Including Wedding Guests Who Can't Attend Your Wedding

While weddings are a time to gather friends and family from faraway places, sometimes circumstances prevent them from attending. If you have a loved one who must be absent because of health reasons, military deployment, work, or other reasons beyond their control, you can still honor them in your ceremony.

Many couples choose to honor deceased relatives during their ceremony with words, photos, or music. You can honor your absent guest during the same part of the ceremony, but make sure to make a distinction between guests who are unable to attend and those who have passed away. To avoid uncomfortable mistakes, avoid placing candles next to portraits honoring still-living loved ones.

Is your loved one artistic, good with words, or talented in another way that can contribute to your wedding? Whether it’s a painting of you and your fiancé, a poem, a sculpture, or something else, you can always display their gift to you with a note about how it is there in lieu of its creator. If your friend is handy with sewing or knitting, they can even contribute part of your wedding ensemble.

If there will be a wedding program, you can mention your absent loved one and explain how they are still a part of your ceremony in spirit. You can also assign them a role in the wedding party, as a groomsman or bridesmaid, with a note in the program about how you regret the circumstances preventing them from performing their role in person.

If you won’t be using printed programs in your wedding, you can convey the same sentiments in a speech written by the absent person and read by you or a member of your wedding party at the ceremony or reception.

Take advantage of technology. If your loved one will have access to a video camera, a webcam, or even a tape recorder, they can record a message to be played at the ceremony. If they’re feeling creative, they can dress formally for the occasion and even add fun additions, like tapping a glass with a spoon before they go into their speech.

If the right technology isn’t available in your friend’s circumstances, he or she can also call in at a prearranged time and give a speech via speakerphone. Be sure you practice with whatever technological setup you’ll be using beforehand, though, to make sure you’re not fumbling with “technical difficulties” at the crucial moment.

Video Conferencing

For an even more interactive experience, have your guest virtually attend the celebration through videoconferencing technology. There are a few ways to do this.

Your guest can download videoconferencing software. Although many of the best programs cost money (plan on $50 to $100), there are also free programs that get the basic job done through Google, Microsoft, Skype, Zoom, and other reliable companies.

Once your guest has the software, he or she will need the hardware. This includes a camera (either a webcam or a video camera hooked up to the computer) or a microphone (if their voice is all you need). Many computers come with this hardware included, so check the sound and image quality before you buy new ones. If your guest isn’t very technologically savvy, consider mailing the relevant equipment as a thank-you gift.

How would you like to present your absent guest? You can project his or her face onto a wall or screen (in which case you’d need to rent a projector and screen), or you can use the screen from a computer monitor or television. Be sure the image can be seen clearly from across the room.

If the picture is pixilated or blurry, you’ll need to upgrade your hardware. This can get expensive, so decide how important picture quality is to you. You can also rent videoconferencing hardware for the day of your wedding.

If you’re holding your wedding in a banquet or conference facility, ask about videoconferencing options. Often, large facilities have dedicated rooms with all the equipment and setup you’ll need (as well as in-house technicians to set it up for you). You’ll need to bring the wedding party into the room for the absent guest’s speech, but their presence will be worth it.

Let your guest know how they will be included in the ceremony (not only the technological side, but also at what point in the ceremony) so they can tailor their speech to blend seamlessly with the flow of the day. Also, give them tips on how to look and sound their best.  Make sure to remind them to always look into the camera and to speak slowly and clearly.

Keep time zones in mind; moving your guest’s appearance up or down an hour might not make much difference in your wedding reception, but could mean your guest doesn’t have to get up in the middle of the night.

You can interact with your friend just as you would with a person at the ceremony; just don’t eat too much cake in front of the camera, or you may end up making your virtual guest drool on the keyboard.

If you can’t include your absent guest in the ceremony through any of these ways, you can still let them feel included in retrospect. Make sure you thoroughly photograph the wedding, including a nice wedding album or video, so you can share the experience together in person.