Your Wedding Day After a Loss

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

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In case regular days aren’t tough enough, big life events can be especially painful reminders of people we have lost.  This seems totally unfair, as these are supposed to be the happiest occasions in life:  graduations, weddings, births, etc.  Yet these events all feel bittersweet as we think of a person (or people) who should be there but are not.  With wedding season creeping up, so are the reminders that parents, grandparents, or other friends and family are no longer with us to celebrate.  It is a wedding . . . your mom is supposed to be there to help you pick a dress.  Your dad is supposed to be there to walk you down the aisle, dance with you, and make a toast.  Your best friend is supposed to be with you to dance the night away.  But sometimes they’re not.  And it sucks.

We started our series on weddings after a death last week, so if you missed it check out Eleanor’s post on wedding dress shopping without mom.  She shared some great ideas for making wedding dress shopping just a little easier when your mom isn’t with you.  On your big day itself, there are lots of little ways to bring yourself comfort and remember the person you wish could be there.  It just takes a little planning.  This week we wanted to share a couple of ideas for remembering loved ones during your ceremony, including how you can incorporate memories in what you wear on your wedding day.

The Program

There are simple ways to incorporate those family members who have died in your wedding program.  This doesn’t need to be complicated or overdone.  Just a simple, “The bride and groom remember today those family members who are no longer with us:  Jen’s dad, Charlie Smith.  Jack’s grandparents, Iris and Harold Wilson”.  This can be printed on the bottom of the program itself and is something you can ask your officiant to incorporate at some time during your ceremony.  Easy enough, right?

Walking Down the Aisle

Thinking this through in advance can be really tough, but once you get through the initial ‘life is so unfair that my dad isn’t here for this moment I have dreamed of all my life’, the possibilities for rethinking this tradition are limitless.

Many brides opt to have another family member walk them down the aisle and give them away, like their mom, uncle, brother, sister, grandfather, etc.  Another option is to expand beyond family: have a close friend of yours or of your dad’s walk you down the aisle.  It can be anyone who feels like the right person for you.

Finally, who says anyone needs to give you away?  If there is no one who you truly want to be the stand-in for your dad, you can walk down the aisle alone.  In many ways this can be a tribute to your dad, giving you and your guests a moment to think of him as you walk down the aisle.

My good friend Christine, who lost her dad just shortly after I lost my dad, got married this fall.  Her mom proudly walked down the “aisle”  and gave her away.  They even made it look amazing at an outdoor wedding in the rain!

mom giving daughter away

[Who took these beautiful photos?  Jaime Windon, The Blonde Photographer.  Make sure to check her out – she is in DC but books all over the world!]

The Empty Chair

rose on an empty chair

A common tradition here is to leave a flower on the seat where the person would have been sitting.  This is simple and beautiful, but if it isn’t your style there are tons of other creative ideas for your “empty chair”.  In one ceremony I saw photos of the bride and groom put cowboy boots on the seats where his parents would have been sitting.  In another, I saw a couple hang his dad’s baseball hat on the corner of the front pew in the church. The possibilities are endless, from a team jersey to knitting needles to gardening gloves and a shovel to fishing lures to a musical instrument to anything else that reminds you of that person.  If you can reasonably fit it on a seat, I say go for it!

Memorials to Wear

Wedding dress with blue fabric heart patch

The Dress
Again, the possibilities here are endless.  One possibility is wearing your mom’s wedding dress.  If your mom’s long-sleeved, puffy shouldered dress isn’t your style, consider having her dress redesigned and turned in to something that better reflects your style.  There are some seamstresses who have built entire businesses redesigning heirloom wedding dresses, so a quick google search can get you started finding someone.

Another possibility is incorporating a piece of clothing from the person you lost on to your dress.  This can be as conspicuous or inconspicuous as suits you – from something on the outside of the dress to a small piece of fabric sewn on the inside.  Decide what suits you.  This great photo from Sequins and Candy Photography shows a bride who lost her dad and took a piece of his scarf to sew on her dress.  Too cute!  This heart could just as easily be sewn on the inside of the dress, for those who want a less obvious tribute. sown

red shoes with a locket

Jewelry is another great option – if you have a necklace, bracelet, earrings, hair combs, a brooch, or anything else that belonged to your mom, grandmother, or sister this is an easy way to incorporate a little piece of her memory in your wedding day ensemble.  Even if her style was quite different than yours, the contrast might make for a small but unique memorial.  If you don’t have any jewelry belonging to that person (or none that you want to wear) consider getting a locket to wear that can hold their photo.  Not so sure about a locket around your neck?  A photo charm can be made to go on a bracelet, bouquet, or even your shoes, as seen in this Flickr photo.

The Groom’s Attire
Grooms can be a little more challenging because their wedding attire is a little more limited.  For a groom who lost his dad, check to see if there are cufflinks of his dad’s that can wear.  If the wedding is a little less formal he may be able to find a tie or tie clip that belonged to dad.  Another option is to use fabric from a shirt that belongs to his dad or a shirt/dress that belonged to his mom to make a handkerchief for his jacket pocket.

tie with wedding ring

The Bouquet

A bouquet is not technically something you wear, but close enough!  This is something I have seen more and more at weddings: take a locket or even a very small picture frame with a photo of the person who died and tie it into the bouquet.  This is simple and can be very obvious or fairly hidden.  An alternative is to affix a piece of their jewelry, cufflink, pin, or brooch (just make sure to remove it if you are going to toss your bouquet at the reception!).  Others have had a photo of their loved one laminated and actually incorporated into the bouquet by their florist.   A friend of mine wrapped a piece of her dad’s tie to her bouquet, along with her great-grandmother’s ring.   Her sister carried on the tradition a couple of years later when she was married!

Have other ideas for remembering at your ceremony or in what you wear?  Leave us a comment to share your ideas with others.

For more wedding resources, check out the following articles:

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4 Comments on "Your Wedding Day After a Loss"

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  1. Linda Davis  February 12, 2020 at 4:07 pm Reply

    When my late husband and I got married, we both had lost a son. My husband’s loss, was before we met, but the loss of my son came during the time my husband were dating. In fact, we were in a bit of a time out, as we worked through some family issues. It was a mere six days into this time out, that I received news of my son’s death. This man came to me, setting issues aside, and never left me to deal with this tragedy on my own. This was in 2001, by 2005 we were planning a wedding! He truly was my soulmate. As we planned our wedding, it was important to have our children there, so the children remaining, were part of our wedding party, and our deceased sons portraits, sat at the front of the church by the alter, and followed to the reception hall, where they were part of the activities at the wedding table. It felt right, for both of us, and the memories, to this day, are all good.

  2. Suzanne Walsh  March 2, 2018 at 5:23 pm Reply

    I would like suggestions. My husband passed away and I think about my daughter getting married and having that Dance with her father, that will never happen. Someone suggested not doing a mother/Son and Father/Daughter Dance. This doesn’t sit well with me as how could my daughter or I ever deny a mother of a son, that dance with her son! I know as a mother of a son, I would be hurt and saddened if I didn’t get that one dance.

  3. Suzanne Walsh  March 2, 2018 at 5:23 pm Reply

    I would like suggestions. My husband passed away and I think about my daughter getting married and having that Dance with her father, that will never happen. Someone suggested not doing a mother/Son and Father/Daughter Dance. This doesn’t sit well with me as how could my daughter or I ever deny a mother of a son, that dance with her son! I know as a mother of a son, I would be hurt and saddened if I didn’t get that one dance.

  4. Michele  April 24, 2017 at 10:57 am Reply

    My husband’s sister passed suddenly just before our engagement. We had the prettiest yellow butterfly following us around for almost a whole year. Instead if the traditional bird seed toss or rice toss after our ceremony, we had a live butterfly release. All of or guests were given a small triangular box closed with a ribbon, with a live butterfly inside. They all pulled the ribbon and released the butterflies. It was beautiful. Swallowtail

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