How to Celebrate Your Wedding When You’ve Lost a Loved One

It may be hard to be totally happy when you’re missing someone important to you. But there are ways to keep their memory alive while honoring your new chapter.

Image courtesy of Capture the Moment Studios

You’re sure to encounter your fair share of stress during wedding planning (and those guests who return their RSVPs without filling them out aren’t helping matters ). But for every panic-inducing blank RSVP, there are moments that will get etched into our consciousness as cherished memories: our moms zipping up our dress, our fathers walking us down the aisle, our best friends giving touching speeches, our grandparents dancing solo when they’ve been crowned “longest married couple.”

But unfortunately, life is not without heartbreak. And for a lot of us whose loved ones have passed on, the heartbreak may seem too much to bear. So how can you enjoy what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life when you so desperately miss your mother, father, sibling, grandparent, friend, or family member? How can you celebrate knowing you don’t get the opportunity to create those cherished memories?

MORE: What to Do With Your Dress After Your Wedding

It’s okay to not be okay.

First things first – and this cannot be stressed enough – it is okay to be sad. There is no set timeline for grief. Whether you’ve lost that loved one last week, last year, or last decade, the pain you feel is real and valid. We never stop loving someone just because they’ve passed – as author Jamie Anderson so eloquently put it, “grief is just love with nowhere to go.”

Image courtesy of Elise Margolin Photography

Grieving is a process. 

If you’ve just recently lost a parent, family member, or close friend, it may be worth postponing your wedding so you have time to appropriately grieve. This is an entirely personal decision – talk to your fiancé and do what’s best for your mental, emotional, and physical health. Reach out to a qualified mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health counselor to help you navigate this incredibly difficult territory. If you don’t already have one, you can contact your health insurance provider for a list of doctors in your network. You can also seek guidance through apps like BetterHelp or TalkSpace. Additionally, you may decide to research some support groups in your area. It helps to share your experiences with others going through the same thing.

Even if your loss isn’t recent, it’s never too late to seek help with the grieving process. If you’re finding it extremely hard to enjoy wedding planning because of a loved one’s absence, reach out to someone who can help.

MORE: How to Get Back Into Planning Your Wedding

Image courtesy of Capture the Moment Studios

“Love, like starlight, never dies.”

The truth of that matter is, you will always wish that a loved one who has passed could be here for your wedding. But even if they aren’t present physically, their memory lives on in you.

If your held religious beliefs account for an afterlife, know that your loved one is still with you. Their spirit remains, they see and love everything that you are, and they couldn’t be happier to see you marry the love of your life.

If your held religious beliefs don’t account for an afterlife, or you don’t believe in an afterlife, remember first this quote from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“The atoms in our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago…we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

And second, this passage from the children’s book No Matter What by Debi Gliori:

“Small, look at the stars – how they shine and glow. Yet some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies… love, like starlight, never dies”.

Image courtesy of Elise Margolin Photography

Ways to honor your loved ones at your wedding

There are numerous touching and heartfelt ways you can remember those in your life who have passed on. Some are outward and grand, and your guests can help you take part in honoring their memory. Some are more personal and private, that only you and your fiancé will notice. In either direction you go, your tribute will be a beautiful way to incorporate your lost loved ones.

  • Memory Charms
    Memory charms have become a popular way of carrying the memory of a loved one, both literally and figuratively. These charms can be attached with ribbon around your bouquet, but that’s not the only way you can carry one. If your grandmother taught you to walk, a fitting tribute might be to attach a charm with her picture to the laces of those Kate Spade keds as you take the most important walk of your life. There are many ways you can use memory charms – use a method that feels right to you.

Image courtesy of Capture the Moment Studios

  • Reserved Seats
    This a beautiful, symbolic way to show that your loved ones are still with you in spirit. You can reserve a seat for your lost friend or family member with a sign, one of their pictures, or an object that represented something they cherished.

    Image courtesy of Capture the Moment Studios

  • Memory table
    If you have a number of loved ones who’ve passed, consider putting together a memory table at your reception hall. You can decorate the table with their pictures, a few of their favorite possessions, and a sign that describes your love for them.
  • Wear a piece of their jewelry
    A prized heirloom owned by your loved one, like a necklace, bracelet, or ring, can serve as your “something old” or “something borrowed.” It can also serve as a meaningful reminder of their presence and love in your life.

    Image courtesy of Violet and Iris

  • Moment of Silence
    Ask your officiant to include a moment of silence during your ceremony, which will allow everyone to honor and reflect on your loved ones who have passed.
  • Play their favorite song
    You can choose to have your loved one’s favorite song played, either during your ceremony or reception. It’s up to you whether you want to announce the intent of this song, sharing it with your guests as a way to remember your loved one together, or keep it as a private moment that only you will recognize.
  • Serve their favorite foods or drinks
    Choose one of your loved one’s favorite dishes, or even their favorite cocktail, to serve at your reception. Again, it’s your decision on whether this is a public display or a private tribute.
  • Commission a painting
    Thanks to the work of incredibly talented artists, it’s now possible to get a beautiful painting of you and your loved one on your wedding day. Supply the artist with a wedding picture and a photo of your loved one, and let them create a priceless piece that honors your loved one’s legacy. A search on Etsy will yield some results, or contact one of BOLI’s Preferred Vendors for the job.

Image courtesy of Evenfall Photography