Dana Marlowe's dad passed away when she was only 12, long before he would have been planning to walk his daughter down the aisle. When Dana did get married, in 2003, she wanted to feel her father's presence and honor his memory.
Dana asked her dad's sister, Aunt Penny, to walk her down the aisle with her mom. She also wore her father's tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, which the rabbi wrapped the wedding couple in during their vows. They were married under a custom-made chuppah, a marriage canopy, which was made from squares of fabric various family members had contributed. "We were married beneath all the love and wishes, including special thoughts, that my dad would have wanted. We had a laptop playing a looped presentation with family members who had passed away (my father, my two grandfathers, my grandmother, my first cousin and so on) and had framed photos of them on the table, as well." The DJ also played "Piano Man" because her father had been a huge Billy Joel fan.
It is common that there is a family member who cannot be present for a couple's very memorable day, yet the person is seldom forgotten. Photos, religious symbols, music, videos, jewelry and speeches have been used by couples to help keep loved ones close.
Wedding planning specialist Isha Foss says: "Many of my couples will opt for a candle lighting or single-stem rose placed on a pew to honor a deceased family member. The candle or vase may be imprinted with names and the phrase 'In loving memory of (list names) who are with us in our hearts.' Bouquet lockets have been very popular."
If the bride's father has passed away, her escort down the aisle can be her mother. If it's traditional in the bride's family -- as it is in many Jewish families -- to have both parents walk down the aisle, a special aunt and uncle, an older sibling or a godparent can step in. If the absence was by choice, it is traditionally ignored, according to Foss.
Linda Woody and her husband lost two important relatives close to their wedding day -- his mom and her grandfather. "We honored them by showing a short slide show/movie of pictures set to music featuring both of them with us, with family members, etc., just before dinner at our reception. We wanted to include them in some way and thought this would be a nice way to recognize the relationships and the important role they played in our lives."
Jennifer Bourgoyne was very close to her grandmother. "My grandmother was the most special person to me. I decided to put an ornament photo frame hanging from my bridal bouquet. It was lovely. She was definitely there with us that beautiful day."
Elizabeth Fournier did something similar. "My mother died when I was a small child. I wanted her to be a part of my wedding ceremony, so I had small lockets of photos of her woven into my bouquet. It looked exquisite! My bouquet and the men's boutonnieres were the exact same flowers she used, and I had a small Virgin Mary hidden in all the plant centerpieces to remind me of her. I played 'Ave Maria' like she did and had a matching cake."
Carey Driscoll got married last September. "Only one of our grandparents was still living when we were married, and sadly, three family members passed away in the six months leading up to our wedding. My husband and I both felt strongly that we needed to incorporate them in some way into our day and didn't want to only include a simple mention in the ceremony program. So we created a 'memory table' near the altar with framed photos of them, along with candles. During the ceremony, my cousin and my husband's sister lit the candles while one of our favorite hymns, 'We Remember,' was sung. We took the photos, flowers and candles to the reception to duplicate the table there, as well. Several family members expressed that they appreciated our including our deceased relatives." Driscoll suggests setting the pictures up yourself and not leaving it to other family members.