After the funeral which generally brings closure, finding meaningful ways to memorialize a loved one is just as important in bringing peace to family members. From a small gesture to large fund-raising gathering, finding unique ways to honor a person’s life can be helpful in the grieving process.
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Each religion has its own traditions for the passing of our family members. In Judaism the body is buried immediately and the family sits shiva for one week. The word “shiva” means seven for the 7 day mourning period and mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground. Mirrors are covered which symbolize the absence of vanity and self-indulgence in a place of grief. People are expected to stop by and may bring a meal or a cake and then sit with the family.
In the Christian religion, a casket is presented at a funeral home for a wake prior to a church service. Mourners visit with the family for one or two days and say prayers in front of the casket which can be closed or open showing a well-dressed. deceased body. A religious service and burial ceremony in a cemetery may follow.
If the body is cremated the ashes can be interred in a mausoleum or scattered outside. According to an article by Cremation Solutions, the extreme heat of cremators means that absolutely no organic material remains after cremation so human ashes do not present any sort of health hazard to the living or the environment. According to the EPA burial at sea of human remains – cremated or not – is permitted if placed in the ocean at least 3 miles or more from land.
But once the body is gone, what do we do to help us remember our loved ones?
Don’t be afraid to say their name and try some of these great ways to honor our loved ones.
Celebration of Life
A memorial celebration of life can be held after the somber services are over. People who loved and miss the deceased appreciate having an opportunity to spend time together. Invite family and close friends and ask people to make speeches and focus on wonderful memories. Share photos and stories with family and friends.
Sending off flowers in the sea, releasing butterflies or even doves can be a beautiful way to represent letting go and new beginnings. It is environmentally not a good idea, even illegal in some states, to let go of balloons. Some companies make a biodegradable balloon so that could be a solution. In China, flying kites at funerals is a way to honor the loved ones. Flying kites with messages tied to the tails in Guatemala brings hope of communicating with the departed to those grieving.
Asking for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers can help support a worthy cause that your loved one would appreciate. Selecting a charity that will support something the deceased would appreciate can help with a sense of closure for the family.
Memorial Run or Walk
Organizing the community to support a Memorial Run in the name of a loved one is a big undertaking but can bring awareness to the cause of death. Additionally, you could organize a group and wear matching t-shirts to participate in an organized walk for research in curing diseases like Breast Cancer or Alzheimers.
If you bury a body you could purchase a headstone and place it on the ground above. A plot must be purchased at a cemetery and you will have to decide if there will be spots for additional family members. This can be a healing way to memorialize a loved one by having meaningful words and designs placed on the stone. It also gives the family a place to visit which can help them feel connected to the dead.
Take a road-trip
When my grandmother died, my mom used the money she inherited to take her 3 kids on a “Legacy Trip”. I met my mom and brother and sister in Rome during my semester in England. We took the Eurail train from Rome, to Nice France, to Paris and then to Norway where my grandmother’s family was from. We will always remember that trip and what a nice tribute.
Get a memorial tattoo
Some people design a memorial tattoo with their loved one’s name and a graphic that is meaningful to them. I have even heard that ashes can be mixed in with the ink. Some people, like me, just get a tattoo to remind them to keep breathing. What happens in Atlantic City sometimes stays on your wrist
I see this a lot. It seems like a nice thing to do. Purchase a bench for a park that people can use to sit on and rest and dedicate in your loved one’s name. Often a memorial plaque can be placed on the bench. Is there a special place where you could plant a tree in memory of a loved one? Even if it is in your own yard. Some people purchase a brick at a college or sports arena in memory of a loved one.
Ashes in objects
Of course, many people purchase a beautiful urn and keep the urn in their homes on a mantle to remember their loved one. Several places, take the ashes and design them into lovely shaped decorative glass art. You can even have jewelry made to hold some ashes of your loved one so that you are always close to them.
Write a book, a song or a blog
Journaling has been recommended by many therapists as a way to process the loss. Sharing your story with others can help them to understand that they are not alone on this unexpected journey and that they will, one day, be OK. Sharing stories about your loved one, either written or photo stories, keeps their memory alive.
Writing my memoir not only helped me process my grief and loss, but gave me a way to tell Mike’s story.
Maybe someone will name a child after a loved one. Having that piece of family history that children are named after a respected loved family member is wonderful way to continue the legacy.
Passing on a special piece of jewelry or other valued objects like silver or china is another way for the family to remember the loved family member. I recently had my grandmother’s wedding ring refitted and am wearing it – no longer as my wedding ring, but as a beautiful family heirloom. Do Widows Wear Wedding Rings?
Another unique option is to take the deceased’s handwriting and create a handwritten necklace.
An option is to take some of the ashes and put them into jewelry like a necklace. The designs are really very pretty and it is definitely a way to keep your loved one close to your heart.
Create a memorial garden in a public space like a local park or church. Add a small plaque in memory of your loved one. The challenge is maintaining this garden so be sure to check with authorities first to be sure maintenance is included.
We created a beautiful memorial garden for my dad at our church, but due to the location after a few years, the garden became overgrown.
Making memorial garden rocks or donating a memorial bird bath to a garden is a nice option, and if you have space in your yard, planting a special tree or plant is a lovely way to enjoy the blooms every day.
Making a charitable donation in memory of someone is always appreciated. Every year on the anniversary of my husband’s death, my annual tradition is to send a donation to a worthy cause that I feel strongly about that year. For me, it has changed annually, but for some people, maybe supporting a cause close to your loved one’s life would be a great way to honor them each year.
Create a Memorial Scrapbook
A dedicated photo album is nice but processing the loss by making a memorial scrapbook could be good therapy as well as a great way to share the deceased’s story. By adding photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia to honor their lives in one place, you’ve created a new family heirloom to be passed down to generations.
Dedicate a Christmas Tree
As the holidays approach, dedicating a tree for the deceased loved ones is a good way to honor them during the Christmas season. Many homes now put up more than one tree so why not make an angel tree? Or another idea is to dediciate an outdoor memorial tree with edible ornamanets for the animals like pine cones covered in peanut butter and bird seed.
Hold a Fund-raiser in their name
This idea can be as elaborate as a fancy dinner with raffle baskets to a Go-fund me page. If you feel strongly about a cause to support in their name, raising funds for something like cancer research can be very rewarding.
Frame something they have written
My mother was a prolific writer and we have a lot of material that she wrote however, my dad – not so much. Seeing their handwriting after they are gone always brings a warm, yet melancholic feeling. How special to have something they have written framed to enjoy forever.
On-line memorial site
Traditionally people use obituaries or funeral home notices to tell others about the passing and life of a loved one. Since COVID when people could not attend funerals, on-line memorial sites became a popular way for people to share stories, photos, songs and videos. This is an excellent way to reach family and friends who could not make the funeral, but want to show their respects.
Place a jar and some small pieces of paper at the funeral or celebration of life. Ask people to write a memory on the paper and put into the jar. This keepsake will give the family a chance to read the memories when they want to feel close to their deceased loved one.
Start a Scholarship in their honor
One way to honor a someone is to provide a college scholarship to a student who may demonstrate similar attributes or passions as your loved one. This will not only impact a young life, but will also keep the memory of the departed alive.
Memorial Christmas ornament
If young children are around, making an ornamet together in memory of a loved one is a special way to remember them during the holidays. Gifting someone a personalized angel ornament is a beautiful way to show you care and are thinking of them.
A Birthday Tradition
As special dates and anniversaries get closer, we often experience anxiety about those days. One way to help is to honor a special birthday tradition in memory of a loved one. Mike’s birthday was the 4th of July and we always had a party on that day. I don’t throw parties anymore, but for the 4th of July, I like to get a Carvel Ice-cream cake (his favorite) and share it with family or friends.
Memory Table at Wedding
This gesture is appreciated by family members who are missing a loved one’s presence at this special occasion. A small table with photos of grandparents or other significant family members with a candle and small saying like “always in our hearts” is a way to honor and include the deceased.
Memorial Teddy Bear
Turn your loved one’s clothes into a cuddly teddy bear to keep forever. I used a local artist who designed three different ones. Two wearing his favorite college T-shirts from the schools our sons went to that I gave to my kids and one for me in tie-dye and a favorite T-shirt from our Key West trip that she used on the feet.
Memory Quilts or Bags
These beautiful items use old clothes and maybe other fabrics to design a special remembrance item. My talented friend took Mike’s old shirt and created a beautiful bag and a pot holder which always bring a smile to my face when I see them.
Remembering a loved one with a special favorite meal can be a nice tradition. My sister and I like to celebrate Mother’s Day with lobster rolls, one of my mom’s all time favorite meals. Another idea is to visit their favorite place on special days – my mom’s was the Cull House Restaurant by the bay for their lobster specials. Yummy!
Donate to Alma Mater
If your loved one attended a college and felt their education helped them lead a good life, what better way to show appreciation than to make a donation to that university and help support the future generations who attend that school.
Make a Diamond from Ashes
I just found out this is a thing but it seems pretty cool to me. You only need a half cup of ashes or hair but the cost is high at about $3000.00. Check out this site for more details Ashes to Diamonds.
Live their Bucket List
Often we feel our loved ones left too soon. What did they never get to do but would have loved? You know, so just do it for them or in memory of them. Living your best life is a gift they would wish for you.
Each family is different and so whatever helps you to remember your loved one is the right way to do it for you. Do not let those feelings of guilt sneak up. I know I have sometimes felt I did not do everything right after Mike died, but it is not like I had any experience doing this. I wish I had played more music at the wake. He loved music and I would have wanted him to be serenaded. I would have hired someone to play bagpipes too.
Most importantly, it is never too late to make that gesture to remember and honor a loved one. I believe they are still with us and appreciate it when we acknowledge their importance in our lives.