In my 20+ years of ministry, I’ve been called on to care for individuals and families facing a myriad of circumstances. Since I began focusing on wedding ministry (starting in 2009), joy, happiness, anticipation and of course love rank high in the list of emotions I now encounter in the people I serve.
But I’ve learned over the years that, no matter how thrilled the bride and groom are to be committing their lives together, there may be emotions lurking below the surface that no one knows how to address. (And I’m not referring to issues in the couple’s relationship.)
It has become a common occurrence that during my first meeting with a couple) in which we walk through the ceremony and I hear their stories as individuals and as a couple), the subject of loss comes up. Often it’s raised in the form of a question that seems to make the asker feel awkward. “Uh…there’s one more thing. I’m not sure how to ask about this…” They’ll then tell me that either the bride, the groom, or both had lost a loved one in the not-too-distant past. Then they’ll ask if there’s any way I could acknowledge the person’s (people’s) passing during the ceremony, if I don’t think it would be inappropriate.
I do my best to immediately reassure the couple that it is not only completely appropriate to remember in the wedding ceremony the special people they have lost, but in my opinion, if they have lost someone whose absence will be felt by many of those in attendance, it can create a huge “elephant in the room” to not mention it. Loss leaves a hole in our hearts. And knowing that someone we loved won’t be part of a joyous occasion like a wedding can make the hole feel even bigger.
It is always a special privilege for me, when officiating a wedding, to mention special people who are not in attendance because they have passed. I do so during the opening welcome, in the opening prayer, or at another designated time in the ceremony. I speak openly about the mixed emotions that are present. I express that it’s good to acknowledge feelings of sadness that there is an empty chair which would have held someone beloved. I say that for sure, the person who has passed would want the occasion to be filled with joy. And once we have remembered that person (or people), we can then move forward in celebration and happiness!
For all those who may one day wonder if it’s OK to have a time of remembrance in a wedding ceremony, I say, it’s not only OK, but it’s a necessary and even beautiful thing!