What should I do with all the family photographs? How can I share my father’s legacy with my children and grandchildren? How do I remain connected with my mom after her passing? Where can I go besides the cemetery to spend time with my sister?
Creating a memorial honoring your loved one is a great way to keep their spirit alive, giving your yearnings for a connection an outlet and allowing friends and family to have a communal commemoration for an important person and period in your life.
Weeks following the untimely death of Rod at 32, I began receiving decorative and toy tractors from friends and family members. At first I was baffled by the gesture and didn’t know what to do with this new collection; but then I quickly learned the rationale for these unusual gifts. We had moved to Kansas City from Washington, DC ten months prior to Rod’s passing; and unbeknownst to me following his death, I walked around repeating “how could he leave me in the Midwest?” Being an East Coast girl who agreed to move to Kansas as a quick two-year stopover before returning to Colorado, I was derailed by the change of plans. But before I knew it, I had embraced this new tractor collection and even added my own additions with a few tractor-themed coffee table books. While this wouldn’t have been my first choice of decoration, in effect we had created a memorial for Rod. When I sat in my family room and looked at those tractors, I truly felt comforted by and connected to Rod. Both the origin and irony of the collection gave me a much needed laugh that I know he was sharing with me. Needless to say, the tractor memorial also provided timely levity with Rod’s family and friends.
While the collection represented a “physical” memorial, I also chose to honor Rod’s untimely death by creating a “personal” memorial – choosing to truly run in his shoes and help fulfill his bucket list by competing in the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship. During my training, I spent many runs, rides, and swims talking to him, reminiscing the days we ran together and finding incredible strength being so close to him and his dreams. This type of memorial was successful on many accounts. As I say to all my grievers, taking care of yourself is the number one priority whether you think it should be or not. By honoring Rod in this fashion I was doing well for my mind and body in the toughest first years after is death.
Whether you are gathering friends and family to create a memorial together or just creating your own individual commemorative element or experience, embrace the project by sharing your ideas. Bringing others into the process of building a memorial not only helps you stay connected, but also provides an effective way to work through your grief. Having a project with an emotionally satisfying end goal will help you find some peace of mind knowing that you are building or experiencing something that is a long-term, sustainable, and comforting safe haven for you or anyone in need.
Most importantly, have fun with the logic. When a dear friend asked me to help her pick a bench in a park to dedicate to her late husband, an avid cyclist, we chose one near a popular entrance for bike groups so he could check out the latest bike gear. At a recent business conference, a woman’s necklace intrigued me – the metal medallion had the shape and lines of a thumbprint. I learned that she had lost her 12 year old son in an accident and wanted to keep him close to her heart forever.
Below are just a few memorial ideas to consider in honoring your loved one:
Things to Make
- Create a memory quilt using the clothes of your loved one. Make one for each family member. When it is finished, snuggle with it while watching television.
- Make a charm bracelet that includes hobbies or special dates (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, vacations). Charms can be added in the future to blend your life before and after the loss. Engrave the items with dates or thoughts.
- Create a scrapbook. Use all the memorabilia you can find and write a story or caption by each picture or memory. Share it with family members and friends who may not have known your loved one. Keep it proudly in a prominent place.
Things to Do
- Design and plant a flower garden. You can even write your loved one’s name using the flowers.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Grow your loved one’s favorite foods.
- Create a blog and share with family, friends, and coworkers. By encouraging them to add their own thoughts and stories, it’s a great way to capture memories.
- Establish a scholarship fund in your loved one’s name.
Places to Go
- Create a special memorial place in addition to or instead of a cemetery. For example, build a cairn on a mountain trail, create a special room in your home or find the out-of-the-ordinary place particular to you and your loved one.
- Place a memorial plaque on a special rock, park bench, or brick. Be sure to visit it often and bring others to see it.
- Take a vacation where your loved one always wanted to go but never had the opportunity to visit. When you return, make a memory book to share with others.
Updated: September 23, 2015