THE BLOG
02/05/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2014

Ideas for Ways to Remember Dead Relatives at Your Wedding Without Totally Creeping Out Your Guests

The Super Bowl game reminded me of a depressing wedding planning topic that I've been meaning to write about for a long time. The reason I was reminded was not the score, but rather the fact that a few years ago, I had to dress up a chair in the front row of a ceremony in a Denver Broncos uniform to represent and honor the deceased father of the groom. Complete with football jersey over chair back and helmet in the seat. No, I don't remember whose jersey it was... Pennants attached like flowers normally would be to the chair, and a football at the feet. Nope, I'm not exaggerating at all. It was one of those times where I was so uncomfortable that I wasn't sure how to react. I did my best to keep a neutral face and execute my job. But I made sure that "Dad" disappeared quickly after the ceremony before somebody had the brilliant idea to seat him at the head table at the reception.

I've had numerous requests to honor family members who have passed away at weddings, and I work with my clients to figure out what the best, most tasteful way to do that is in each individual circumstance. If the Mother of the Groom is recently deceased, putting the flowers you would have given her that day on the first seat on the front row makes a very simple, elegant statement. But you have to keep in mind how the Father of the Groom would feel about this. It's probably hard enough for him to keep up a brave face knowing his wife can't be there with him. While a lovely tribute, the groom should consider whether seeing those flowers on that empty chair will totally destroy the day for his father on a deep emotional level.

Flowers are definitely the most common, easiest and least dramatic tribute unless, of course, the death is recent as mentioned above. But there are lots of other ways to acknowledge those who aren't with you on your wedding day without dressing out a whole team at your ceremony. First, there is a right way to do it, and then there is a wrong way to do it.

Several of my clients have brought beautifully-framed wedding pictures of their parents who have died, and we featured those around the wedding venue in appropriate spots. When it's the MoB, sometimes we feature a photo of her and the bride and the bride's grandmother, all in their wedding gowns. Certainly a romantic tribute! Another way to make a reference without having to think about it all night is to make a special notation asking for prayers or remembrance in your wedding program. While passive, it is an effective way to deliver the message without putting a pall over the wedding reception.

My clients Ines and Terrance used a candle with a name and date on it that burned through their whole wedding reception to signify their remembrance of a close friend who had died the prior year. While sad, it was a sophisticated and elegant tribute and I saw most of the guests stop by and read it. We put it near the guest book so it got their attention. This was a lovely way to remember somebody known to most of the guests.

I always recommend to brides and grooms who are hesitant to do a tangible gesture that they just add a paragraph to the ceremony where the minister says a prayer remembering those who are not with us - naming names if they want to -- and having a moment of silent remembrance. It's certainly the smoothest way to convey the feelings the bride and groom are having at the moment without those people with them to share their special day.

But some people take the whole thing too far, in my opinion. In my opinion, there's a wrong way to do this too. And I'm not just talking about the football uniform thing. I actually feel badly joking about that because I believe it meant a lot to them and I'm glad we pulled it off. I mean I've had clients who made their weddings more about the dead people who weren't there than the living ones who were.

In my first year planning, I had a bride and groom whose wedding favors were some sort of cancer bracelets with the groom's dead grandfather's name on them. They danced to the groom's grandfather's favorite song. They mentioned the same grandfather, and a few others, in the ceremony, in the toasts at dinner, and randomly through the entire night. There was also a long printed tribute in both the ceremony program and the dinner menus (say what?). I think it was a little bit too, too much. Don't you? It was a big old Italian wedding relocated to a Caribbean island. But I'm part Italian too and I've never seen that much of a dead relative display before or after this particular wedding.

Not too long ago, a bride at one of my weddings stopped the whole reception mid-dance party to do a huge tribute, involving a softball, to her recently deceased friend. It was touching but it was the biggest party-killer you have ever seen. It took a good 30 minutes to pump the crew back up again and by then the reception was almost over anyway. Nice thought on the part of that bride but a total buzz kill for everyone around her. She was thoroughly wasted and could not have realized the impact her words were having. She just needed to say it. I felt sorry for her guests and her partner. Had I known about it in advance, I would have suggested getting it out of the way early in the evening before everyone was trashed and dancing.

You should find a way to honor the memory of a lost parent or sibling or best friend if that's something that really matters to you. There are so many tasteful ways to do it -- you should pick whatever you are most comfortable with and go that direction. Tribute flowers are always lovely, but a vivid reminder of what's missing from the empty seat. And so is every other tangible remembrance you choose to include. I'm not saying don't do something like pictures or a candle or another passive tribute, I'm saying that you should carefully consider anything dramatic because of the way it may make others at your gathering feel too. A wedding is a time for celebration!

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy