, if you decorate pew ends with photographs of your dad, or place photos on easels along the way. Of course, you can include other loved ones’ photographs too. Look for simple hanging ornament frames to hang from floral arrangements if you want to be more subtle.
You’re joining together and celebrating two families on your wedding day, and creating new traditions. While my main focus on my wedding couples, they’re always delighted when their final albums include tributes to their family history. It’s part of what makes them heirloom albums, something they’ll keep forever.
How would you like to acknowledge those who’ve passed on? If you’d like my thoughts on making the above ideas work for your wedding, please get in touch! I’ve seen many wonderful tributes put into practice without conflicting with a wedding’s overall aesthetic, and I can share my thoughts from a photographer’s perspective so you can be sure they’ll become part of your wedding story.