Will there be someone special missing when you tie the knot? Amy Shearer finds out how couples have paid tasteful and loving tribute to lost loved ones to make them part of the day

A wedding is the ultimate feel-good event. It’s a chance to catch up with people you might not see often enough, a place to reminisce and laugh about the good times, and a space to create new memories (and take new snaps for the family photo album).

At the same time, however, a wedding can also serve as a reminder of those who are sadly missing from the celebrations, and it can be heartbreaking to have gaps in the guest list on such a joyous occasion. 

Building in a small tribute to those who are no longer with us is a way to celebrate and commemorate lost loved ones and ensure they aren’t forgotten as you enter a new chapter of your life.

Here are just some ideas and suggestions of how you can honour those cherished people on your special day. 

bride holding bouquet looking at photo of lost loved one

Photo: White Cherrie Photography

Gone but not forgotten

With so many ceremonies now breaking free of the shackles of tradition and instead being a celebration of the couple, there is more scope to pay a personal tribute. Humanist celebrant Natalie Stevenson says the circumstances surrounding Covid have increased the number of touching tributes she has witnessed. 

“I think the last couple of years have been challenging for a lot of people, and with many weddings being postponed during the pandemic, couples have maybe lost loved ones who would’ve been at the original date,” the celebrant tells us. 

“As the ceremonies I deliver are so personal, it could be incredibly important to a couple to honour those who are no longer with us. Some might find it too hard to mention directly, especially if the circumstances are raw. However, a little nod to those lost friends or relatives can be incredibly important, and it can be done in a way that needn’t bring down the mood of the ceremony.”

“A little nod to those who are no longer with us can be done in a way that won’t bring down the mood of the ceremony”

George McLean of Fuze Ceremonies is very much on the same page, saying it is important to “strike a balance” so as not to introduce a melancholy tone to the day. “Wedding days are already very emotional, so you really don’t want the first tears of the day to be sad ones,” he says. “Finding the right way to pay tribute to loved ones who aren’t here can be done in several ways depending on what suits the couple. It’s important to add that it’s okay too if you’d rather not honour someone in public – many people prefer to pay tribute in their own private way.”

How you choose to acknowledge loved ones is an entirely personal choice, but Natalie says she has come across several methods when officiating at weddings across Scotland.

“There are lots of lovely things you can get these days from the likes of Etsy that are inscribed with the names of the people you are honouring,” she tells us. “There is also the idea of ‘saving a seat’ for someone no longer with us – a framed photograph of them can be placed on the chair. I’ve also seen a memory table with various framed photographs of people who have passed away, and recently came across a ‘memory ladder’ that was placed at the front of the ceremony area and had meaningful photos pinned to a string of fairy lights. It has become much less unusual, I think, to find these subtle ways of honouring the people who are no longer with us.”

Don’t feel pressured into going along with this if it’s not for you, though, she adds. “Some people I’ll mention by name if the couple ask me to honour them individually. More often than not, I’ll simply suggest giving all those who can’t be with us a clap – usually everyone among the guests and the bridal party has someone they’re missing.

With a little help from my friends

Natalie says that she regularly sees members of the extended bridal party help the couple pay tribute to departed loved ones. In one case, she recalls, a bride’s best friend went above and beyond: “It was at a wedding last year and he was her ‘bridesman’,” she says. “He came into the ceremony room before the guests arrived and asked me if he could add a surprise for the bride. He had brought along three dove-shaped balloons – two symbolising the bride’s grandmothers and one representing her aunt. All three had passed away recently and obviously meant a great deal to her. He put them just at the side of the ceremony space so that she could see them when she entered. She was emotional, of course, but also happy as she recognised that her best friend had gone out his way to do this for her. I think it meant the world to her.”

George McLean has used the handfasting ceremony to help some of his couples pay tribute to their loved ones. “One way to do this is to make use of a piece of fabric that is particularly associated with the person who is no longer with us,” explains the celebrant. “It can be done with a tie, for example. Perhaps a grandfather was known for always wearing a particular tie – using it in the ceremony can make it feel like he’s there.”

And if you don’t have an actual item of fabric belonging to the person you want to honour? “I’ve seen people use a piece of tartan that’s related to their loved one. It could be their own clan tartan or just one that the person wore and liked.”

Similarly, if drinking from the quaich is on the agenda, this tradition could be used to pay tribute to loved ones too. “I’ve been at weddings where they’ve used a quaich that belonged to the loved one,” says George. “On other occasions, it was all about the liquid: the quaich was filled with whisky that the departed friend or relative had been saving for a special occasion. Many couples also opt to sip the favourite drink of someone who is no longer there; it’s another lovely way to remember them and make them a part of the day.” 

Memories are made of this

There are lots of other ways to include someone you’re missing. Did they have a favourite reading or poem? Ask one of the bridal party to read it out during the ceremony. A meaningful song could be woven into proceedings too. Including their favourite flower in your bouquet is a subtle way to have them close to you on the day.

“Other things I’ve noticed are the memory lockets that are attached to bouquets, with a little image of someone important to the bride,” says Natalie. 

“There is also the ‘old, new, borrowed and blue’ tradition. It gives you a lot of scope to carry something with you that belonged to a person you cared about.”

The groom could attach a small charm with a photograph to his boutonnière, and lots of couples fashion small accessories out of meaningful fabrics. Grooms can wear a pocket square that belonged to (or is inspired by) a deceased relative, while brides have been known to stitch a little piece of cloth to the inside of their dress to carry their loved one with them down the aisle.

“The old, new, borrowed and blue tradition gives you a lot of scope to carry a memento with you on the day”

Donation, donation, donation

The ceremony is not the only segment of a wedding where you can remember lost loved ones. It’s easy to incorporate something meaningful into your table decor, for instance. 

“Your favours could be a charity pin – perhaps a good cause your missing loved one raised money for, or a charity that supported them,” suggests George. 

“Being able to donate towards a good cause is just something that appeals to many couples, and charities often have a range of merchandise that you can choose from. Couples paying for a meaningful favour and knowing it is contributing to a worthwhile cause is something we see time and time again.”

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