After someone close to us dies, we may think that our connection with the deceased is over. Maybe we assume that the “healthy” thing to do is to let go and get over our friend’s or family member’s passing. (Does anyone ever get over a terrible loss?) Or maybe we have a hard time bringing up our loved one in conversation. It’s just too painful to recount the memories when their absence is so palpable we can touch it. Or maybe you’d like to find a unique way to honor your loved one. But you’re not sure what to do.
Each of us mourns in different ways. And these ways may change throughout the years. But our relationship with our loved one is never over. It lives on. It continues to be a living, breathing thing.
Journalist and author Allison Gilbert has written a beautiful book called Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. It’s filled with a wide array of creative and thoughtful ideas for honoring those we’ve lost. Below are five wonderful ideas to try—when you’re ready.
Create a biographical scrapbook
Find photos of your loved one, along with letters, ticket stubs and any other flat memorabilia that bring back positive memories for you. Then find images of historical events that correspond with those dates. This might be anything from images of presidential elections to athletes to popular appliances that were used during the lifetime of your loved one.
As Gilbert notes, “By going out of your way to include these symbols, you’re able to root your loved one in history, making his or her life and legacy more tangible.”
Create unique jewelry
Gilbert’s mom passed away before she got married. To honor her mother’s memory, Gilbert had a long strand of her mother’s pearls turned into a bracelet that she wore, and a pair of earrings for her maid of honor and bridesmaids.
Connecticut jeweler Robert Dancik creates unique pieces from guitar picks, gears from clocks, and playing cards. When his father passed away, Dancik used a brown leather button from one of his dad’s blazers to create a pin. He set the button in sterling silver and added an aquamarine to honor his dad’s love of the ocean. Maybe you can have a jeweler create a unique piece for you that incorporates something that belonged to your loved one—whether it was jewelry or not. Or maybe you can create the piece yourself.
Another idea is to engrave your loved one’s actual signature into a piece of jewelry. One woman’s mom used to put notes in her lunchbox. After her mom passed away, she scanned the words, “Love, Mom” into the computer. She sent it off to a jewelry company, which engraved her mom’s signature into a charm.
Create a magical box for your kids
If you have young kids, place a dozen objects in a small box for them to play with. You might include the items you simply can’t part with. Your box might include a loved one’s glasses, gloves, money clips and bookmarks. “Encourage kids to rummage through it all, making sure to mention where the items came from or to whom they once belonged,” Gilbert writes.
Create a refuge
After Gilbert’s dad passed away, her stepmother wanted to have a place to go to think about him. She decided to create a refuge in their backyard on a hidden patch of land. She purchased an iron bench at a garage sale and laid out medium-sized stones as a path from the house to the bench. She asked Gilbert’s and her brother’s kids to paint each stone with a different stanza from the poem “We Remember Them” by Rabbis Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer. As the kids were painting the words on the stones, they also heard stories about their grandfather.
For your own refuge, you might put a chair or blanket on the ground. Or you might create your refuge indoors. It really doesn’t matter. The key is that it’s a quiet space for you to reflect and remember your loved one.
Commit a random act of kindness
Spread kindness to others in memory of your loved one. As Gilbert writes, this could be anything from baking cookies for a police station to adding coins to someone’s parking meter. The Kindness Project was created by the MISS Foundation, a national organization that supports families who’ve lost a child. You can download a Kindness Project card here. And you can get more ideas of random compassionate acts here.
Pick any ideas you like. Or let these ideas spark your own creative projects. Plus, take your time. Do what brings you meaning and joy. Again, maybe you’re not ready yet to look through your loved one’s belongings. And that’s OK.
I think what’s most important to remember is that a loved one’s passing doesn’t end our relationship with him or her. We can continue to cultivate our bond throughout the years. We can continue to honor the memory of our loved one. We can continue to keep the conversation open long after he or she is gone.