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13 Ideas How to Honour the Life and Memory of Your Loved One After Death

When someone we love dies, grief is not something we get through. It is something we learn to live with. Every grief journey is unique, so be kind towards and patient with yourself. Just functioning in your day-to-day life and within society might feel overwhelming for several weeks or even months sometimes, depending on how close you were to the person who passed away. Nothing can prepare us for this pain. And yet, there’s something that science has proven to be extremely powerful and helpful when mourning the death of a loved one: ritual.

Rituals, says therapist Karla Helbert, “are made up of actions that represent ideas, thoughts, myths, or beliefs about a particular thing. Rituals give purpose to action and always serve to connect us to something else, generally something greater than our own solitary selves.” Research has shown that they help to significantly lessen grief.

We have collected 13 ideas on how you could honour the life and memory of your loved one. Some of them might not just help you to process your loss but also positively impact other people’s lives.

1) Honour your loved one with a scrapbook or memory box

It might take years before memories begin to fade but sometimes they do. To forever remember the good times and prevent that from happening, you could create a scrapbook or memory box. If you want to use older photographs that have seen better days, you could even look into restoring them yourself or handing them over to an expert who could do it for you. While you can include journal entries, newspaper clippings, dried flowers and tickets in a scrapbook, the memory box allows you space for meaningful mementoes (that remind you) of your loved one, a piece of clothing (maybe their favourite t-shirt), a small bottle of aftershave or perfume because we all know about the power of scents, a DVD or memory stick or some jewellery for example.

2) Write a letter, blog, poem or compose a song to honour your loved one

Many people find comfort in continuing conversations with loved ones who died either verbally or through letters. It is actually considered a rather healthy coping strategy. Writing (or any other artistic outlet) can also be very therapeutic in itself as it invites us to detangle complex emotions and allows us gain a better understanding and hopefully break through thought loops we might be stuck in. Seeing something spelled out in front of our eyes can provide a new perspective. It also helps us to remember life in greater detail and become aware of how our emotions and state of mind are continuously changing. If you decide to write letters, you could burn them or put them away in a safe place and re-read them on special occasions. If you write a poem or song to honour your loved one, you could choose to perform it at a family gathering or even more publicly at a poetry slam or gig.

3) Create living reminders to honour your loved one: Plant a tree or grow a garden

If the deceased loved the great outdoors or gardening, consider paying tribute to them by planting a tree – either on your own grounds or at a place that was special to them – or growing a garden. In the latter, you could plant their favourite flowers or flowers in their favourite colour or grow the berries or tomatoes they loved so much. You could write quotes or sayings they used regularly on stones and place them in different spots throughout the garden. If you plant a memorial tree you can watch it grow over the years, bring some branches into your home whenever it blossoms or maybe even eat its fruit if it bears any. It could, in the future, become a place where you have picnics in the shade or come to meditate or talk to your loved one.

4) Repair something of theirs or make something new from their belongings

You could choose to complete a project the deceased didn’t get to finish. Maybe they started building a treehouse, always wanted to create an exhibition with their photographs or had taken up painting but never finished their first canvas? You could repair their old watch, sewing machine or car and put it to good use or pass it on to someone who really needs or who you know would value it. Another way to commemorate your loved one is by creating something new from their possessions. Clothes for example are great to make stuffed animals for grandchildren or quilts.

5) Favourite Food or Film or Music

This is one that you can either do by yourself or invite other family members or friends ‘round. Cook your loved one’s favourite food and after you enjoyed the meal, put on their favourite film or music (and dance). You could also request for the favourite song to be played on the radio or create a playlist of their favourite music and share it with those that were close to the deceased. Even if you intended to make this a happy or celebratory experience, sadness or even anger might still arise. Just allow whatever emotions come up to pass through you without judgement. It’s all ok and perfectly human.

6) Start a new tradition

You could start a new tradition to honour the person who died. If your dad loved fairs or amusement parks, you could make it a tradition to have a family outing on fathers day where you celebrate his life by going on rides together and eat churros afterwards. Maybe your best friend loved eating pizza for breakfast and enjoyed climbing mountains – make it a tradition to do just that on her birthday. Maybe your spouse was massively into astronomy. You could make it a tradition to have a picnic under the stars with family and friends every year on the anniversary of their death.

7) Donation to Charity or Volunteering or Random Acts of Kindness

A beautiful way to honour the life of your loved one is by donating or raising money for a cause that was close to their heart or a charity they supported wholeheartedly. You could also sign up for some volunteering which will allow you to actively become part of and positively contribute to a greater cause and form connections with people that would’ve mattered to the person who died. It also ensures that their legacy is passed on.

8) Try one of their hobbies or learn a new skill

Maybe the deceased was the last one in the family that knew how to bake your great-grandma’s apple strudel or make a natural remedy that has been used for generations when anyone had a stomach ache. Maybe they were amazing at whittling tiny wooden people for dollhouses. Maybe they left behind a drum they’d made themselves and you could learn how to play it. Whatever special skill your loved one had, it doesn’t have to die with them. You could always decide to pick it up and continue the tradition. Whatever hobby they enjoyed immersing themselves in, could become something that helps you feel closer to them after they have gone. In the process of helping you come to terms with the loss, it might also broaden your horizon and connect you with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

9) Travel to/revisit their favourite places

It can be very cathartic to re-visit the favourite places of the person you lost. This could be a coffee shop, a restaurant they loved to eat at, a park or special viewpoint on a hike or a favourite holiday destination they returned to many times. Alternatively, you could visit places they always wanted to see but never managed to go to. Maybe their dream was to race on the Nuerburgring or eat ice cream in Venice or learn how to surf in Australia. (Re-)Visiting the favourite places of your loved one is not only a great way to honour them but can also help you feel more connected and let you see, taste, smell, experience the world through their eyes.

10) Throw them a party

You might choose their birthday or the anniversary of their death to throw a party or hold a celebration of life. Invite family and friends, serve your loved one’s favourite food and snacks, maybe their favourite cocktails as well, encourage the guests to bring photos or music and share memories. You could play games together or conduct a small ceremony that includes releasing butterflies (as a symbol of renewal and hope). It might be a fun idea to hand out a sort of signature gift to everybody. Maybe they never left the house without some lip balm or were known to always put a spicy sauce on every meal they ate or wear non-matching socks… You could buy a meaningful little something like that for friends and family to take home and remember the special occasion and the deceased whenever they use it.

11) Create something in their honour

You could honour your loved one by creating something that helps someone else. It may be something as simple as a bench that allows a stranger to rest or enjoy the view or that pond that meant so much to the deceased. It might be a scholarship for a subject that they were deeply passionate about or maybe something can be set up with a museum, theatre or concert hall that allows one person per month who couldn’t afford it otherwise to enjoy the arts. It doesn’t always have to be financial support. Let’s say your loved one was a trainer of the martial arts: you could help his friends or former colleagues organise a weekend workshop for underprivileged kids.

12) Create a shrine and light a candle

Create a shrine or altar with your loved one’s photo on it and any other items that feel important and appropriate to you. You could set this up in your home, your garden or somewhere in nature. Then light a candle and take some “me time” to remember and reflect. This might be the perfect moment to read letters or journal entries, open a memory box you created or look through a scrapbook or photo album.

13) Join a support group or start your own

Talking to people who get you or share a similar experience can help alleviate the pain of loss and provide comfort by making you feel less alone. Asking for and seeking support is a great act of self-care. Your unique journey might also help or inspire someone else. Maybe your loved one really struggled at a particular stage in or throughout their life with being different in one way or another, mental health issues, a disability or something else entirely. If you are convinced that talking to like-minded people with similar struggles would’ve helped them or made life a bit easier but there were or still aren’t any support groups available in your area, you might want to start one to commemorate their life.

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