Leah Gervais wedding at St. Francis Xavier in New York City

My father suddenly and shockingly passed away just months before my engagement. Like every little girl, I never could’ve imagined having to plan a wedding without my dad to walk me down the aisle.

During that time, I researched ways to subtly but clearly honor him throughout the day. I found so much warmth in the articles and blogs I read, remembering that I was far from alone in my heartbreak. That said, I wanted to be careful that our wedding didn’t become more about the loss of our parent than the creation of our new marriage. Mostly because I know that’s what my dad would’ve wanted.

If you’re reading this because you’re planning a wedding without a parent, whether because of loss or otherwise, my heart goes out to you and you’re not alone. I hope that in sharing some of the ways we ended up going about this helps other brides (or grooms) to be.


How we worded our wedding invitations with a late father of the bride
Photo by Susan Shek Photography

We decided on using traditional language for our invitations and addresses and have the invitations be on behalf of our parents. After a bit of research, the traditional protocol would’ve been to not include my dad, and he was technically not inviting guests. Or, if I had chosen to include him, using language that said, “the late Paul Gervais invites you to”… and so on.

My husband and I came up with the language, “from Heaven, Paul Gervais invites you to”… and so on. We loved this touch and loved that he was still included.

Toast to him

Before I put my wedding dress on, I got together in a quiet part of the hotel with some of the most important men in my dad’s and my own life. This included his brothers-in-law, the man who was his own Best Man in his wedding, and his close friends. This was a nice way to honor him and compartmentalize thinking of him.

Photo by Susan Shek Photography

First look

In lieu of a first look with my dad (which is one of the things I was saddest about missing out on), I did one with my sweet mom!

Our wedding planner said that the mother of the bride usually helps her daughter get her dress and jewelry on. Since I have two sisters and therefore two maids of honor, they helped me with that.

Then, my mom came into my room in our suite and we did a traditional first look together. It was perfect and a great moment with just us two before I went to take photos with my bridesmaids and then leave for the church!

Photo by Susan Shek Photography

Something blue + jewelry

I researched high and low suggestions for including him with me throughout the day. To be truthful, many of the suggestions I found struck me as too sad for my personal taste. For example, a photo of my dad on my bouquet could’ve easily sent me into tears at any moment.

Each bride should do what feels best for her. For me, I decided to take my dad’s favorite blue mountain biking shirt (he mountain biked to work nearly every day) and tie a piece of it around my bouquet. He was with me the whole day.

Something blue in flowers, remembering a lost parent
Photo by Susan Shek Photography

One of my favorite details of the entire day was my simple diamond necklace. The diamond was originally from my mother’s wedding ring and she gave it to me a few days before our wedding. It is the most precious gift I’ve ever received and I was so touched to wear it on the big day.

wedding day flowers and look, Vera Wang veil and dress
All photos by Susan Shek Photography

Walking down the aisle

I was touched to have offers from my uncles, my dad’s best friend, and my mother to walk me down the aisle. However, for me personally, I felt the best way to honor him was to walk myself.

We’re (hopefully) at the day in age where no woman needs to actually be given away by her father to her husband. I do love what the tradition plays out to be and would’ve loved to have him with me, but just to have spent the moment with him, not to be given away.

Considering he wasn’t here, I thought it best honored him and the daughter he raised to walk myself. I was emotional, but also empowered, with this decision and felt like I had a small moment with him looking down on me before I took those first steps.

Leah Gervais wedding at St. Francis Xavier in New York City
All photos by Susan Shek Photography
All photos by Susan Shek Photography

Though I walked down the aisle alone, my mother was waiting at the end. She came to kiss us goodbye and wish us luck, sending us on our way. I loved this compromise to walking myself but still having the symbolic blessing from my parents before we went to the altar.

Father + Daughter Dance

My mother stepped up to the plate here too. We danced to a song that she and my dad used to sing to me when I was first born (Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder). We had such a good time and felt the love pouring out from our guests as they saw us have fun while also honoring my dad, who would’ve loved to have done this if he were here.

Mother daughter dance without the father of the bride

The best way to honor your parent

At the end of the day, I believe that no matter what you do in lieu of traditions that are meant for your parent that’s not here, you can’t do it wrong. The best rule of thumb is to ask, “what would this person want?” I would imagine that your parent would, above all, want this to be the most special day of your life. Let that be your compass and have an amazing day!

All photos by Susan Shek Photography.