16 Heartfelt Ideas for Honoring Loved Ones at a Wedding

You already know they'll be there in spirit.
maddy sims the knot associate editor
by
Maddy Sims
maddy sims the knot associate editor
Maddy Sims
Former Associate Editor
  • Maddy is a Brand and Social Content Manager at Birdy Grey, and was a former associate editor at The Knot.
  • Maddy has written for several different publications, including HUM Nutrition, Insider, Bustle, Real Simple and Apartment Therapy.
  • Maddy has a Bachelor's degree in magazine journalism and a Master's degree in health, science and environmental reporting (both of which are from Northwestern's Medill School of Journa...
Updated Feb 22, 2024

While weddings are a joyous occasion, it can be difficult to fully celebrate in the absence of a loved one. It's valid to feel the absence of a friend or family member who can't be there in person, so if you're wondering how to honor your loved ones at a wedding, let us take it from here. But before we get too invested, remember that you don't have to plan anything special if it's going to be too much for you on your wedding day. Check in with others who may be feeling sensitive about the situation, and be sure to take note of your own comfort levels too. From there, you can decide how you'd like to move forward. Once you're ready, see 16 of our favorite ways to honor loved ones at a wedding below.

In this article:

How to Honor a Deceased Loved One at the Ceremony

Incorporate a special moment to remember them just before you say 'I do.' Here are our favorite ways to honor loved ones at a wedding during the ceremony.

1. Write an "In Loving Memory" Wedding Program Note

Your programs are the perfect place to include a symbolic quote or a simple "In Loving Memory Of" tribute along with the rest of your ceremony details.

2. Wear a Photo Boutonniere

Place their photo in an ornamental locket or small frame and pin it to a lapel, dress neckline or the inside of your jacket. Another idea: add the photo as a charm tied to your wedding bouquet.

3. Reserve a Seat in the Front Row

Honor your late loved one with a front-row seat by reserving a place at your ceremony. Use one of their jackets, place a bouquet of flowers on the chair or block off the seat with ribbons and a custom sign.

4. Carry Symbolic Flowers

ways to honor loved ones on your wedding day
Photo: Levi Stolove Photography
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Floral design: Mindy Jacobowitz

Flowers are one of the best ways of remembering loved ones at a wedding, because there are special blooms that actually symbolize remembrance and honor, like white roses. Another option is to use their favorite flowers in your ceremony decor, such as the aisle markers, boutonnieres or bouquets. Be sure to make a note of it on the programs so your guests can appreciate the gesture as well.

5. Hold a Moment of Reflection

Holding a moment of reflection is yet another way to honor your loved one at the wedding. You can ask your wedding officiant to announce a moment of silence at the start of the ceremony or shortly before you exchange rings.

6. Include the Candle Lighting Ritual

Lighting a unity candle is a popular ceremony ritual for couples, but it's also a way to honor loved ones at a wedding. Light the candle at the start of the ceremony to signify your loved one's spirit being present with you the whole time.

7. Display a Framed Picture or Portrait

Hire an artist to draw or paint a portrait of your loved one (or if you're an artist, create one yourself) and display it at the ceremony. Don't want to use custom artwork? Choose a favorite photo to have specially framed for the occasion. Either way, it's something you can showcase in your home long after the wedding.

8. Add a Hidden Patch to Your Attire

add a patch to your wedding attire
Photo: KMD Creations

We love this idea to honor a deceased parent at your wedding. Use a piece of fabric that reminds you of your loved one, like this heart-shaped patch made from the bride's father's T-shirt. If you're not comfortable cutting the fabric and sewing it yourself, a professional seamstress can easily handle the job.

How to Honor a Deceased Loved One at the Reception

The reception is full of special moments and opportunities to pay tribute to someone you've lost. Try one of these unique wedding memorial ideas to honor a deceased loved one at the reception.

9. Create an In Memoriam Table

how to honor loved one at wedding ping pong themed memory table
Photo: Redfield Photography

Reserve a special place at your reception by arranging a table filled with framed photos of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles or other loved ones who have passed away. You can also create a memory box, where guests can write down and share their favorite memories with your late loved one.

10. Share a Sentimental Recipe

For someone who loved to cook or was always experimenting with new recipes, try this unique option for honoring a loved one at a wedding. Serve the cookies made from your grandmother's very own award-winning recipe, or treat guests to the same combo of olives and cheese that you'd always find in your dad's fridge. Your guests will enjoy the thoughtful addition to your wedding day menu.

11. Display Family Photos and Heirlooms

When your loved one can't be there with you physically, the next best thing is to showcase some of their favorite belongings. Tap into the something old, something borrowed tradition by proudly displaying family photos and heirlooms or anything else that reminds you of them. This couple used a late grandfather's desk to display flowers and framed photos.

12. Play a Special Song

how to honor loved one at wedding mother dancing with bride with late father's jacket on
Photo: Wright Photographs

Maybe a moment of silence doesn't feel right to you, so instead consider playing a special song at your reception as a sweet way to honor a loved one. Pick a tune that holds meaning, like the song you'd always sing together or dance to at home. Make the moment even more meaningful by incorporating a personal item, like this mother of the bride who wore the father's military jacket for a sentimental nod to a father-daughter dance.

13. Give Wedding Favors in Their Honor

Leave your guests with a memory of your friend or family member who has passed away. Offer a special favor inspired by something they loved and include a sign to explain the token. For example: "Take a cigar for Jim!"

14. Make a Toast

Take a moment during your reception to honor lost loved ones with a wedding speech. You can include a brief toast to acknowledge all of the people who couldn't be with you or give an extended speech about one person specifically. For emotional support, feel free to bring up a sibling or family member to join you in making the toast.

15. Donate to a Charity

In lieu of gifts, use your wedding registry on The Knot to set up a cash fund to raise money for charity. Make a donation in support of something your loved one was passionate about, like animal rescue or conservation, or give to a specific organization where they volunteered.

16. Serve a Signature Drink

Honoring loved ones at a wedding isn't just limited to humans. If you have a beloved pet that passed away, you can still include them in your special day. Serve a signature drink named after your furbaby and take it a step further by decorating with drink menus or cocktail napkins featuring their portrait.

Wedding Remembrance Wording

Saying a few words of remembrance at your wedding is special, but don't put too much pressure on yourself to say the perfect thing or speak without getting choked up. Whether you're adding a short note to your ceremony programs or sharing a toast at the reception, it's okay to lean into your emotions and acknowledge the loss of your loved one, as long as you feel comfortable doing so. When in doubt, turn to pros like your wedding officiant and wedding planner to help you choose a symbolic reading for the ceremony or design a beautiful memorial table. If you need more help getting started, here are a few wedding remembrance wording examples.

Example 1:

On this cherished day, we remember the ones who are no longer with us in person but are always here in spirit and heart. Although we're saddened by their absence, we find peace in knowing that their love helped us get to this moment.

Example 2:

We'd like to take a moment to remember [insert name and/or your relationship to the person] who sadly isn't here to share this day with us. We hold [his/her/their] memory very close to our hearts and light this candle in honor of their life and love.

Example 3:

Please join us in a moment of silence to remember [insert name and/or your relationship] and other departed loved ones who aren't physically with us today. We feel their presence and know that they're watching over us as we celebrate this beautiful day.

Samantha Iacia contributed to the reporting of this article.

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