How to make sure loved ones who can't attend your wedding are still there in spirit

One of the best things about a wedding is being surrounded by your closest family and friends and creating happy memories with everyone you love. But when someone you care about is unable to make it, either because they have passed away or are unable to be physically present, there are ways you can incorporate them into the day.

“This gesture needs to be about the couple and whatever they're comfortable [with],” says Brandon Flory, senior sales manager at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “There are so many different ideas out there on Pinterest, but it's whatever suits the couple for their situation.”

It can be a delicate balance between respectfully remembering a lost loved one and becoming too somber, but it is possible. Flory says one of the most popular methods is to set up a table with pictures of those who have passed away, surrounded by candles, prayers or other mementos.

“We also see people leave a chair open,” she says. “And this could go either way, from someone [still living] who couldn't be there but also for a memorial for someone who's passed away.”

When Stefan Thomas' father unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and passed away after Stefan proposed to Aureyl Pitts (now Aureyl Thomas), she decided to do something to honor him in a way that was respectful to those who were still grieving.

She reserved a place where Stefan's father would have sat on their wedding day and designed a custom floral arrangement to put in the seat.

“You don't plan on [experiencing] certain milestones when your parents aren't there,” Aureyl says. “I think for my husband, it just gave him an additional sense of peace for the day.”

The officiant can play a part in honoring those no longer with you. A moment of silence during the ceremony or a verbal acknowledgement are ways to include and remember those people in a subtle, respectful manner. Flory suggests speaking with the officiant beforehand, so he or she understands the symbolic nature of what's being requested.

Playing a certain song or adding a note in the program are other tasteful gestures couples could use.

When it comes to guests who are still living but can't make it to the wedding for some reason—distance, illness or social conflict—technology has made it easier for couples to include them.

“Social media has played a huge role in sharing, and technology has come so far that the ability to livestream is awesome to share [your wedding] with those who can't attend,” says Jamie Rapavy, owner of Columbus Bride & Groom.

Rapavy suggests couples planning a livestream of the event do a pre-event runthrough, so any tech-related kinks are worked out early. This is something Kristen Ross was able to take advantage of during her wedding to Ryan Ross.

Kristen's grandfather had been in the hospital for much of their engagement. Although the original plan was for him to attend the wedding, Kristen and Ryan realized a week before the big day that it wouldn't be possible.

Kristen hired a videographer so her grandfather could watch the event afterward, but he was still heartbroken to be missing it. Then one of her bridesmaids suggested FaceTime.

“The day before, we got it all arranged,” she says. “My parents dropped off an iPad to the rehabilitation center and then we had an iPad at the wedding venue as well.”

She was able to speak with her grandfather on the iPad before she walked down the aisle, and someone held it during the ceremony so he could watch it in real time.

“It was really special and it meant a lot to me, because I was upset he wasn't able to come,” she says. “Even though he was physically not there, you could talk and see everything in real time, and that was much better than showing a taping after the fact.”