If you had a complicated relationship with a loved one who died–perhaps the relationship was a source of harm–then small actions to honour them may not be what you need, or may not be sufficient to heal that connection. You’re not alone in that struggle. The support of a therapist, grief counsellor or grief support group may be what you need. There are many free options available, including in-person or online supports.
Visiting their Grave
This is likely the most familiar ritual of remembrance. If your loved one’s final resting place is in a cemetery you can go and visit their grave. This might be something you do more frequently in the years following their death, or you do on significant dates like the anniversary of their death. You might plant flowers, leave wreaths, bring food offerings, leave small crafts like a painted rock, or pour out a sip of their favourite drink. In Jewish tradition loved ones place a rock on the tombstone every time someone visits. It’s also totally okay if visiting a grave site feels overwhelming or uncomfortable–there are many ways to grieve and connect.
Ash Scattering Site
If there are cremated remains that were scattered in a particular place perhaps your ritual of remembrance would be to return to that spot and spend some reflective time. You could bring a journal and write, leave an offering of some kind, pause and play a song they liked, read a letter you wrote to them, or read a poem that soothes you.
Anniversaries and special occasions can be moments when the grief of losing a loved one is more intense and when you might want to time some of these actions. Be it the anniversary of their death, their birthday, or around holidays and special occasions. Reflect on the dates that would be important for you to mark, or where you might need added soothing.
Community Grieving Events
Local cemeteries or funeral homes in your area sometimes offer community services on days like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas where you can gather with others who are also grieving a similar loss. It’s important to remember you’re not alone.
If your loved one died as the result of a car, motorcycle, or bike accident you might be drawn to creating a small roadside memorial at the site of the accident. You could place a sign, flowers, items that remind you of that person, or spiritual or religious markers such as a cross for those of Christian heritage. A ghost bike is a bike that has been painted all white and installed at the spot where a cyclist died in an accident.
Donations in their Honour
You can remember and honour a loved one through donations. For example, if you had a family member who had a journey with cancer you might wish to make a donation to a cancer care center or a hospice or another organization that was an important support for you. Or maybe you wish to make an annual donation to an organization, cause or interest that was important to your loved one.
Food and Drink
Food and drink can be a really joyful way to engage in honouring loved ones. It might be making a favourite recipe at certain times of the year or, again, whenever you feel like connecting to them. Maybe you toast their favourite drink. Maybe at significant family gatherings you set a place at the table for recently departed loved ones. You could cook or bake recipes of theirs or dishes that were their favourite.
Jewelry and Clothing
Wearing jewelry or items of clothing once belonging to a loved one can be a way to remember someone. I wear a ring that once belonged to my grandmother on one side. I have some of my other grandmother's necklaces and pendants as well as an incense burner that was hers. Wearing or using those items is a way to bring them to mind and feel close to them. There are also many options for including cremated remains into pieces of jewelry.
Say it out Loud!
Who says that just because your loved ones are gone you can't keep having conversations with them? Perhaps you want to journal or write a letter as though you were speaking directly to them; saying some of the things that you want to say, expressing some of your grief. Or you could go for a walk to a relaxing place like a forest, or visit their grave and say whatever is on your mind and heart.
Shrines and Altars
An ancestor shrine or altar can be a place in your home where you place photographs or objects to honour your loved one. If you are part of a religious or cultural tradition that has a practice of creating shrines or altars, look to that tradition for guidance on how to set up a shrine. The shrine could be permanent, only set up for a while after their death, or set up temporarily at certain times of the year. You could light a candle and have a moment of silence, or light some incense, or read a poem or prayer as examples of how to meaningfully interact with the altar.
Hobbies and Passions
If there were activities or hobbies your loved one was passionate about, then engaging in those same activities could be a way to connect to their memory. Perhaps your loved one was passionate about gardening and you plant flowers or herbs that you know they would have loved and tending to those plants is a way to honour them. Perhaps there are certain hiking trails that they loved that you want to return to. If they had a favourite sports team perhaps as a family you do an annual trip to see one of those games in person. Friends of mine had a loved one who was a big golf fan and every year a group of friends do a memorial golf tournament in their honour.
Memorial trees planted in public parks, arboretums, botanical gardens or at your home are another beautiful way to honour a loved one. The tree can be a place that you visit, it can be a place that you rest and spend time with a book or a journal. Or perhaps there are small and environmentally friendly ornaments or items that you want to leave at the base of the tree or hang in the branches of the tree at significant points in the year.
To remind you how you always carry your loved one with you, you could have a memorial tattoo done. It could be a tattoo of a loved one's name, or their birth and death dates, or other symbols that connect you to them.
Consider times and places when you can tell stories of your loved one as part of remembering them. When you gather with friends and family, or maybe at occasions like family reunions, you set aside a time to have a toast to their honour and spend some time sharing your favourite memories of them.
You might also want to investigate traditions of your ancestors, your culture, or your spiritual path to see what existing rituals of remembrance might be embedded in those practices. For example in the pagan Celtic spirituality that is part of my heritage, Samhain, on October 31, is often a time to focus on our relationship with our ancestors.
Child Friendly Rituals
Many of these rituals of remembrance options can be made accessible to children. Perhaps visiting a grave involves making a small craft like a painted stone that gets left at the grave site, or a small ornament is hung in a memorial tree. Or engage children in making a favourite cookie recipe of your nana’s.
Create your own Traditions
Let these ideas spark your own imagination and creativity. Sit with what you feel called to, what you feel moved to do, what feels significant and meaningful and important to you. Start a conversation with your loved ones and create something together.
Be kind to yourself in the process
Remember to meet yourself where you're at and give yourself what you need. It's okay if you don't want to do any of these rituals of remembrance. And it’s enough if you do one small practice. Consider which options offer you soothing, and avoid options you think you “should” do that hold a burdensome feeling of obligation, or options which feel overwhelming.
Let's make this a conversation
Let me know in the comments what you already do to remember loved ones who have died. Perhaps what you do can inspire someone else to be able to create something that's meaningful for them.
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