Here comes the . . . gloom?
October 13, 2016 7:56 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I have received the tremendous honor of being asked to co-officiate the wedding of our close friends, Bride and Groom. Bride and Groom have given us a long leash for the ceremony, with only two requests: first, that the ceremony be "humorous and heartfelt" and second, that we meaningfully acknowledge the Bride's mother, who died several years ago. What might be a good way to reconcile a humorous ceremony with an emotionally significant tribute?

To offer a few more details: the Bride's mom died of ALS about six years ago. I never met her mother, and neither did my co-officiant. I believe Bride and Groom met after her mother's death, so the Groom never met her mother, either. The Bride's father does not want to speak at all during the ceremony and feels uncomfortable offering us any memories or thoughts for the ceremony (he is very taciturn).

I had a vague idea about distributing single flowers to guests as they arrived as a symbol of her mother but before that idea really percolated I found out that the Bride will be having a short and small "gratitude celebration" prior to the ceremony to acknowledge the women who supported her the most during those difficult years. In that "gratitude celebration" we will be receiving flowers that we will wear for the evening. So I think the flower idea is out.

I'd be appreciative of any ideas you have about how to maintain the tone the Bride and Groom want for the ceremony--not too solemn, a few laughs, casual--while still honoring the Bride's request. Bonus points for any anecdotes or smooth moves you may have enjoyed from similarly-vibed ceremonies as this is the first rodeo for me and my co-officiant and naturally we want it to be THE.BEST.EVER. Many thanks!
posted by fiery.hogue to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
General and might not be what you're looking for: Start with levity, jokes and good memories. Transition to remembrances and heartfelt acknowledgement of how proud the Bride's mom would be of her on this day, and how her daughter's commitment to her mom says everything one can say about love and family. Transition finally to the couple relationship by pointing out they share that same love and perhaps either make some more jokes or make that part a heartfelt acknowledgement of what you find wonderful in how they treat each other or love each other. Scene
posted by glaucon at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've seen a nice framed picture of the a bride's deceased mom, displayed near the guest book.

For remarks, I don't think the humor and the acknowledgement of her mom need to go together. The mom-acknowledgement comes when you thank everyone for having come from near and far, and mention that mom would have loved to be here to see this, and her spirit is with us as we celebrate, or whatever. You can turn to the jokey part of the remarks afterwards.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:04 AM on October 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yeah, go sincere with the mom stuff. Lighting a candle for the deceased is sometimes done. A moment of silence is also a good idea. Then don't go right back to it being light or jolly; come up slowly. Maybe whatever you do about the mom, put it before a part of the ceremony that will take a little while to accomplish, ideally something where the bride and groom are moving from one place to another or are getting something together or whatever. You want a moment of silence or acknowledgement, and then a BREAK to a definitely different part of the ceremony so people (including the happy couple) can process that emotion but then know it's time to let it go.

Do whatever you do _after_ the exchange of vows and any part of the ceremony where the bride might be expected to speak, in case the memory of her mom or the thought of her mom's absence brings up strong emotions. It's not a bad move to make sure the groom is carrying a handkerchief or tissues he can give to the bride (wedding dresses not being known for their pockets).
posted by gauche at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Passing time makes these things a little less doom-and-gloomy, and six years is easier to memorialize than if the mother had died more recently. That sounds cold, but it's pretty much the way things go. Mentioning the mother and how much she would have loved to be here, with a little bit of biographical detail on her and her relationship with the bride would be lovely, and I don't think in any way it'll bring down the festive atmosphere of the wedding.
posted by xingcat at 8:55 AM on October 13, 2016

I perform weddings from time to time and people asking to acknowledge a loved one who has passed is pretty common. You'd think it would be a mood killer, but mostly, people find it touching that the person was included in the big day. It's not so bad. You focus on how they're there in spirit, rather than morbid stuff on how they died.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:03 AM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Many years ago, an officiant would have been totally stumped if asked to have a humorous element to a wedding, which is a serious occasion. Now, however, we understand the depth of feeling that humor can bring, and you presumably have something in mind of how to be humorous at times without that taking away from the "heartfelt" aspect of the ceremony. So now continue that thought. You know how to be serious during the love and commitment part of the ceremony, so just add another part about family - maybe some of the family pieces are lighter (eg something about the groom's parent's wedding) and then it's more serious while you talk about hte bride's mom.

Talking about her mom in the context of a wedding isn't like talking at a memorial service, it's a recognition of her through the lens of the bride. I would skip the biographical elements that are a major part of memorial services - where she lived, where she worked, and when she was born/married/died, etc - and focus on the mother as the bride's biography, how long ago she died and what the bride was doing at the time, what the bride has done since (such as meet the groom) and how the mother might have felt about that (based on a few adjectives gleaned from her past), and "let's take a moment to appreciate all that Mom has done for Bride, and how happy she would be to see us all together on this day". Respectful, nostalgic, but not gloomy.
posted by aimedwander at 9:09 AM on October 13, 2016

You might ask the bride if there is someone coming to the wedding (or unable to attend but close enough to the bride to ask) who was an adult peer/family of her mother's and might be willing to talk to you on the phone or email you some memories of the bride with her mother. See if you can get an anecdote, quote, a tiny little moment that you can use like a micro-homily - "If Mary was here today, she might tell Groom the story about the time Bride [...]". You have to be careful, because you run the risk of leaving everyone a complete wreck, so you should go funny-poignant on those.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

In the wedding I officiated in February, I suggested that the bride & groom each choose a reading and a reader as part of the ceremony, and to keep it as a surprise for the other. Each chose their sister, and the groom had his sister read the following (this isn't word for word but...) "Earlier this year, Bride lost her closest friend, Friend, to cancer and the world lost a beautiful daughter, wife, mother, and friend. Bride had always expected that Friend would be with her on her wedding day and that Friend would speak at her wedding. At Friend's memorial service, all of us who attended were invited to join in singing the lullaby that Friend sang to her baby daughter and now, so that Friend's presence is felt and her voice is heard at Bride's wedding, we invite you to join with us in singing the same lullaby, You Are My Sunshine."

Okay the entire place was in tears. But they were good tears. And everyone appreciated the moment. And the entire ceremony was a mixture of joyful laughter and joyful tears.
posted by janey47 at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Surely the bride's mother must have sometimes been a lighthearted person in life, no? What about incorporating a piece of music or literature she loved?

Also, is there a reason you can't ask the bride for ideas about this? It's her mom. And her wedding. If this was a major criteria of the ceremony that she asked for, she either must have some ideas of what she'd like or can be asked to come up with some. I'm currently planning a wedding, and if I wanted something this specific I would come armed with suggestions for my officiant, who is also a good friend.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

My cousin got married a couple of years ago, a few years after her father passed away.

She had a framed photo of her dad at the alter.

And, one of the first songs she and her new-husband danced to was her dad's favorite (Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"). Some people may or may not have been bawling during that part. Definitely not me.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:08 AM on October 13, 2016

Oh, also, at the beginning of my remarks, about halfway through the ceremony, I said:

... everything is now set for you to complete your transition from two unrelated people into one couple. Let’s just take one moment to just take a breath, forget all the planning, forget the itineraries. Everyone is here and everything is perfect. This group of loved ones will, very likely, never be together in the same place again. Take a moment now to think about how each person has touched your life and why they are here with you today. Also, let’s bring to mind all those not here with us in body, recalling that they are certainly here in our love and remembrance of them.

There were several people who weren't present, including the bride's mom and the groom's grandmother. Mom had died, and Grandmom is like 98 years old and in India, and I understood from Bride that her dad was a little uncomfortable with specifically mentioning Mom by name, so I snuck this in.

I had also included an admonition to the guests at the very beginning -- it's true, and serious, and yet if you deliver it right, it could inspire laughs (and it did):

In this unique moment, we are all here with the intention to witness and participate in the union of Bride and Groom in marriage. Each person with us in this space has played a part in bringing these two people together. The ideals, the understanding, and the mutual respect which they bring to their life together had their roots in the love and friendship and guidance you have given them, in the examples you have set for them, in the encouragement and support that you have provided them. Each of you is personally responsible for the beautiful moment we are all sharing.
posted by janey47 at 10:17 AM on October 13, 2016

I often will open ceremonies with some acknowledgement of and gratitude for people who traveled a ways to get here and people who can't be with us. This can include things like pets--who are rarely able to be at wedding but often a serious part of the family and dearly missed--to people who have died either recently or a ways back. If this were a request made of me, I would probably elaborate on the role the mother had played in her daughter's life and somehow indicate without being too weird about it, that even though she never met groom there is some way in which she would click or otherwise have been pleased with this union. It's sort of easy (and a little facile sometimes) to put words in the mouths of the deceased (Miss Manners does a whole thing on this when she discusses grieving and bereavement, about how we all self-servingly say "He would have preferred that I gone on my vacation than moped at his memorial service")

I think if you can find a way to make that statement not sound that way but also be sincere (and based on things you know about the couple, specifics are always good) then it will be fine. Then go on into more ceremony type stuff with appropriate amount of humor. I find that starting more serious and lightening things up usually goes better than the reverse. You can read all of my ceremonies at this web address and can note the usual progression. Many of them are fairly light-hearted. Unless they say otherwise I wouldn't make this into a large part of the ceremony, just a short but important part, if that makes sense.
posted by jessamyn at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

We took a quiet minute to ground ourselves and to remember those who could not be with us shortly after the greeting. (I think it went: welcome, take a moment to shake hands with your neighbor, "now let us take a quiet minute to remember those not with us today," poem read by a guest, a few words by the officiant, another poem, vows, kiss, the end.)
posted by slidell at 11:11 AM on October 13, 2016

I think it would be lovely to make a part of a larger acknowlegement of the gift of lessons learned from loved ones that the couple brings into their marriage. Interview the bride and groom and then as part of the ceremony say something like "Bride and Groom do not come into their marriage unprepared. On this day, when a new marriage is created, Bride and Groom would like acknowledge what they learned from their own parents. From her mother, Bride learned {value of humor or never go to bed angry or that freshly baked cookies can solve any problem} and from her father she learned {xx}. Groom learned from this mother {xx} and from his father {xx}. You can also step-parents and grandparents if appropriate.
posted by metahawk at 1:34 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

By the way, don't put a photo of her mother on an empty seat next her father - it is a real downer. However, photos of parents cutting the cake at their wedding, next to the real cake could be great. (Assuming all parents are still in those marriages)
posted by metahawk at 1:35 PM on October 13, 2016

My roommates got married earlier this year. The bride lost her younger brother about 6 years ago, so the groom had never met him.

The bride has a *very* hard time talking about her brother, so she got all her cousins together before the ceremony to brainstorm things to say about her brother, and at the ceremony, each cousin (about 6) said a couple sentences about what they remembered about him.

If I remember correctly, this happened at the beginning of the ceremony, after the bride and groom welcomed the guests and before they introducing the officiant. (It was certainly a non-traditional ceremony.)

I definitely agree that you should find someone who knew the bride's mother to speak in her memory.
posted by itesser at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2016

Perhaps the bride is including a detail in her wedding that reminds her of her mother: a favorite flower, color, food, jewelry. If she is, pointing that out might be a nice way to honor the mother.
posted by vunder at 2:15 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to other suggestions, I think it can be helpful just to be aware of your language and who's included in the "we" and "you." "All of us here today wish this couple happiness..." excludes her mom. "All of us who love these people, present today or not,..." includes her mom. "Please bless this couple..." doesn't mention her mom. "I invite everyone who love or have loved or will love this couple, present or past or future, to bestow blessings..." includes her mom. Those are maybe not the most eloquent examples, but the point is more to think about whether every word of the ceremony would include the idea of her mom.
posted by lazuli at 8:57 PM on October 13, 2016

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