Couples incorporate sentimental touches into their wedding day to honor loved ones

Peacock feathers and bridesmaid dresses in jewel tones were a reminder of bride Vivian Jeansonne's deceased father who raised peacocks for most of her childhood. Photo by Eye Wander Photo

When Vivian Jeansonne began dating Benjamin Guarisco in high school, her father Marcus understood quickly that they’d one day walk down the aisle. Marcus embraced Benjamin with open arms and looked forward to the day when he might call him son, Vivian’s mother Teri recalls. Marcus passed away in 2019, and Vivian knew the vision for her big day would be forever altered. But when it was time to plan her February 2022 wedding, she vowed that her father’s memory would play an important role in the day. 

The average guest may not have noticed, but Vivian and Teri—who coordinated the event as the wedding planner behind Haviland Designs—managed to sneak bits and pieces of Marcus’ personality throughout various aspects of the food, décor and even attire of the day. Take, for example, the jewel-blue tone of the bridesmaids’ dresses, or the bright eye of framed feathers on the reception tables; both details were inspired by the peacocks Marcus raised for most of Vivian’s childhood. “The subtlety of the gesture was something I really liked,” Vivian says.

Subtle details in honor of bride Vivian Jeansonne’s deceased father played a pivotal role in her wedding décor. Photo by Eye Wander Photo

At the bar, guests could pick up a “Marcusrita,” a margarita inspired by Marcus’ family-favorite recipe. They could snack on his favorite cake made of Ghirardelli chocolate, or spot his family crest on the invitations, or even listen to the band he had always wanted to play at the wedding: The Phunky Monkeys. And in Vivian’s bridal bouquet, flower lovers could spot the orchids inspired by her father’s hobby of growing them in greenhouses. 

“Other people may not have noticed, but the fact that I knew all those special touches were there was just a more intimate way for me to be closer to my dad on such a big day,” says Vivian.

Especially after the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the urge to make the most of time shared with loved ones has remained a significant factor behind the return to full-capacity weddings. Vivian and Benjamin’s wedding was just one example of a growing nuptial trend celebrating not just the future a couple is walking into but the memory of those they must carry on without. An October 2021 article in The New York Times highlighted the movement, spotlighting methods of memorialization ranging from fastening locket charms onto bouquets to sewing patches of loved ones’ old shirts into bridal gowns to draping a grandmother’s artwork over the huppah of a Jewish wedding. 

Shortly before Marcus’ passing, his family discovered his family crest, eventually printing its gilded image on programs and wedding invitations. Photo by Eye Wander Photo

Here in Baton Rouge, painter Stephanie T. Gaffney of Torregrossa Fine Art devised a unique way to bring the memory of a bride’s deceased father back into the picture. Her “Father-Daughter Walk” paintings feature brides and their late fathers arm-in-arm on the wedding aisle, recreating what would have been. 

“My first request came from a groom about four years ago, one month before his wedding,” says Gaffney. “He wanted to give his wife the best present he could, which was something he couldn’t give: her dream of having her dad walk her down the aisle.”

Tissues were necessary when bride Leslie Rousse Terrebone was presented with one of artist Stephanie T. Gaffney’s “Father-Daughter Walk” paintings to honor her late dad. Photo by Emily Fuselier Photography

Gaffney uses photo references of the father, the bride, her dress and the venue to create the moment on canvas, which is usually given to the bride as a gift before the ceremony, so that the painting can be presented in front of family and guests. “There’s not a dry eye in the house when that happens,” she says, remembering another instance where she painted the same father twice—both for twin sisters who had lost their father very young, and who gifted each other the paintings two years apart. “It’s a way to make that dream they had as young girls come true, and just a really unique and touching way to remember someone who’s passed.”

When seeking something more traditional, brides and grooms may opt for a table of photos memorializing their late relatives. Teri has a few other recommendations for ensuring that their memory shines bright. “I would make sure that the photos have purpose and intention behind them,” she suggests, “whether that’s using photos from your grandparents’ wedding day or blowing up photos on big canvases and displaying them prominently where people are walking in—like during the sign-in or a cocktail hour. You want to make sure it’s not just an afterthought.”

Twin sisters Hannah and Maria Croft both commissioned Gaffney to create memorial paintings for each other, two years apart. Photo courtesy Stephanie T. Gaffney

Including a small “in memoriam” note in the wedding program, she says, is another near-necessity for those wishing to acknowledge a loss. Those looking to make a grander gesture can also opt for a ceremonial lighting of a candle, a moment of silence or a special song played at the reception. If someone was known for having an extensive garden, then incorporating favorite plants in floral décor would also make for a subtle, if significant, nod. 

“I think what’s most important is to make people feel like they’re living a memory through all the senses—something you can eat, smell, touch, see or even hear,” says Teri. “It doesn’t have to be formal. Every individual is so different—it’s just a matter of asking yourself about the little details that made up that person’s life, and honoring them in small and subtle ways.”