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Having gotten married this year and acting as best man for my brother, one of the responsibilities for speeches was a toast "to absent friends".

With some of our family no longer being alive, for us this evoked memories of them.

Is the implication of lost loved ones strong enough that this is a widely understood euphemism for dead family and friends?

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Glasses are raised and the toast is given. To absent friends, to those who couldn't make it and those that didn't. There is always one full drink left down on the table or bar to honor them. – user95266 Oct 22 '14 at 12:42
In Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), Picard offers a toast "To absent friends... To family." The heroic death of their comrade, Data, is clearly in mind. See imdb.com/title/tt0253754/quotes and en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Star_Trek_Nemesis . – rajah9 Oct 22 '14 at 13:04

It appears to be more common to understand the “absent friends” toast as referring to live people not in attendance, as well as the dead. There may be some generational or regional differences in interpretation. Example speeches at hitched.co.uk (1, 2) illustrate how common. On other occasions, such a toast may refer only to dead friends and relatives.

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From Epicurus's Morals Speak kindly of your absent Friends, to those that are present, that they may not think you are unmindful of themselves, when they are absent. That one clearly refers to living, but absent friends. I think the "deceased" sense is mainly a cliche trotted out at wakes and other gatherings following a recent death. – FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 16:45

"To absent friends" is a toast to mean being missed, thought of at the moment, passed on or alive but non-present. Mostly giving a toast, such as at an event or a dinner.

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Welcome to EL&U. We very much appreciate references with answers, so we can all learn from your sources! – medica Dec 24 '13 at 2:44

Considering that absent has meanings of 'not present (at a certain place)' as well as 'not existent,' (yes!) it must be said, no, the reference is not necessarily to the deceased.

However, in the context of a formal (religious) wedding ceremony, everything has a definitive significance. I would say the answer, ultimately, should come from the church/ ceremonial priests per tradition.

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