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In Honor of Absence

By Hannah Seligson, CTW Features – 10/05/2007 – 12:00am

Remembering a deceased loved one is a delicate and important part of your wedding celebration

Between masterminding seating arrangements so feuding ex-lovers don’t sit next to each other, ordering special food for your diabetic cousin and making sure no one feels left out of the service, thinking about the needs of your wedding guests is a full-time job. It’s a task so vast it often makes thinking about how to acknowledge the guests that can’t be there – the deceased – an afterthought.

Unfortunately, it’s a situation many couples will have to tackle on their wedding day. Cooper Lawrence, psychology expert and the nationally syndicated radio host of “The Cooper Lawrence Show,” and Sue Fox, the author of “Etiquette for Dummies” (For Dummies, 2007), weigh in on how to tastefully and appropriately honor a memory.

Say something
Particularly if it’s a parent or sibling that died recently, Lawrence says that acknowledging the person is critical. “Otherwise it’s the pink elephant in the room. Everyone is thinking about the person and might not know what to say, so the onus is on the bride, groom or family to speak first and break the ice.”

Keep the tone upbeat
Fox says to remember first and foremost that a wedding is a celebration and the mention of the deceased should be framed as a celebration of the person’s life. “The most important thing to remember about the etiquette of this situation is that your goal is to make the people at your wedding feel comfortable and good,” she says. “The last thing you would want would be to upset your guests.”

Stay in the moment
To avoid having a dark cloud hanging over the day, Lawrence advises couples navigating this situation to focus on the actual wedding. “If you can remember that your wedding day will be a point of reference and a memory that you and your husband will always share, you can work harder to make it about who is there, not about who isn’t,” he says.

Prepare, prepare, prepare
Since this is a situation rife with emotion, Fox says the bride and groom should not go the impromptu route. “Take the time to talk both about how you want to address the person you’ve lost and then put in the effort to prepare your remarks,” she says. “You don’t need the added vulnerability of feeling unprepared when the time comes to speak a loved one you’ve lost.”

Share a nice memory
As a guest, Lawrence says you don’t want to say to the bride and groom, “If only your father were here.” Instead, if you feel compelled to say something, share a nice memory.

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