As you walk your new path, let’s talk about shoes…

I’m a Celebrant, not a wedding planner, and I try to keep this column focused on the big stuff – what’s important in a wedding, and first and foremost that is the couple’s commitment. The union of two people in marriage is expressed through their ceremony. I do, however, stray off-topic from time to time and its fun to think about all the details, large and small.

Comfort has a role to play!

Today I’m going to talk about shoes. Yes, shoes. Most women love them and so do many men.

Sparkle and comfort.

For brides picking the perfect shoes for the wedding can be very important. It represents beauty, glamour and sexiness, too. And men often show a bit of creativity by wearing a pair of sneakers with a suit, or putting some colored laces into their dress shoes. As you walk down the aisle in those shoes you are beginning to walk your new path – that of marriage.

Even shoes have history and meaning, and I recently visited a shoe museum in Barcelona. I learned that in Biblical times a sandal was given as a sign of an oath.

From the shoe museum

In the Middle Ages a father passed his authority over his daughter to her husband in a shoe ceremony. At the wedding, the groom handed the bride a shoe, which she put on to show she was then his subject. (Sound like a famous Disney story)

What a beautiful very old shoe!

In China one of the bride’s red shoes is tossed from the roof to ensure happiness for the bridal couple, and in Hungary the groom drinks a toast to his bride out of her wedding slipper.

There’s an old Victorian tradition of putting a penny in your shoe for good luck (something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence in your shoe).

And let’s not forget the tradition of tying shoes to the bumper of the newly wed’s car.

When selecting shoes, besides choosing something that makes you look great, make sure they feel great – literally. Comfort really does have a part to play. Even those crazy super high heels, that I hope are going out of style, can at least be ‘broken in’ before walking down the aisle in them. I have seen more than one bride struggle in uncomfortable shoes. Remember, you’ll not only walk in them – but most likely have to stand in them for quite a while. Stretch the shoes if necessary and consider buying cushy insoles to put into them. Even strappy sandals can have a comfort cushion on the insole. And, by the way, all of the above goes for bridesmaids too.

A great selection from the bridesmaids!

Today its not surprising that anything goes. Cowboy boots are popular for weddings. Toms, a shoe company that makes relaxed flats and gives a pair of shoes to the developing world for every pair purchased, makes a wedding shoe. From the ridiculous to the sublime – all options are on the table (or should I say floor?)

One of my favorite trends is the shoe of a different color – pairing a deliciously bright and fun shoe with the white gown. Some brides like to write little messages on the bottom of their shoes. Men too, are adding pizzazz via their shoe choices or with a really fun pair of socks.

The men get in the act.

While I’m sure to get back to ritual, spirituality, traditions and cultural here in Pocono Wedding Talk, have fun choosing your shoes.

A message on the bottom of the shoe for the 'I do.'

Follow Me on Pinterest Photo by Lisa Rhinehart - gorgeous as always!!

(shoe museum photos from me)

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Nervous is Natural, Obsessed is Not

I’m not a psychologist nor do I play one on television, but I do have some thoughts about anxiety. Last year I worked with just a few frazzled brides and it got me thinking about the connections between anxiety, anticipation, nervousness and flat out unbecoming behavior.

A thoughtful bride.

True anxiety is defined as the over-reaction to a situation that is subjectively menacing. Anticipation is the excitement of waiting. Nervousness is the general feeling of extreme uneasiness or apprehension. There is a difference between being nervous or anxious about what’s about to happen. And then there is being obsessed with details and missing the big picture.

Giving yourself permission to feel everything you are feeling will, in itself, help. There are many things to anticipate, and the things we know the least about are the things that hang us up the most. For example: there may be people attending who you don’t know, or you may be worried that you won’t recognize a distant relative. There is also legitimate concern about how certain rituals will proceed.

One of the many great things about celebrant weddings is that our couples have an active role in their own ceremony. This alleviates a lot of anxiety because they already know what will be said, and better still, really love what will be said, because those words are based on their words. The message spoken by your officiant ia pretty darn important, its great to know what they will be, and that they truly reflect who you are and what you believe. Meet with your pastor, rabbi, priest or other officiant to be clear about what will happen in your ceremony.

Another cause for discomfort is that some people are simply not comfortable being the center of attention. You can soften that fear by standing with your partner, even holding hands through the ceremony (if permitted). Having both parents escort you in may help as well.

Spend time with the people you love.

A wedding day freak out might be the result of taking on too many tasks, especially things like décor or any number of little details. Most of these details are insignificant but they nevertheless become larger than life. With these concerns at the forefront you are unable to fully enjoy and feel the deeper meaning of the day.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve witnessed brides running around obsessed with flower arrangements when they could have been spending time with their mother, bridesmaids or other important people as they prepare to walk down the aisle.

I suggest bringing soothing music to play while you get dressed and prep before it all begins. Perhaps have a massage, or even do some physical activity to burn off the extra energy the morning of your wedding.

Most importantly talk to your partner about all your hopes and dreams for the future. And then, as the big day approaches if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the plans, think about your life together in a year, five years, or ten years.

It is perfectly normal to be nervous. It’s an important day, if you weren’t feeling a wide range of emotions, frankly, I’d be worried about you!

Ready for the ceremony.


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Enhancing the wedding ceremony with a few easy tips

Today I focus on the ceremony in general. This is the part, you may recall, where two people actual get married. Too often you cannot choose what is said for your ceremony, although this varies greatly depending on the religion, tradition or officiant.  For a ceremony created by a celebrant like myself, of course, the entire ceremony is flexible, personal and customized. But even with limitations, there are ways to personalize your commitment, and here are a few suggestions.

The CEREMONY - the part where you get married!

Here are a few little tips that might help enhance any ceremony experience, no matter who officiates, or what the limitations.

Your program. If you choose to have one, try not to follow the outline of the service. This only encourages people to simply follow along and mentally check-off what has happened. Instead use a program to enhance the event, with information and tidbits you may not have been able to include in the ceremony itself. This can really add a lot of meaning, inspiration and even some humor when appropriate. It’s a great way to put your stamp on the ceremony when there is no varying from the liturgy.

A program booklet is a great opportunity.

If you are having something special at the end of the ceremony, such as bubbles, petals, birdseed, bells or anything the guests are supposed to do – have your officiant remind everyone just before the pronouncement. I’ve noticed that when I do that the couple gets to recess showered in those bubbles as intended. It’s exciting and beautiful, and makes a great photo op.   At weddings where they are not reminded, the moment often passes, and it’s too late, and unused bubbles are simply left behind. At a house of worship this is usually done on the steps outside, but at an outdoor site its done directly from the guests’ chairs.

You want the full BUBBLE experience!

Readings. If you are including them in your ceremony please remember to choose people who are good at this and have the personality and ability to do a great job. If you don’t have the right person don’t feel you must do this. Select readings from sources that inspire you. There is so much to choose from, it can be overwhelming, however!

Vows. If you are writing your own, remember that your vow is your promise, not your entire life story. Keep it to a few lines or so, and take a look at some classic models for inspiration. Don’t wait too long to undertake this task. If you are keeping your vows secret from one another make sure someone will compare them for length and tone. I always take on this task for my couples, and I find it rewarding and fun.

Honor loved ones. Find ways to honor those who are most important to you – whether they are parents, other relatives or friends, present or past.

Again, I remind you all that the ceremony is the time when you are getting married, and the rest of it is just a party. I’m sad when I encounter couples who don’t seem to care at all about their ceremony. But perhaps that is because they have never experienced a truly great ceremony, and therefore do not understand the value of having a wonderful ceremony. This rite of passage is one of life’s most important milestones. Do all you can to make it just that!
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Breaking and remaking the rules

When discussing weddings, I say it all the time: ‘do what’s right for you.’ There are certainly a lot of traditions and rules for weddings, and I do love history, culture, customs and most everything about weddings. But I don’t subscribe to the idea of doing something just because that’s ‘how it’s done.’  From the smallest detail to the grandest of gestures, couples today crave authenticity and are looking for meaningful ways to express themselves at this important moment in their lives.

Women welcome the bride!

Before it occurred to me it could be otherwise, I thought only a best man could hold the couples’ wedding rings. I now see all kinds of possibilities for that task. One of the truly fun things about being a wedding celebrant is presenting people with choices they never even knew they had.

It all comes down to ‘why’. Why are you doing or saying something? Is it honest? Does it represent your beliefs and ideals? And does it accurately express or symbolize what your wedding means to you?

Taking the example of the rings, you may be perfectly happy to have your best man hold both rings for the ceremony, and that’s fine… but then again, have you considered having your maid or matron of honor (I like to call them best women) hold one as well? Think of it: the best woman hands the bride her ring to put on the groom’s finger, and the best man holds the ring to hand to the groom to put on his bride. Balanced. Now, if you remove the gender identities from the equation, it becomes even clearer.  Simply have your best person hand you your ring for your partner! It really just makes sense. Or take it in different direction; how about having a parent or child hold the rings?

An origami bouquet breaks the rules

A great example of the evolving and changing language of weddings can readily be found in the old phrase: ‘to love, honor, and obey.’ Most officiants no longer say this, and I’ve never said it ever, not once! Women no longer promise to obey their husbands. Marriage is now seen as a mutually shared undertaking based on equality.

Consider the words ‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’ I never say this either, because the equivalent of man is woman, and the equivalent of wife is husband. I prefer ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife.’ Of course I had to come up with something wonderful for same sex couples now that we have marriage equality, and for those couples I like to say: ‘I now pronounce you good and truly married,’ which, come to think of it, I could say for opposite sex couples too!

Personal style matters today!

Here are a few less serious examples of reinvented traditions. Couples who have mixed gender attendants (bridesmaids/groomsmen) standing with them – women and men on both sides. I love that – have the people who matter the most stand with you. Adult flower girls (or perhaps flower women?) The couple walking down the aisle together.

The point is – change is a good thing, re-examining traditions is a good thing, keep what you like, and let go of the rest. As the old saying goes: rules are made to be broken. So break or reinvent when necessary. There are still many beautiful traditions to follow as well. It all comes down to ‘why.’

Let your imagination fly!


Thank you Sabrina Schantzen and Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography.

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How to add spice to your ceremony

I’m always inventing, reinventing or rewriting words and rituals to use in wedding ceremonies. It’s kind of my passion! So when I met with a couple who had an idea of their own, I was excited to learn all about it. Having children from previous marriages, they were looking for a family unity ritual, and they found something that was new to me.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Sand Ceremony, but this bride discovered a similar ritual using spices. She shared the gist of the idea, and I immediately loved it. In fact, I wondered why didn’t I already know about this? It seemed so obvious as things sometimes do once you know about them!

Pouring the spices.

When I read up on it I knew I could give it my own twist. I never just take something verbatim, I always need to think through it and give me my own interpretation.  And perhaps more importantly strive to infuse it with the meaning that reflects the couple’s worldview. After more than ten years, I’ve found my voice as a celebrant, but I have to be mindful that I speak for the couple.

The spice ritual is pretty easy to understand – you simply choose different spices to represent the different people participating – in this case the bride and groom and their children. Learning something about each person and finding the herb or spice that related those traits is the key. Poetic license is required, of course.

As with any ritualistic act in a ceremony, I explain it to the guests and also want to be sure the participants are focused on it as well. They need to feel it as in unfolds so it can be a transformative experience, or at least meaningful or just fun.

Examples of spices and their symbolism would be paprika or chile for a person who is passionate and energetic. Lavender is known for it’s fragrance and calming quality and would be perfect for someone who is calm in the face of difficulty.  You could also delve into herbal medicine, historic context, or any way that connects the spice or herb. And this ritual ties in beautifully for a gardener or a cook!

The keepsake!

Expanding upon layering the spices this couple used not only a spice for each of them, but incorporated salt, evoking the Salt Covenant of the bible and the rich history and symbolism of salt. The salt was poured first and last – to seal the layers, and perhaps to seal the deal.

Together they created a beautiful experience and a keepsake jar of spices to be displayed as a remembrance of their wedding day showing the importance of blending their families.

Spices certainly bring out flavor and that is what we do in our own families by combining our personalities, our strengths and gifts. This family certainly had an abundance of taste!


Thank you David Coulter for the beautiful photos. I always enjoy working with David! 

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A miraculous wedding in a week

For every action there’s a reaction. Cause and effect. That’s a simple but weighty concept. And it’s not just science, but in life one event often causes other events to occur.

This was the case when I received a call to officiate a wedding that was to take place the very next weekend. The cause was a terminal diagnosis. I quickly learned that the bride’s father was not expected to live much longer and the couple wanted to marry as soon as possible so he witness and participate in the wedding. The couple had been together a long time and always knew they’d get married, but the change in circumstances had its effect.

On my end, of course I said yes immediately. Some emails and phone conversations ensued and once I’d learned enough about the couple, I was able to create a ceremony that was appropriate and meaningful.

With such short notice, no one had thought through other details. Most importantly I reminded them about the marriage license (minor detail!) and the couple applied and received it just in the nick of time.  Remember, there is a three-day waiting period in Pennsylvania.

Distilled to basics there are really only two things you need to get married in PA – the license and someone legal to marry you and sign the document. Other wedding details are nice, icing on the proverbial and literal cake, but not required.

It was not only a wedding, it looked like a wedding.

But marriage is not only a legal act, it is also a public declaration of commitment, and spiritual and emotional milestone in life. That is why most people choose to share their wedding with loved ones.

But back to the story: all of this coincided with the family’s annual get together here in the Poconos at the Shawnee Inn. That was certainly a catalyst as well. Why not turn the family get together into a wedding?  But while the bride’s family was already set to gather there, they still needed the groom’s family to attend. Could they make it there on such short notice? Yes they could, and they did!

The only other suggestion I made, beyond the license, was to hire a photographer, since photos are something to have forever.

We even included a Unity Candle.

When I arrived to perform the ceremony I discovered they’d pulled together quite a few more details as well, such as gorgeous flowers, bridesmaids dresses and the wedding gown. In other words, it looked like any other wedding – and all in one week’s time!

We can learn a lot from their story. While I’m not suggesting you give yourself a week to plan your wedding, unless of course life events dictate, it does show us that a more condensed timeline can work.  It also reminds us that you can pare down plans to the essentials and not sweat the small stuff! A license, an officiant, a location, maybe some flowers and photos… and viola! you’ve got a wedding. Ok, maybe some food and music, too, but really, there are many details couples’ become obsessed with, that really aren’t essential.

Flowers by "Bloom By Melanie"

Here is the big caveat:  this entire event took place off-season, and they already had accommodations booked. They were able to get the space for the ceremony and reception as well as their officiant (me), a great photographer and florist, all at the last minute. In peak season this could never have happened.

If you want a particular venue, and good professionals, and want them on a certain date, you absolutely need to book them in advance….. way in advance. The best people and places book up quickly. But on the other hand, this wedding does illustrate that you can still have a perfectly beautiful wedding without overly planning.

Wedding are really very magical, but a wedding in a week? That’s pretty miraculous!

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Photos by Rob Lettieri Photography

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The Diamond Dilemma

Valentines Day is coming and it is a popular date to become engaged! With so many details to worry about – do you really need one more concern?

If you have already purchased a diamond ring, just stop reading now. But if you’re in the market – please read on!

Do you know where your diamond came from?

It is thought that about 65% of the proceeds from the world’s diamond mines are used to fuel wars. These are called conflict diamonds.

Furthermore some diamond mines exploit workers in slave-like conditions as well as use child labor. This is well documented. Leonardo DeCaprio even made a movie about it, entitled Blood Diamond. Diamonds mined like this are believed to make up about 25% of the market. You can find a lot of research with differing numbers, but in the end, do we really want to take a chance that a diamond we purchase may have been mined by slaves or children?

What a gorgeous ring! Photo: Lisa Rhinehart, Rhinehart Photography

And while these problems are improving it still deserves our attention.

But don’t despair. There are many ethical choices, although I suppose one can never be completely sure. But we can at least try to make better choices.

Here are a few ideas:

One easy solution is to buy an antique ring, or use an heirloom diamond and have it reset. The ‘Turtle Love’ website is a good example of some of the choices available. You may even enjoy the hunt for a vintage ring.

This ring belongs to Caitlin Holleran. It was her grandmother’s engagement ring and holds deep meaning for her.

Consider a synthetic diamond such as cubic zirconium (CZ) or the newer variety, Moissanite. These man-made gems are 100% conflict free as they are made in a laboratory. Call them cultured diamonds!

There are also certified diamonds, especially those that are mined, cut and polished in Canada under strict environmental and working regulations.

There are other certifications known as conflict-free or fair trade, or simply go to a company such as ‘Brilliant Earth’ that specializes in this. They also sell cultured gems.

It’s very difficult to know for sure if you have found a conflict-free diamond. I recently learned that the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP), established in 2003 to prevent conflict diamonds from entering into the mainstream, has been called into question. The KP was a noble attempt by the UN to try to do something to improve the situation, but you don’t have to be an expert to understand how difficult this entire process would be.

And finally, you might consider looking at something other than a diamond. Yes, imagine an engagement ring that is NOT a diamond! I know, I know, its difficult.

But like so many things in life, once you know about it, it is hard to ignore. But the good part is that now that you do know you can take the opportunity to make a difference.


Thank you Caitlin Holleran for sharing the photo and story of your grandmother’s ring. And thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your stunning photos!


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One Wedding – Many Ideas

My horizons continue to expand with every wedding I officiate, and recently I officiated for a wonderful couple who created a celebration with their own personal flare. I want to share how it reflected their personalities and interests in several ways.

As patrons of a local theater they decided to use the smaller ‘black box’ venue that was part of the institution. A ‘black box’ consists of a simple, somewhat unadorned performancespace, usually a large square room with black walls, and this one was part of the civic organization the couple supported for many years.

Using the marquee is a great idea.

They turned the lobby into their reception area – but turning the tables a bit more – they offered coffee, cocktails and light refreshments before the ceremony, which was scheduled for noon.

When the doors to the theater opened and guests were seated, they were treated to a surprise video. Again, a great use of the venue. They’d created a presentation of photos, short video clips and music, complete with humorous titles, that elicited much laughter from the crowd. They called it: 23 Years in 23 Minutes. Yes, the couple had been together 23 years, and as a same-sex couple, they never imagined at the beginning of their journey that they would be able to legally marry.

After this charming, fast paced video, I took the floor for the ceremony. Having worked closely with them to create the ceremony I had a few references to the ‘prequel,’ their back story, and a few (but not too many I hope) movie and theater references.

Inside the 'black box' theater.

For a unity ritual we used a special port wine that had been given to them in the Portuguese tradition. In Portugal people often give wine to honor a special event, such as the birth of a child. The receipts are supposed to keep the wine and use it for their own special event, and a wedding seemed like the perfect time. So they shared in the ‘cup of life,’ by sharing some of this special bottle as a symbol of sharing all their future will hold. One of the grooms was also a scientist, so I included reference about the chemistry of wine, which he loved.

The special port wine.

So what can we learn from their wedding? Many things. First: having something to eat or drink before the ceremony can be lovely.  It’s really quite nice to have some socializing, something in your tummy, and perhaps a drink in hand, before the ceremony begins. But if the couple is not planning on seeing their guests before the ceremony this should be kept short.  I have also seen a pre-ceremony cocktail hour with the couple socializing with their guests.  Radical? Maybe, but also reduces the nervous factor.

This wedding was also an excellent example of how to have a successful theme wedding. Great ideas come from real places. When we tap into our passions in life we are on the right track. A theme can be anything. The key is to not over-do it, but reference it with small, meaningful touches. Some other themes I’ve witnesses included books and literature, beaches and sailing, love of dogs, sports, nature and trees, and of course seasonal themes.

And finally what I take from this wedding is when you are true yourself, everyone will feel the love. This was one I really enjoyed!


Thank you Marco Calderon for the photos!

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At that In-Between Age

Sometimes I write about big sweeping concepts, sometimes this column is about cultural or religious traditions and rituals, and other times there is just something very specific to look at. Today I want to address what role should a pre-teen can play in your wedding?  I’m not referring to the couple’s children, who should have an important role in the event, but rather that special niece or nephew, a close friend’s child, or anyone you wish to include who is too old to be a ring-bearer or flower girl.

Find a meaningful role for this age group.

A ring-bearer or flower girl is typically between about 3 to 7 years old, although often people send younger kids down the aisle, with less than satisfactory results. Teens or young adults are often considered Junior Bridesmaids and Groomsmen and have little distinction from any other Bridesmaid or Groomsman, but what about the pre-teen, those around 8 through 12?

There are several great ways to incorporate this age group.  Here are a few ideas:

They may be a ‘greeter’, one or several of these pre-teens can give out programs, bubbles, water bottles, paper fans, or anything that needs handing out. They can help direct people, especially if there is a water station, coat closet, rest rooms and just about anything that arriving guests might need to know before the ceremony.  If there is a guest book or something to sign or put your fingerprint on – having someone direct people is helpful.

For the girls be sure to encourage a matching dress to make them feel part of the bridal party.

You might have these young people design and put together a children’s table or area for the little ones. They should receive full credit for this chore, which takes quite a bit of responsibility. They may also look after and help entertain any little ones at the party, helping them with coloring or other activities that are at the kids table.

Older children helping younger children is a great idea!

Helping the flower girl or ringer bearer make their way down the aisle is an appropriate job for them. Those very young flower girls and/or ring bearers often have a hard time. Have them escorted by your pre-teen, maybe even pull them in on a wagon.

If you want to have your dog in your wedding, putting a pre-teen in charge of your pet  would also be great, especially if they know and love the dog. They could even walk the dog down the aisle, a more grown-up job than flower girl or ring bearer!

For the more precocious pre-teen, have them read a poem or other type of short reading.

Once they pass the magic age of 13 (give or take) they can be designated as a junior bridesmaid or groomsmen. They’re old enough to stand with you. They should enter in the processional just like anyone else. It’s quite an honor.

                                                                                   Photos by Lisa Rhinehart - gorgeous as always!!   Follow Me on Pinterest 

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Including A Remembrance in Your Wedding

Because a wedding is such an important milestone in life, acknowledging the death of a parent or someone close to you is worth your consideration. Anyone who has experienced a profound loss is thinking of that loved one on their wedding day, wishing they could be with them. Life is complicated, and even at such a joyous time, taking a moment to remember something sad is ok, because it is part of who we are and have become.

Memory pins on the bouquet

There are many ways to approach this idea.

Including a remembrance in the ceremony itself is very appropriate. Simply ask your officiant say something and give her or him some guidance. This is both direct and meaningful. It doesn’t have to be long, a sentence or two will still be effective, and will not over shadow the joy of the day.

Lighting a candle for a deceased loved one is beautiful, but remember – I do not recommend the use of outdoors. It just doesn’t work well and spoils the symbolism when you can’t get the candle lit, it blows out, or you simply can’t really see the beauty of the flame if it’s daylight. Indoors candles are more impressive. If you are outdoors consider using a flower instead. Do this by ceremoniously placing it into a vase, set on your altar table. A nice touch for a bride is to have the special flower designed into your bouquet so it may be easily removed for this purpose. This gesture says ‘you are a part of me.’ A ritual such as this can be done with or without an explanation.

If it is not possible to customize your ceremony, there are alternatives.

You may want to carry a special token of some kind – a tie-tac or cufflink, locket or necklace, or even a small photo. It can be in a bouquet or pocket, carried with you as you walk down the aisle.

Your program booklet is another place to put a remembrance, and even include a photo. Although I’m not big a fan of wedding programs, especially when they don’t add anything to the ceremony experience, when you can include content such as this, then I believe it adds real value.

A table with remembrances on it.

At your reception you can have a table with photos and candles or other remembrance items.

I am also not fond of the empty chair for the deceased. A chair is left empty at the front, signifying the person’s absence and can have something placed on the chair – a photo or flower. For me, it just feels too maudlin, and goes too far in pointing out a loved one’s absence.

This is a very personal and emotional topic and everyone is different. I’ve worked with couples who felt they did not want any acknowledgement of deceased loved ones, and those who wanted quite a bit included.

While your wedding day is a joyous day it is also a time of honesty and meaning, so let those feeling in, but in the right measure, in whatever feels best for you.

Another beautiful example!

Follow Me on Pinterest Photo by Lisa Rhinehart - gorgeous as always!!

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Follow her on Pinterest, ... Read Full
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