Honoring the Memory of Loved Ones at Special Occasions

Sun breaks through the trees and fog

It’s inevitable.

There will an occasion — a special family event — when you confront again, the unavoidable and crushing reality. Your special person(s) will be missing. They should be here. They would have loved to be celebrating with everyone. But death has stolen the opportunity. And now, you face a dilemma.

How can you pay tribute to your loved ones on a special occasion when they are no longer here?


My daughter, Chantel, and her husband, Addison, married on February 12, 2021. The wedding was beautiful, meaningful, and strange. Guests witnessed the ceremony virtually on screens. A Zoom wedding! When the couple got engaged six months ago, I did not imagine this would be our reality.

We hoped to have family and friends celebrating with us in person, COVID made it impossible. This was deeply disappointing. Yet there was a benefit. Thanks to technology, which many have become accustomed to during the pandemic, we could invite more guests virtually.

For some, it was strange and certainly a surprise to see the mother of the bride (me) officiating the ceremony. Requested by the bride and groom was a great honor. It was also a practical choice. The limited number of guests made doubling up on roles a necessity. Besides, I was the most cost-effective option for the frugal father of the bride.

Although credentialed to preside over weddings for a few years, this was my first occasion to officiate. I can’t think of a more meaningful “first” than for my daughter’s wedding.

High hopes for restrictions to lift in coming months informed our choice to postpone the reception until September. Another strange aspect about this wedding. Impatiently we wait seven months until a celebratory dinner, speeches, toasts, and dancing will take place.

But for my grieving heart, the strangest part of all was the heart-wringing absence of my son, Jordan. Not one of Chantel’s wedding photos will include him.


Just as Chantel had a significant role at her brother’s wedding eight years ago, Jordan would have been a large and lively presence in hers. If he were here.

With amusement, I can imagine Jordan doling out unsolicited advice to Addison on how to survive living with Chantel. Jordan’s trademark teasing would be witty but loving. He was one of Chantel’s biggest fans.


While I’d never seen our memorial idea integrated at other weddings, it felt like an important feature to add.

At the beginning of the ceremony, I briefly gave tributes to five deceased family members. To various degrees, each one had impacted the life of either the bride or the groom. From the groom’s family, three loved ones were honored and two from the bride’s side — Chantel’s Grandpa (Ted) and her brother.

In Chantel’s words, “For years I grieved the fact that Jordan would never attend my wedding. As the big day approached, I knew I needed to incorporate him into the celebration somehow. After all, he impacted my life and made me the person Addison chose to marry. Even though Jordan was not there in person, sharing memories of him was the next best thing.

(If you’d like to view the wedding video, let me know, and I’ll share the link.)

While including memorial tributes in a wedding may seem strange to some, it was meaningful to us. For my family, missing Ted and Jordan at Chantel’s wedding was something we could not ignore. With love, we determined to remember them meaningfully. They are gone, but not forgotten.


The countryside location of the wedding, Kerith Creek Retreat, was also meaningful. Towering spruce trees draped in sparkling snow made for a beautiful backdrop in photos. Groups of white-tailed deer trotted cautiously close to the Lodge — the site of the ceremony. I imagine they were curious. The bridal couple’s photoshoot had interrupted their silent retreat in the woods.

For two years, our family had lived in a home on this property when our kids were adolescents. Ted spent many hours tiling floors, kitchen backsplash, and showers when we built our home here. Like a trooper, Jordan had mowed the extensive lawns, cleared bush and shimmied down sewer pipes to troubleshoot drainage issues. With many acres to explore, this property was Jordan’s favorite place to live. Ted and Jordan would certainly have endorsed Kerith Creek as a meaningful place for Chantel and Addison to tie the knot.

As you might expect, speaking of these loved ones at the wedding brought tears. But that’s OK. Tears are a reminder of the love that continues forever.


As you anticipate a special occasion without your loved one who has died, take every opportunity to include them. Be creative. Be courageous.

Perhaps you have already established meaningful ways to honor the memory of your special person(s) on significant days and family events. I’d love to hear what you’ve chosen to do. Please share.

Cheering you on,

Picture of Shirley Thiessen

Shirley Thiessen

Author and speaker helping you bring hope to broken, grieving hearts.