Your Wedding After a Loss: Remembering at Receptions

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

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If you are one of our wonderful cyber-friends who pop in a few times a week here on WYG, you probably know we are in the midst of a series on facing your wedding after a death of a family member or close friend.  And if you didn't know, you do now!  What have you missed so far?  We've talked about wedding dress shopping without a mom and some tips to make it just a smidge more tolerable.  Last week we talked about ways to honor and remember your loved one in your ceremony and in what you wear.  This week we are on to the reception.  This is a time to celebrate, so you may fear that the idea of remembrance might seem like a downer to some guests, but it doesn't have to be. There are many subtle ways to remember your loved one and cope with their absence that are perfectly appropriate.  Promise.  Hopefully, the following ideas will provide some inspiration

Memorial Photo Table

wedding memorial photo table

Probably the most common memorial at receptions is a photo table.  This can incorporate just photos of the person who died that you are honoring, or it can be a family history table with old photos of weddings from both the bride and groom’s families.  These tables are often a highlight of a cocktail hour.  It can be as small or as large as you wish.  Like the table at my friend Christine's wedding (below), you may wish to add a great quote.  You could also write something of your own, letting guests know that the table is a memorial. 

[Photo by Jaime Windon, The Blonde Photographer.]

Donation In Lieu of Favors

A  tradition that I love is that of making a donation in lieu of wedding favors.  As someone with a drawer full of cute wedding favors that I have no use for, but can’t bring myself to throw away, I am always excited when a couple goes this route.  This can also be a great way to honor someone you have lost.  When deciding on your charity to donate to, pick something that is connected to that person – if they loved animals, perhaps pick a local animal shelter.  If they loved art, pick a charity related to keeping the arts in schools.  You get the idea.  The other possibility is to pick a charity related to their illness or other cause of death.  This could be anything from a cancer charity, other disease charity, the American Heart Association, a substance abuse organization, suicide prevention organization, a local hospice, etc.  The message on the favor card can explain the connection:

“Today the bride and groom honor and remember the groom’s mother, Barbara Jones.  Barbara was a lover of gardening, who grew her own herbs, vegetables, and beautiful flowers.  In lieu of favors a donation has been made to the Baltimore Urban Gardening program, a non-profit offering education to students in the Baltimore City School System on sustainable urban gardening.”

Now, it turns out the "in lieu of favors" route is controversial (as 'controversial' as something can be in the world of wedding planning, I suppose).  Who knew?  If you want to delve into that controversy, a search on The Knot will take you to all sorts of opinionated forums about it.  To give you a taste, comments included such gems as "don't pretend that [charitable donations] are a favor to your guests.  Because they're not.  They're a favor to the organization, and to you.  You're taking the money you'd spend on a little something for your guests and giving it to someone else.  How do you figure that's a favor for your guests? . . . please don't in any, way, shape or form think that giving $$ to a charity is somehow doing something for me." -Trix1223.  I personally disagree and was shocked to learn this is a controversial topic, but I felt it only fair to give warning that you may offend some folks at your wedding if you go this route. I'd like to believe when connecting this gesture to a deceased loved one these critics might not feel the same way, but it is still a possibility.  If you can't live with that risk, stick with candy-covered almonds.  If you're like me, remind them that "in lieu favors" means IN PLACE of favors (i.e. we made a donation in place of favors, NOT we made a donation AS your favor), and point them toward the open bar.

Donation in Lieu of Gifts

The favor option can be easily translated for those who are asking guests to make a donation in lieu of gifts.  As I creep slowly into my thirties, more and more of my friends seem to be going this route because one kitchen can only fit so many appliances.  If a card is being included in the invitation stating no gifts and suggesting charities, a simple connection can be made to the person (or people) you have lost.

The bride and groom request your presence, joy, and well-wishes, but please no gifts.  In lieu of gifts the couple suggests a donation be made to one of the following charities or a charity of your choice:

Hospice of the Chesapeake, which provided outstanding care to John’s grandmother, Betty.

The Alzheimer’s Association, in memory of Jane’s mother.

BARCS animal shelter, in memory of John’s sister, an avid animal lover, and volunteer.

Father-Daughter/Mother-Son Dances

The mother-son dance and father-daughter dance can be tough to imagine replacing.  Like walking down the aisle, I have seen many variations that usually involve a “stand-in” for the person who died.  Think outside the box - if you want to do a mother-daughter dance or bride-sister dance, go for it.   There are plenty of creative possibilities.  A very cute option I saw recently was at a wedding where the bride had lost her dad.  All the other men in her family stood up and one by one took turns dancing with her.

dancing at a wedding

Another great option is to scrap the traditional format - play a favorite song of the person who died and invite everyone onto the dance floor for a dance in memory of that person.  This certainly doesn’t have to be a slow song – remember, you are recreating a tradition to honor and remember your loved one the way you want to.  There are no rules.  If your mom would have wanted everyone to dance to Brick House in her memory, then go for it!  Finally, there is nothing wrong with skipping this tradition altogether.  It is your special day- you make the rules.  Don’t let anyone pressure you to recreate or force a tradition if you don't want to.
[Jaime Windon, The Blonde Photographer.]

Food, Flowers, and Colors

wedding menu

Not all ways of remembering someone on the big day have to be obvious to guests.  You may want to include small, subtle things that remind you of your loved one.  For example, when picking your cake you may decide to go with the cake that was a favorite of your mom, dad, or whoever you have lost.  If your best friend who died loved crab cakes, maybe you want to include them on your menu.  Consider picking your mom’s favorite flower to include in bouquets and centerpieces or picking your dad’s favorite color for your bridesmaid’s dresses.  One or two small choices that reflect the person who died can be a great personal comfort on your big day.  Other people may not know, but sometimes the most important memorials are those that are private.

These are just a few suggestions.  We know there are a ton of other great ideas floating around, so leave a  comment to let us know what you have done (or seen others do) to remember deceased loved ones at their weddings.

For more wedding resources, check out the following articles:


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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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