So, you’re planning your wedding and it’s a challenge, but it’s full of excitement, possibility, creativity, ideas… and being super busy! One thing that some folks may run into that isn’t as fun or exciting is facing the absence of the people we have loved and lost. Yep. I know it’s not the most cheery subject, but I think it’s a really important one to touch on, and I wanted to share some of the ideas and approaches our clients have had over the many years and weddings we’ve shot. We’ve had the good fortune to be witness to some really creative, interesting, tender, and loving ways people have represented their family, friends, and beloved pets, to keep their memories alive at their weddings.
If you are dealing with a recent loss, then know that my heart goes out to you in this difficult time. I know how devastating and destabilizing loss is, especially while planning what is meant to be the happiest day of your life. So I am sending you as much good juju, love, and support as I can. Don’t focus on this right this minute. Focus on family, and each other. When you’re ready, this article will be here for you with some hopefully helpful ideas to ensure you feel their presence with you on the big day.
Living here in Southern California, a favorite feels-filled way to memorialize those you’ve lost is the Mexican Ofrenda tradition. In this method, you create a memorial altar/shrine/table that includes not just photographs of those we’ve lost, but also usually includes their favorite foods as well as their favorite/sentimental items (ranging from anything such as accessories, books, toys, and other mementos). There’s even a special bread that’s meant for this purpose (easy to find at Mexican bakeries in this region). Usually this space is decorated with candles and traditionally also with marigolds, which is the aztec flower of the passed. The idea is that the ofrenda is a space that both commemorates them and also that invites their presence.
This display can be large enough that should you so desire, we can take portraits next to it, or more candidly looking at it, or engaging with the items on it if you choose to make that a feature of your event. Some people will actually save a missing seat in the ceremony area for the family member or pet that is absent, and hang something on it, or have a bouquet or something there to represent them.
02.A Simple Photo Display
If the Ofrenda feels a little too intense for you, you can always interpret it in a simpler, more minimalist, or more classic way. How about a classic display of photographs that feature those absent? You can collect intentionally mismatched frames, or matching frames. You can add some signage with language such as ‘Always in our hearts’ or something more elaborate like a poem. This doesn’t need to be complicated, so if you lean minimalist, then embrace not overthinking things. You can always request that your florist include a special arrangement or display to give it a little bit of extra TLC.
03.A Creative Photo Display
Now, if you’re not so much a minimalist, love to get a little creative, and would love to bask in some memories, how about considering building a larger photo display? This can be a board of a bunch of arranged images hung/tacked/displayed creatively. I’ve had clients create to a theme: from boho macrame with attached photos, to a simple zigzag clothesline with pinned images. There is no right or wrong way to do this, so this one is really about your style. If you’re someone who would have trouble narrowing down to favorite images, this is a great way to go as there’s no need to narrow down at all.
04.A Bouquet Photo or Accessory Detail
Another idea that some folks like to use is to make their bouquet the feature point, and include a tiny memento as an accessory on it. This is often a tiny picture in a tiny frame (sometimes more than one), or an actual item that belonged to a loved one, such as a locket or handkerchief wrapped around the bouquet. In this way, you are physically carrying the item in your hands as you walk down the aisle, and that can be a powerful way to feel close to those missed.
05.A Precious Wearable Memento
Not everyone carries a bouquet, and some would rather have an item on them all day long. So pinning a small accessory can be another great way to keep your loved ones close to your heart (sometimes literally). I have had clients wear a necklace, bracelet, or ring featuring their loved one’s initials. I’ve seen family heirlooms like lockets or brooches (sometimes lockets converted to brooches). Cufflinks can also be customized in this manner, I’ve certainly seen heirloom cufflinks worn, or inscribed in a special way. In the case of pets, I’ve seen dog tags converted into lockets or pendants worn under a dress. Or for a modern take, you can have a small pin made inscribes with the initials or name of the missing person or pet—that way they’re essentially featured in every single photo.
06.An Inscription or Embroidery
A rather traditional and classic approach, embroidered initials are timeless and classy. Sometimes folks embroider their own initials but you can always embroider someone else’s—onto shirt cuffs, ties, inner suit lining, onto a handkerchief, you name it! If it’s fabric, it can be embroidered, and add a little charming polish to your look all at once.
07.A Vacant Seat
Some people will actually save a missing seat in the ceremony area for the family member that is absent. You can hang something on it, such as a sign, their name, a token or object of theirs, or have a bouquet or something else to represent them. Keep in mind that this could give you emotional feelings in the midst of your ceremony when you look over, so be sure to consider how this approach may impact you on the day.
08.A Physical Representation
In addition to featuring photographs and heirloom objects, I have had clients decide to physically feature their loved one’s presence. Using an object that they loved, or something significant to them and putting it on display can be a simple and powerful representation. It could be anything. Their favorite book. A funny tie. Their well-worn shoes. In the case of pets, their collar, their fave bandana and dog tags or toy, etc. Often this may be tied into other decorative items related to the wedding (aka flowers, lanterns, etc). Recently, I had a client decide they wanted photos with both their recent new puppy, but also with the memorial urn of their sweet little one that had passed. This probably isn’t for everyone, but your wedding goes by in a flash, so if you would like a portrait that includes the representation of your absent loved one, we’re here for you.
Not every idea features heirlooms or photos. If that’s not your style, how about just using powerful words? That can be a name or names, it can be a saying or poem, it can be descriptions about loved ones, it can be calligraphic or modern—it can be whatever would make you happy. If you have programs for your ceremony, you could keep things simple and feature a photo or list of names there as well.
10.A Quirky Solution
If you lean a little quirky or unusual, there are always unorthodox approaches to consider. I had clients who wanted their cats to be physically represented and had plush animal versions created, and attached a GoPro to the one who passed (to record the wedding from his view). Companies like this one or this one (I’m not sure which one they used). This is obviously not for everyone, but sometimes thinking outside of the box is the best fit. Another set of clients love disc golf and had frisbees made with the images of their absent pets. I had one set of clients create custom fans waiting on everyone’s seats with an illustration of their beloved pet on them that was really sweet, and I have had another client with lots of kids at a wedding have a little coloring book featuring their dog that was sweet.