There are a number of emotions that come along with saying “I do” to your person comes—it's normal to experience everything from the excitement of finally becoming newlyweds to the anxiety of navigating potentially tricky family dynamics. For those with loved ones who have passed away, tying the knot without those special people present can compound an already emotional day. If there are certain individuals who are no longer with you but who you wish could attend the celebration, creating a memorial table with a collection of memorabilia is one of the best ways to honor them.
For anyone who has experienced a loss, whether it’s a grandparent or a friend, an in-memory table dedicated to them will make sure these people are with you in spirit while you walk down the aisle. If you’re wondering how to create this honorary display, we asked two professional wedding planners to share their best-kept tips and suggestions.
Meet the Expert
Ahead, we outline the meaning and significance of a memorial table, tips for executing one according to our experts, and unique alternatives.
The Meaning and Purpose of a Wedding Memorial Table
A memorial table is an altar that remembers friends, family, pets, or any other significant person in your life who has passed away, according to event planner DeYandré Thaxton Reniguntala. This display is typically comprised of a collection of photos and sometimes personal items that once belonged to the person or people who you wish were physically present with you on your big day, arranged on a table at your ceremony or reception.
Couples who are grieving the loss of someone or multiple people who are important to them will often put this monument on display at their nuptials to make sure those individuals are part of the celebration. Dedicating a spread to your deceased loved ones is also a way to commemorate them, while demonstrating to your guests the important role that they played in your life. “Weddings can be a beautiful time for the couple's family and friends to meet,” Reniguntala explains. “A memorial table invites storytelling, traveling down memory lane, and opportunities to learn about the couple.”
How to Create a Wedding Memorial Table
From placing the monument in a strategic spot to bedecking the spread with appropriate decorations, there are many factors to take into account when planning your memorial table. Read on for expert-approved tips to make your vision a reality.
Figure Out Who to Memorialize
To determine which individuals you’re going to include in your memorial table, wedding planner Sara Reynolds of Sara Reynolds Events suggests asking yourself who you would invite if the person or people were still alive. Since the individual or individuals have probably been on your mind, the choice most likely seems obvious. However, Reynolds advises double checking with your parents to make sure you don’t miss anyone important to you or your family.
Curate Meaningful Items
The focal point of your memorial table will be the objects that rest on top. At minimum, most remembrance tables have an assortment of your favorite photos of the deceased individual or individuals, placed carefully in frames. Reniguntala also recommends adding any other items that remind you of the person or people, such as a family heirloom or a personal belonging. “I love when my couple adds trinkets specific to that person, noting their hobbies or something they were known for,” Reynolds says.
Choose the Right Table
While the memorabilia is the most important aspect, the table itself can also have sentimental value, thereby making your spread even more moving. For a personal touch, you can use your own bedside table or a piece of antique furniture that’s been passed down for generations in your family. From a logistical standpoint, you’ll also want to select the right size, which largely depends on the number of items that you’re planning to place on top, according to Reynolds. “One or two photos will work well on a small, round table, while 10 photos will look better spread out across a six-foot table,” she explains. No matter what type of table or size you settle on, Reniguntala encourages you to pick a blank canvas. “I suggest allowing the memorial table to have its own sacred area rather than incorporating them onto the guest book or favors table,” she says.
Add Other Decorations
If you want to make your memorial table more special and inviting, consider decorating the display. The décor can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like, but some common adornments are linens, candles, vases, flowers, and other plants. For a cohesive event, make sure to choose add-ons that coordinate with the rest of your color palette and aesthetic. As a helpful guide to guests and to ensure everyone understands the significance of the setup, Reynolds also advises adding cards that specify who each person is and how they’re related to you.
Determine the Best Location
After you’ve chosen meaningful elements and the perfect table, you’ll need to designate a spot within your floor plan to set up shop. Whether it’s an area at your ceremony or reception site, Reniguntala recommends placing your display in a highly visible location, where guests can easily see and admire your memorial table. While you don’t want to hide the monument in a corner, Reynolds warns against making this setup the celebration's main attraction. “I typically try to place these tables in a foyer area, so guests can visit it before the ceremony begins,” she notes.
Give Yourself Enough Time
Since memorial tables can be such special, meaningful parts of a wedding, Reniguntala suggests carving out enough time during the planning process to assemble yours. “You may need to ask family and friends for photos of those who have passed, so give them time to sift through physical or digital albums,” she states. The event planner also recommends giving yourself a deadline, so you avoid haphazardly throwing together a memorial at the last second.
Reference the Display in Your Ceremony Script
According to Reniguntala, just physically presenting the memorial table isn’t always enough. While guests can assume that the people in the photos are those who have passed, it’s better to specify your connection to these individuals and explain why you’ve included them in your wedding. The planner advises having your officiant refer to them while presiding over your vow exchange. “Often, loved ones who have passed are mentioned during the wedding ceremony, so the table allows guests to witness the honorees and put faces to names,” she remarks.
Unique Alternatives to Wedding Memorial Tables
While memorial tables are a beautiful tribute to deceased loved ones at your wedding, there are many other ways to honor them. Here are a few ideas, according to the experts.
A Single Photo
Instead of an entire table brimming with photos, you can place a single framed picture of the person who is no longer with you to represent their physical being. At content creator and podcaster Nicole Pellegrino’s wedding, the bride’s mother had passed away, so Reynolds (who planned their event) put an image of her mother at the start of the aisle. Before walking down the aisle, each member of the bride’s family—including Nicole—kissed the photo. “It was a beautiful way to ensure their mom was ever present on the wedding day,” Reynolds says. As another alternative, try placing the photograph on one of your ceremony seats as a way to signify their presence.
A Symbolic Quote
If the person or people who had died often repeated or lived by a certain quote or had a specific catchphrase, consider displaying those words on your big day to capture their essence. For example, Reynolds planned a wedding where a couple hung up a neon sign that said, “Livin’ the Dream,” which was the tagline of one of their fathers, who had passed away. Displaying that decoration at their big day ended up becoming a family tradition in which two other siblings participated. At each of their weddings, the group posed for a photo under the phrase. “It felt like their dad was there when they all gathered under that sign and took the photo,” Reynolds recounts. You can also incorporate the phrase into your nuptials by engraving it on your invitations, ceremony programs, or cocktail napkins.
In addition to signage, there are plenty of other heartfelt ways to commemorate your deceased loved ones through your décor. If the person or people had a favorite flower, consider adorning your ceremony aisle or altar with the blooms. Maybe they always lit a certain candle, and the smell reminds you of them. If that’s the case, consider bedecking your reception tables with the fragrant objects. Another idea is incorporating their wedding attire or another special garment that they wore into your design, whether it’s wrapped around your bridal bouquet or demonstrated on your sweetheart table.