Q: My father passed away a few years ago. How can I honor him at my wedding?

This question is very dear to me, as my father passed away when I was a teenager. It’s a subject I feel very in tune with when shooting and one I’ve given a great deal of thought to myself. An important thing to remember is that your wedding is a joyful celebration and the loved ones you are missing on the day would want it to be nothing less than that. Over the years, I have seen deceased parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives remembered at weddings in incredibly touching, yet uplifting ways. I sincerely hope sharing some of them here today inspires you to honor your father in a meaningful way, that also feels comfortable for you.

One popular way to remember a loved one on your wedding day, is to incorporate a memento into a bouquet or boutonniere. When my sister was married, she chose to have a photo charm attached to her bouquet (above) featuring a favorite childhood image of her and our father. Another option is to work a article into the arrangement, such as a pin, a handkerchief, wedding rings, etc. In the image below, the bride gave her florist a piece of her grandmother’s wedding dress to wrap the bouquet and finished it with a pin that was also a family heirloom.

Last year I saw one of the most lovely ideas at the wedding of Amanda and Jeffrey.  As both of Amanda’s parents are no longer with us, she reserved the first two seats on her side of the aisle with a string of photographs to honor their memory.

While the ceremony is often a time when the loved ones you’re missing are spoken of, it is okay to pass on the idea if you are fearful of becoming too emotional at the time. If you are comfortable with it, you can always take a moment of silence during your ceremony or light a candle to remember loved ones who have passed.

When I speak with couples who have lost a parent, I know ‘walking down the aisle’ and ‘parent dances’ are difficult traditions and stressful planning topics for them. This is one of those times when it’s important to let go of what’s traditional and do what feels right. I have seen brides walk down the aisle with a best friend, their mom, a sibling and even alone. I have seen ‘parent dances’ where the groom danced with his father to his deceased mother’s favorite song (it was a fast, fun, rock song and a totally uplifting moment!). Remember, it’s your day and whatever feels comfortable for you is right.

A few more ways to honor loved ones we miss…
-Designate relatives to bring leftover floral arrangements to the graves of deceased family members the day after the wedding.
-In lieu of a favor, make a donation to a charity related to their passing.
-Wear a piece of jewelry or article of clothing that belonged to your loved one.
-Include his/her favorite flowers into your bouquet or centerpieces.
-Display favorite photographs as part of your centerpieces or near a guestbook.
-Have grandma’s famous cookies or mom’s pumpkin pie on the dessert table (be sure to add a little note, letting guests know the significance of the treat!)

One of my favorite ways my sister chose to remember our father at her wedding was by having her DJ infuse several of his favorite songs into the reception’s playlist. Music played a huge role in our growing up and when one of those song came on it was an incredibly special moment for those of us on the dance floor who knew the song’s significance. At the same time, we were able to enjoy that moment with everyone on the dance floor, whether they were aware of its significance or not.

However you choose to honor your loved ones, be sure to let your photographer and videographers know, so they are prepared to document the moment.