Why do humans memorialize each other? What does it mean to memorialize? In its most basic terms, a memorialization is simply sharing and preserving the memory of a loved one. It's a way to commemorate someone we've lost. We all want our legacy to continue after us, and a memorial to someone reminds us, and our descendants, of that legacy.
A memorial can be something as elegant, elaborate and famous as the Jefferson or Lincoln Memorial: a monument that people travel the world to see. But you needn't build a grand statue or landmark building; a memorial can be something as humble and simple as a headstone or an urn. It can be as ethereal as singing the departed's favorite song, writing a poem, or planting a flower or tree in their honor.
There seems to be a universal human need to create memorials for departed loved ones. Some cultures honor their dead ancestors for centuries. It is a way for us to say goodbye, it helps the grieving process, and gives us closure to our loss. It gives us comfort to be able to reflect on the joy the loved one brought to us during their life. And it helps us with the healing process, particularly on those rough dates, such as their birthday or the anniversary of their death. But even more, it is a way for us to create a legacy that the lost beloved has left us. Memorial tributes allow us to share our memories with other bereaved loved ones and memorial products keep alive the memories of the departed long after they have gone.
There are as many ways to memorialize someone as there are people to memorialize. The memorial is there to remind us of the unique gifts and special qualities of that person. Create a memorial that reflects that uniqueness.
Give a speech: It could be to a small gathering of family and friends, or it could be to a community group. Perhaps the departed was a prominent member of an organization, or a teacher or coach. Wherever that person had influence and touched people's lives is an appropriate venue to talk to folks who are gathered to remember their legacy. Talk from the heart: tell a story, whether it's humorous, poignant, whimsical or inspiring, that reflects the values the loved one instilled in you and the people he or she touched, and encapsulates the attributes that made him or her special.
Write a tribute: If you're not one for public speaking, put your thoughts on paper instead. The tribute could be a simple poem, or it could be a personal story. Who you decide to share this tribute with is up to you. You can mail it to friends, post it on a website or social media, or keep it sealed in a drawer. Send it as a letter to the editor: it doesn't even matter if departed was a public figure or not, their memory is something that can be shared. Perhaps they embodied courage or sacrifice. Maybe they were a veteran, a schoolteacher, or sports coach who inspired a generation of youth. Maybe they gave a lot of themselves in volunteer work. All of these attributes are worthy of being told. Everybody's life is a lesson for the rest of us.
Place a Monument: Set aside a portion of your yard to plant their favorite flowers, and set up a statue or plaque or flagstone with their name. Create a rock garden dedicated to them. Place a headstone at their grave or monument in a cemetery.
Plant a tree: It can be in the local park where you visit all the time, with a plaque and a bench with their name. Or you can donate to a nature preserve and have a tree planted in a forest in their honor.
Create a memorial table or shrine: Set aside a special corner in your home with their favorite items: photos, memorabilia, knick-knacks, candles, and other personal items.
Create a photo album: Place your favorite photos in an album that can be shared and passed on. There are numerous online companies that make hard cover photo books that are beautifully constructed, and can have text and captions added to the photos. Post digital photos online or create a PowerPoint slide show or video memorial.
Make a memorial website: In addition to the photos mentioned above, you can create a website where friends and family can post their memories and stories, becoming a virtual gathering place for loved ones.
Make a mix tape of their favorite music: Few things trigger memories and emotions like music. A certain song will transport you back to a specific time and place and memory. Take their favorite songs and create a “mix tape” to share—or in this digital age, create an mp3 playlist, or a Pandora station dedicated to the departed.
Volunteer or donate: Carry on the legacy of whatever the departed's passion was. If they were active in a faith based organization, or an avid gardener, or spent time working with children or a community group, keep that legacy alive by continuing their work. If you don't have the time or inclination to volunteer yourself, make a donation in their name.
Save special personal effects and items that are unique to that person and that remind you of them, whether it is a special piece of jewelry, an item of clothing, or a favorite book. The purpose to a memorial is remembering what made that person different. There are no right or wrong ways to remember and no right or wrong items to use as a memorial. It can be flowers, it can be a baseball glove, or it can be a favorite easy chair. A memorial reflects the things that that person was passionate about.
Above all, make the memorial a joyous thing. Whether it's an event or gathering, a physical monument big or small, a plaque, urn, headstone, or a special song, the purpose of a memorial is to help us keep the memory of someone dear to us alive.
The best memorials are ones that, even if they bring a tear to our eye, also fill our hearts with love. It is a legacy that will help their memory burn bright, not only for the grieving loved ones who knew the departed, but also for generations to come, who can carry on their legacy. Memorializations are how our civilizations remain constant over time.
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