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Five Ways to Include Loved Ones Who've Passed Away in Your Wedding Day

My mother was losing her battle with ovarian cancer when Mark asked me to marry him. Because she likely wouldn't make it to our wedding, my thoughtful husband-to-be went out of his way to include her in every secret and elaborate strategy he had for his proposal.
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My mother was losing her battle with ovarian cancer when Mark asked me to marry him. Because she likely wouldn't make it to our wedding, my thoughtful husband-to-be went out of his way to include her in every secret and elaborate strategy he had for his proposal. Mark made sure my mom knew exactly where it was going to happen and when, and he lovingly elevated her role in the planning to full-on co-conspirator by involving her in the ruse to get me exactly where I needed to be that day. Mark and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this year and I remain just as grateful today as I did back then for what he did for me, but especially my mom, two decades ago.

Mom didn't live to see us get married but she was very much part of the wedding. Most couples also want their loved ones to be part of the ceremony and celebration. Below I share five opportunities for including those you've lost in your special day.

Transform their handwriting. Allison Hansen's mother used to scribble notes and put them in her lunchbox every day. "Sometimes she would write a poem, sometimes just a simple message telling me to smile and have a good day," she told me, fondly recalling the loving ritual. So when, four years after her mother had passed away, Hansen was planning her wedding in 2014, she could think of no better way to honor her memory than by incorporating a fragment of her mother's handwriting into the festive occasion.

From one of her mother's lunchbox notes, Hansen scanned the words "Love, Mom." Once she uploaded the file to a jewelry company in California, the signature was engraved onto a charm, which Hansen could wear as a necklace or wrap around her bouquet. She reflected, "It was such a simple yet powerful reminder of her unconditional love and support." Hansen worked with Emily Jane Designs, but you can likely find a jeweler near you who does similar work.

Craft their image into art. Dutch artist Miranda van Dijk creates the most astonishing memory art I've ever seen. Working with photos sent to her, she transfers the image onto a piece of unbleached cotton, coats it with starch, and painstakingly crafts the stiffened fabric into the shape of a flower, leaf, or set of branches. I love the idea of using her designs as meaningful centerpieces, decorative chair backs, or nestling them into a wedding bouquet or canopy. Van Dijk's work was inspired by the loss of her grandmother, and it shows--she tenderly incorporates her personal experience and sensitivity into each piece she makes. Visit her site here.

Call attention to their absence. Embrace your wedding day as an opportunity to reflect. Light a candle in their honor. List their names on the program. Leave an empty chair at your reception. I especially like the idea of recognizing the event's significance by writing a letter--to yourself or to someone else--detailing what the occasion would have meant to your loved one. At my wedding, Mark and I got married under a canopy of my mother's scarves. This was a visual declaration she was with us that day. It was also a fantastic conversation starter.

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Fashion unexpected jewelry. I had a long strand of my mother's pearls made into several smaller pieces--a bracelet for me, and a pair of earrings for each of my bridesmaids and maid of honor. Wearing the bracelet still makes me feel close to her. And my best friend from college recently told me over dinner, "Whenever I wear those earrings, I think of your mom."

While the pearls keep my mother's memory alive, I've realized since then that meaningful jewelry doesn't have to be crafted from other jewelry. In the hands of the right artist, virtually any keepsake can be transformed into a necklace, ring, bracelet, or cufflinks. Robert Dancik, an acclaimed jeweler based in Connecticut, creates one-of-a-kind pieces out of the most unusual objects: a book of matches, a word ripped from an old menu, guitar picks, gears from clocks, playing cards, even corks from wine bottles. Dancik hardly ever uses items whole--he embeds slivers of them into a lightweight artists' cement he invented and then shapes the material into whatever design he imagines before it hardens. "The material I use is symbolic of what I am trying to do for my clients," he told me. "By encasing precious objects in cement, I protect memories forever." Consider crafting a meaningful piece of jewelry to match your dress, vest, or cummerbund. Dancik can be found online at this link.

Let your father walk you down the aisle. If your father can't be with you, I adore the idea of attaching small photo charms to the back of each shoe so your dad can symbolically walk you down the aisle. Pendants can be custom ordered and made small enough nobody knows they're there except you. These inconspicuous charms also make a great gift for a bride who's lost someone special, not just her father. I've discovered many wonderful artists who can pull this off by searching "bridal shoe charms" on www.etsy.com.

Nothing can replace having your loved one with you on your wedding day. But taking proactive steps to find creative and meaningful ways to keep their memory alive during your celebration will be something you and your family will always cherish. I hope these suggestions are helpful and spark ideas of your own.