Headstones, tattoos, ashes in objects, memorial runs and benches: How to memorialize and remember a loved one. Ways to help process grief after the loss of a loved one are many and is there more guilt if you don’t do it right?
It is impressive how much good and how much craziness comes from memorializing our loved ones.
Each religion has it’s 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?
- Throw a party or luncheon
A memorial celebration of life can be held after the somber services are over. People who loved and miss the person appreciate having an opportunity to spend time together. Invite family and friends and ask people to make speeches and focus on wonderful memories. Share photos and stories with family and friends.
2. Ceremonial Goodbye
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 claim to 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.
3. Donation or Scholarship
Asking for donations in lieu of flowers can help support a worthy cause that your loved one would appreciate. Raising funds for a scholarship is another way to memorialize someone, especially a younger person. Selecting a charity that will support something the deceased would appreciate can help with a sense of closure for the family.
4. 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.
6. Take a 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.
7. Get a tattoo
This seems to be a thing on the Facebook widow and widower pages that I read. Some people design a 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
8. Donate a bench or tree
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 plaque can be placed on the bench. Is there a special place that 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 as well.
9. 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.
10. Write a book (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.
11. A namesake
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 another 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 heirloom. Do Widows Wear Wedding Rings?
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. Thanks readers for letting me brainstorm. Can you think of any other ideas?