The death of a loved one is something that all of us will have to face at some point in our lives, and probably more than once. Knowing how best to honor a friend or family member who has died can be a tricky thing; there are many ways to keep someone you loved close to you, and finding what speaks to you most may take some time and exploration.
Everyone grieves differently (and all of those different ways are perfectly OK), but, for many of us, grieving is often characterized by a dual desire to move forward and to keep looking toward the past. Finding the right way to honor your loved one can be a powerful, healing step in the grieving process. It isn’t about refusing to move on; rather, it’s about making space in your life for their memory, and about allowing your love for that person to continue to nourish you. There’s no “right” way to honor someone who has passed on. What you choose may be a big gesture or a few minutes of quiet reflection; it may be public or private; it may be something that happens once or a small ritual you perform every day. The key is to do what feels healing and comforting for you. Here are some ideas:
1. Donate to your loved one’s favorite charity on his or her birthday.
Donating to help one of your loved one’s favorite causes is a meaningful way to help that person’s memory continue to shape the world. You could also donate money to organizations that help to prevent whatever caused your loved one’s death. For example, if your grandmother died of ovarian cancer, consider contributing to the American Cancer Society; if a close friend was killed in a drunk driving accident, think about donating to an anti-drunk driving campaign.
2. Volunteer in your loved one’s honor.
If donating money to your loved one’s favorite charity or cause isn’t for you, why not try volunteering for that organization? Also think about volunteer opportunities that might allow you to perpetuate the good things that your loved one brought into your life. For example, if your loved one was an important positive mentor for you as a child, look into volunteering at youth outreach programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
3. Make a pillow or quilt out of your loved one’s clothing.
For a (literally) comforting reminder of your loved one, consider making a pillow or quilt out of his or her clothes. If you’re not a sewer, there are a number of online sellers (like the one who made the quilt pictured above) who will make custom quilts and pillows from materials you provide.
4. Do something with the ashes.
It turns out that there are a lot of things that you can do with cremation ashes. You can have ashes incorporated into a glass paperweight or made into a diamond; you can even have ashes made into fireworks for celebratory send-off. The sky is (literally) the limit.
5. Plant a tree in your loved one’s honor.
Planting a tree is a classic and moving way to honor a loved one. You can also consider scattering the deceased person’s ashes over the planting site (Or take it a step further — the Bios Urn is a biodegradable urn that you can actually plant to grow a tree). Trees are great because of their long lifespans, but if your loved one loved a particular type of flowers, you might consider planting that in his or her honor as well. Invite friends and family over to the planting, and take the opportunity to share stories and thoughts about the deceased.
6. Get a memorial tattoo.
Tattoos are not for everyone, but for some they can be a powerful and permanent reminder of a lost family member or friend. If a full-blown portrait isn’t your speed, think about smaller ways to pay tribute, from a favorite quote to an image that reminds you of him or her.
7. On your loved one’s birthday, host a meal for family and friends.
On your loved one’s birthday, celebrate his or her life by inviting friends and family over to eat, drink, and share memories. There may be a few tears, but there will probably also be lots of love and laughter as you exchange your favorite stories. If you like to cook or bake, think about including some of your loved one’s favorite recipes in the meal.
8. Hang photographs.
Having a few beloved photographs of you loved one on your wall may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s a simple gesture with a lot of impact. Seeing his or her face greet you everyday as you move around the house may help you to feel like that person is still with you.
9. Read your loved one’s favorite book, or watch his or her favorite movie.
Reading or watching something that your family or friend really loved can be a powerful way to feel connected to him or her. You’ll enjoy the book or movie for its own merits, but also for the ways it reminds you of your loved one.
10. Wear something of that belonged to your loved one.
Wearing something that belonged to the person you lost can be a comforting reminder of that person’s role in your life. One of my own favorite pieces of jewelry is a simple necklace that belonged to my grandmother; I also know a couple of people who wear their grandparents’ wedding bands as their wedding bands. It’s a gesture that signifies the importance of the marriage, as well as a sign of continuance and love.
11. Make a storybook.
Take some time to write down stories about your loved one and how he or she affected your life. These stories may be sweeping in scope, or simple anecdotes about the times he or she made you laugh. You can make it a group project by asking friends and family to contribute; when you’ve put the stories together, give everyone a copy.