The care and keeping of memories

When we lose a loved one, the care and keeping of their memory becomes so important. After all - that’s where the loved one “lives” now. How do you steward your loved one’s memory? There are so many ways!

Many cultures around the world hold the memory of passed loved ones in high regard. This past April 5th was the Chinese Qing Ming festival, a colorful spring affair held in cemeteries in order to honor the dead. Then there’s the Jewish culture, which holds a special ceremony called Yahrzeit at the year anniversary of a loved one’s death. And of course I love how the Disney movie “Coco” showed the Mexican culture’s idea of memories literally keeping their past ancestors alive. Once the land of the living stopping keeping the lost one’s memory, that was considered the second and truly final death. (Visit here to learn more about Mexico's Day of the Dead, visit here.)

I would love to know: What are some of your family’s or culture’s traditions regarding memory? Comment below!

I personally grew up in a white American home. And though our family’s Christian culture held some traditions surrounding the initial loss of my dad, there were no other traditional times of remembering. I think the United States is simply not old enough to have long standing traditions of memory. And because there is no strictly defined “American nationality”, there are likewise very few culturally prescribed traditions that aid us in stopping and remembering. (And if you have a perspective to share on this, don’t hesitate to comment and tell me what you think!)

That means the responsibility for taking time to remember is up to each of us.

Grief artists learn to take an active role in keeping a healthy remembrance of their lost loved ones.

If you find yourself without a special way to remember (or if you need another special day or way), you can create your own ways to remember! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.) Set aside a corner of your home to be a special “memorial” for the lost loved ones. I keep pictures and special objects that remind me of my lost.

2.) Decorate an old box any way you like. Place objects that belonged to (or remind you of) your loved one in it. You can also keep a stack of notecards near the box. When a memory comes to you, go and write it down and place it in the box.

3.) It can be especially helpful to create your own traditions surrounding the death anniversary of your loved one. It can be a special day to treat yourself, or it can be a quiet day of reflection (plan ahead to take a day off, or just keep the workload easy). It can be a day when you write an annual letter to your loved one or to yourself, detailing how you feel, how you’ve grown and changed, and what important events happened during the last year.

4.) Sometimes there is a tradition or holiday in which the lost loved one’s presence is especially missed. See if you can set aside a special time of quiet or shared reflection on that day. Or find or create an object that represents them and their memory. Have the object present with you as you enjoy your time with friends and family.

5.) Many memory traditions are communal affairs. If possible, sit down with close friends and family and ask if they would like to participate in memorializing. Come up with your own tradition together! If they’re not interested or not ready to participate, don’t despair! Your memory celebration is yours for the making. Do it for and with yourself. Model healthy remembrance, and maybe they’ll join you next time :)

What traditions of memory have you invented already? What traditions would you like to start? Leave a comment and inspire someone else!

A word of caution in regard to memory:

There is a point where memorializing becomes idolizing. Idolizing is placing the lost loved one “on a pedestal,” so to speak. It’s when all their faults in life have been erased from your mind, and everyone around you doesn’t seem to measure up to the one you lost. Or it’s when the person’s memory becomes an “idol” that consumes your thoughts and takes you away from the people around you who are present, now. In my opinion (which is not a medical one!), a little bit of idolizing is normal, and can be a part of your grief process. But if your thoughts become obsessive or detrimental to your emotional or relational health, I suggest finding a counselor near you to talk it through. There is no shame in asking for help. I’m with you, and so are many in this Project Grief community. You are not alone.

You can learn to process your grief creatively - through art! Get our free e-course when you join our mailing list here.