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How do I keep a loved one’s memory alive after their death?

Memorialisation

Grief after bereavement doesn’t end with the funeral, and there are lots of ways to continue honouring the person who has died and find comfort in the process. By Hannah Jackson-McCamley, Funeral Celebrant

Hannah is an experienced celebrant who specialises in unique services that truly reflect the person that has died and the needs of those left behind. She is passionate about people, music, literature and travel and is training to be a psychotherapist.

When someone you love dies, it might seem as if life returns to “normal” for those around you once the funeral is over. Relatives might check in less often, and offerings of flowers or food dry up as friends assume you’re starting to ‘get over’ your bereavement.

Death, unfortunately, isn’t something we ever get over. But we can try to make peace with what has happened and even find joy when thinking of the past.

What does it mean to memorialise someone?

My experience as a celebrant has taught me that finding different ways to remember the person that has died can really help us cope with our grief. When everything feels chaotic and the world is a little emptier than before, creating rituals that hold meaning can give you a sense of control and positivity.

It might be hard to look at old photos of happier times or listen to songs your lost person played when you were a kid. But a simple memorial rite can also alleviate pain and give you a sense of the person still being present in your life.

A memorial may sound a little grand – I’m not talking about unveiling a statue or starting a foundation in their name (although if that’s how you want to create a legacy, go for it – see below for more ideas!).

Memorials can be simple things that you hold close or share just with family and friends. Here are some suggestions:

Memorialising someone by yourself

  • Watch the sunset or light a candle for your loved one when you miss them. Sunlight and flames are symbolic of life, create a warm atmosphere, and are also very peaceful to watch.
  • Say your person’s name, drop them into conversation, and share memories with your children and others who might never have met them.
  • Create an altar or small area devoted to your lost one – it can be as simple as a photo, or a snow globe they brought back from a trip, or a letter they sent you, etc.
  • Make a memory box or scrapbook of mementoes – ticket stubs, photos, birthday cards, dried flowers, etc.
  • Go to a place you both loved, alone, with the dog or other people, have a picnic there on birthdays and anniversaries, or whenever you feel like it.
  • Create a playlist of their favourite music and play it when you want to feel their presence.
  • Reupholster a piece of their furniture, give it pride of place at home, and use it every day.
  • Recycle their clothes, wear their watch or a jewellery. you can always update them by adding a new strap or recycling stones to create a new piece from the past. I got my Dad’s overcoat tailored to fit and I feel him with me whenever I wear it.
  • Plant a tree or a flower in a meaningful place or in your garden or grow a rosemary bush on your windowsill. It’s delicious to cook with and a traditional symbol of remembrance.
  • Write their life story or note down your favourite memories in a memory book. Ask others to contribute and add photos. On the first anniversary of their passing, send a bound version to people they loved.
  • Write a letter to your person on your birthday, telling them your news.
  • Give blood or register as a donor – it could help save someone else’s life.
  • Volunteer at the hospital or home that cared for them. This may be triggering for some, but cathartic to others.
  • Use art to express your feelings – poetry, painting, music, writing… let it all out.
  • When you travel, leave a flower or note in a special place or light a candle in a faraway sacred space, like a church or synagogue.
  • Try things your person liked – gigs, foods, bungee jumping – experiencing things they enjoyed might make you feel closer.
  • Talk to them. Let them know how you’re getting on.

Memorialising with others

  • Build a shared online photo album with friends and family. Ask others to contribute and update it whenever memories of your lost person come to mind.
  • Set an annual day of celebration – small or big – to honour their life.
  • Host a dinner party (on Zoom or Skype if necessary) and cook a meal they used to love. Ask others to bring a dish that reminds them of the person or cook their favourite recipe together.
  • Host a party on their birthday or anniversary – e.g. a “Dead Dad Party” – remembrance doesn’t need to be sad!
  • Make a quilt or toys from their clothes to pass on to the next generation, inviting others to contribute a square or two.
  • List their favourite films and host screenings in their memory.
  • Get together and talk about your loved one – the good, the bad and the ugly, joy as well as sorrow.
  • Give people they loved their best loved books as gifts.
  • Toast them on holidays and festivals.

Memorials that involve money

  • Make a charitable donation or join a charity fundraiser, like a run, in your loved one’s name.
  • Start an annual event with friends to raise money for a good cause in their memory.
  • Sponsor a seat at a theatre or a football club, a park bench or a space in an art gallery.
  • Create a legacy fund with a charity close to their heart or set up a fund for a cause that meant something to them.