How to remember and honor a loved one can be tricky and is a deeply personal thing. It is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are probably hundreds of ways, some of them very creative, that folks keep a loved one actively in the world, though they may have been long-passed.
There are things that can be done right away after a death, or incorporated into a funeral or memorial service, and others that can be done in the longer term, or on an ongoing basis. Let's start with the immediate ones.
Flowers, of course, express sympathy in many ways. Some traditions do not always approve of flowers, but my personal feeling (and this is only my opinion) is that they can be donated to a hospital or left at a cemetary if they are unwanted.
Gather family photos and make an album, or play a photo montage on a computer during a wake or shiva. Perhaps make a gift of a physical album to close family and friends, if that feels appropriate.
Leaving personal items at a grave.
Light candles in whatever traditions feels right to you - in Jewish practice, a candle is burned for 7 days - votive candles are always lit in the front of a church - candles can also be left at a grave.
Planting a tree is also a lovely way to support a living thing in your loved one's name.
Donate to the charity of their choice - it doesn't have to be much, and can usually be done anonymously, if you wish.
As time goes on, other ways of long-term memorializing that can truly affect people's lives. When we sold my father's house, I created a memorial scholarship fund at the music school where he taught, for a deserving young person to study their instrument. My mother was a world-class pianist and I donated her antique Steinway grand piano to the music school she attended in Philadelphia - to this day, it sits in one of the practice rooms where it is used by students every day and well cared-for.
There are actually some lovely traditions that you can develop, or you can do something once in one particular loved one's honor:
Read their favorite story aloud
Cook your loved ones favorite dish, use one of their recipes to prepare a meal, or host a pot luck and ask people to bring a dish your loved one liked or taught them
You can also gather their recipes and create a cookbook
Visit their favorite quiet spot and have a chat with them
Take a trip, by yourself or with others, to that place they always wanted to go and honor them there
Volunteer for an organization that had meaning for them
Begin a Keepsake Box of their treasured items or things that remind you of them
Have a dinner in their honor and share stories and remembrances
Make a memorial Photo Album of their life
Donate personal items to their favorite charity
Wear their clothes or jewelry if it gives you comfort
I have also read of some incredibly creative memorial ideas:
Using a loved one's ashes to make pencils and give them to family and friends
Putting some ashes into fireworks and lighting up the night sky
Taking their clothes and making them into quilts
Have their photo made into a stamp
Raise money for a memorial bench in their favorite spot
Write a poem, song or piece of music
If they played a sport, buy equipment for a local team
The possibilities are really endless - and they really help you put your emotional talent to good use. Involving others in these endeavors makes everyone feel useful and spreads a little joy.
I believe these are not meaningless gestures, but a key element of the grieving process. They give us some power back after the helplessness that loss can bring. And as long as actions are taken in their name, our loved ones live on in us.
One other note - if the person who has passed was someone with whom you had a challenging relationship, I might offer a few ideas:
Honor yourself and take excellent care of your health
Journal about all the feelings that are coming up
Donate their personal items that bring up painful memories, so others can benefit and bring some good out of the pain
If the memories create more trauma, put it aside for now.
Grieving is an ongoing process - and we all can only do the best we can.
If you would like to speak to me personally about the above subject or any topic surrounding Grief, Loss, coaching or healing, click here to set aside a personal Free ½ Hour Empowerment Call. You are not alone.
Claire M. Schwartz
Leading You Back into the Light after Loss