Is This a Wedding Or a Funeral? The Dos and Don’ts of Memorials at Festive Events

It seems of late that more and more bridal couples plan to memorialize deceased relatives and friends at their weddings. In fact, some are spending so much time memorializing the dead that it’s hard to keep track of the fact that a wedding is not the same thing as a funeral. More and more companies that provide goods and services to brides are selling memorial items specifically designed for weddings.

But what is really appropriate? Where is the line between honoring those we loved who cannot be with us and turning a wedding into a mass memorial service? Well, I have a few tips that may help you find the balance you’re looking for.

1: Be selective. If you’ve lost twenty different people in your life, don’t try to do something for each one. Stick to honoring one or two people who were particularly close and important, or do one simple gesture to cover ‘those here in spirit.’

2: Consider and consult others still closer. If the groom’s grandfather has died, don’t decide to do the rose in the empty chair or a memorial photo table at the reception until you’ve discussed the matter with his grandmother. What seems like simple respect to you may be painful or bewildering to her. By the same token, if her loss is recent, a failure to acknowledge it may be more painful to her. Let her feelings guide you.

3: Subtler is pretty much always better. Imagine, if you will, a bride whose father has died. Think of how touching it would be if she walked down the aisle alone or on her mother’s arm to her father’s favorite hymn. Now imagine the same bride twirling solo in a spotlight at the reception to Daddy’s Little Girl while a slide show of photos of her father is projected on a wall. Which one seems more appropriate to you? Which one seems destined to cause nervous laughter or a stampede out to the smoking area…even among those who don’t smoke?

My own mother died three years before I was married. We were extremely close and I know she loved Mr. Twistie dearly. It hurt like blazes that she wasn’t there to see us married. I wanted to acknowledge her memory, but she would absolutely have agreed with me that a rose on an otherwise empty chair, a memorial candle, a table of memorial photos, or anything of that nature wasn’t the thing for us. My father would have been confused and probably upset by anything of that nature, too.

Instead of any sort of overt memorial act, I wore her arisaide and brooch. I was married with her wedding ring. My father made a huge batch of Mom’s famous – and insanely delicious! – potato salad for the reception. Those who had known my mother well saw her all over the wedding, adding happy touches. Those who hadn’t known her or didn’t know her well didn’t notice anything other than a pretty wedding.

So consider using a favorite color, flower or piece of music to add a touch of someone you loved to your day. Carry your great aunt’s handkerchief or your uncle’s prayer book. Serve chocolate cake because it was your cousin’s favorite. It’s a happier way of remembering them.

4: Remember that dead people cannot issue invitations. If one or both of you has lost a parent, do not attempt to list that parent as a host of the wedding. Miss Manners has been saying this for decades now, but some don’t seem to have gotten the word. Consult a proper etiquette guide for the appropriate wording.

5: Just because it’s being sold doesn’t mean it’s either necessary or correct etiquette. Some people fall into the mental trap of assuming that everyone in the bridal industry is an etiquette expert or that they are there purely to help brides. This is not true. People are in the wedding industry to make money, just like people in every other industry. Helpfulness and love of weddings may or may not enter into it. Not everybody who goes into the industry has even a passing acquaintence with etiquette. Ask Miss Manners or Etiquette Hell about etiquette. Then let their advice help you decide what services and items are proper. Let your personal taste guide your choice among them. If you want a memorial candle, be my guest…so long as your venue is okay with it.

But do keep in mind the reason memorial candles are on the market is to sell memorial candles. You don’t have to have them, and you don’t have to use the specialized candles. You can leave them completely out, use ordinary candles, or a sort that was favored by the person you want to memorialize. That way, the candle you use says more about the person in question and won’t make anyone think they’ve walked into a funeral by mistake.

8 Responses to “Is This a Wedding Or a Funeral? The Dos and Don’ts of Memorials at Festive Events”

  1. Glinda says:

    A dear friend of mine had lost her father a few years before her wedding, and she used his favorite songs and had an empty chair for him.

    I can’t say what’s appropriate, I think it depends on the person and the wedding, as long as it fits. But I agree that memorializing too many people just isn’t a good thing.

  2. Sarah C. says:

    In my first wedding (the second is Friday!), we had a simple addition to the program, as we had both lost aunts we were close to in the months before the wedding. It was just a “In loving memory of” addition, so people could pay attention or ignore as they wished.

    I wore my grandmother’s ring, too.

  3. Never teh Bride says:

    I’m pro simple program listings, like the one mentioned by Sarah C. above. It’s easy, unobtrusive, and doesn’t color the atmosphere the same way an empty chair or a memorial candle might.

  4. dovian says:

    By the time I got married all of my grandparents were gone, as well as DH’s grandfather. We put a bouquet of matching flowers on the placecard table with a little note, and then my parents took them to the cemetery the next day. We also used a design my grandmother had drawn for the cover of our programs, and I wore a MacLachlan plaid garter (which probably would have scandalized the grandparents in question, actually). DH wore his grandfather’s prayer shawl. It was just little things, meaningful mostly to us, but still acknowledging the ones not with us.

  5. Toni says:

    My grandfather passed away a month before my wedding, and since we knew that the entire family was going to be in town soon anyway, we decided to postpone the memorial, especially since we were donating my grandfather’s body to science, and therefore wouldn’t have any sort of casket or viewing. We didn’t do anything specific the day of the wedding, but rather held a memorial service at my parent’s house the Sunday morning after.

  6. Pencils says:

    My husband lost his mother about three weeks after we became engaged. Even though neither of us is religious (and I’m not Jewish) we were married in a Jewish ceremony to honor her. My husband knew it bothered her that only one of her children had been married in a Jewish ceremony, even though she wasn’t terribly religious, either. I wish she had been at our wedding, but I’m very glad we were able to honor her in this small way.

  7. Phyllis says:

    My husband’s younger brother and his wife must have been at the forefront of this trend when they married in 1994. Both fathers were deceased by then; so at the reception there was a side room that played a silent video of blended home movies and still photos from each family. There was also a small placard acknowledging both men. It was low key and not the main event at all, and to this day I think it’s one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen at a wedding.