David Eagleman, the neuroscientist and author, observes that there are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second comes when the body is buried. The third comes somewhere down the line when your name is spoken for the last time.
It’s this last death that we, as the ones left behind, have to work to stave off. When a loved one dies, we can be left with a feeling of powerlessness and an uncertainty of how to go on. It’s natural, but also incredibly difficult. But that’s where we can go to work on preventing that third death from ever taking place. Honoring the deceased person’s memory is a way for us to take control of our grief and turn it into something positive.
“When you look at the psychology behind grief, what it is is that we’re losing a part of ourselves,” says Dr. Jada Jackson Hill, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC, a Nationally Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and VP of Care Management at Listeners On Call. “And so when we are engaging in moments of memorializing a loved one, it means that we’re allowing ourselves to heal and accept the idea that life is not going to be the same.”
While life isn’t going to be the same, Dr. Jada notes that we can do our best to honor the deceased in little moments and finding time to remember them. And taking steps to honor them is a way to ensure that the person is never really gone.
“When we memorialize someone, it’s really keeping them continually alive,” she says, “But not only in our own memory, but also in the memory of our community.”
So what can you and your family do to keep a loved one’s memories alive? Here are eight suggestions that will help you through the grieving process.
1. Give Back in Their Name
There are a number of ways you can establish a grant or a charity that helps others in the name of your loved one. Find something that they were passionate about and come up with a way to create something charitable that ensures that, year after year, their memory will stay vibrant in the community. “Creating a charity is a great way to honor your loved one,” says Amy Morin, a licensed psychotherapist and the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. “It doesn’t have to be big. You might simply hand out a small scholarship in your loved one’s name. You might even host a fundraiser each year with friends and family to collect the money.”
2. Prepare Their Favorite Food
Food is always a great way to bond with someone, and it is an excellent way to keep someone’s memory alive. Whether it’s learning to recreate their favorite holiday recipe, or simply enjoying their favorite candy once in a while, indulging in the same food that your loved one enjoyed is a powerful form of connection — and an easy way to talk about them with your family and friends. “Whether your loved one enjoyed pizza or they really liked Grandma’s roasted potatoes, decide to eat their favorite foods once in a while,” says Morin. “You might sit down with friends and family and eat together or you can simply do this on your own.”
3. Connect with Others
When you suffer a loss, it’s easy to feel isolated. It’s essential, then, to remember that you’re not the only one who’s grieving, and it can be a great thing to take the time to get together with other people who are experiencing the same loss. You and your family can share memories, tell stories, and just communally remember your loved one — chances are you’ll learn about another side of them, too. “Getting together with others who had a relationship with your loved one can be helpful,” Morin says. “But rather than just sit and talk, you might find it helpful to plan an adventure together. Play the person’s favorite sport or have a picnic in the park.” The more personal, the better.
4. Create a Keepsake
When a loved one passes away, often we are left not only with their memories, but closets and drawers full of their clothes. It can be difficult to part with these items, as they are a tangible connection to that person. Consider taking their favorite shirts or other articles of clothing and turning them into something you can use around the house: Napkins, pillows, patchwork quilts. Morin notes that there are plenty of services now that tackle this, too. One of our favorites is The Fabrics of Life, which can turn old clothes into everything from stuffed animals and shawls to blankets and bears.
5. Carry on a Tradition.
The annual summer pig roast. Two-hand touch at Thanksgiving. Getting everyone together for playoff baseball. Traditions are crucial to the fabric of a family, and to keeping memories alive — especially for kids. Think of a tradition you shared with your loved one and do your best to keep it going with family and friends. “It might be something small like always eating wings while watching football. It might be something big, like camping every summer,” says Morin. “Carry on that tradition in their honor.”
6. Make a Memorial
It can be elaborate, such as a photo collage, or something simple like a collection of a few personal items together in one place. Whatever you do, creating a small memorial in your home is a way for you to pause and remember them each day. Dr. Jada recalled a friend who lived in Los Angeles and put together one for her grandmother in her Hollywood apartment. “There were little trinkets there, a bracelet, some pictures and other memorabilia that was important to her,” she said. “And it gave her a sense of groundedness, which is what we’re looking for when we’re feeling numb and detached.”
7. Put Together a Video
We live in a technologically-rich age, and the means to put together a top-shelf memorial video is available right on our phones. Gather pictures, video, music and other bits of memorabilia and put them together in a video that you can share with friends and family and revisit every few months or yearly. This will become even more valuable as the years go on and we start to forget little things like how their voice sounds. “It’s a way to remember when the memories begin to fade, because that’s a huge part of the psychology of grieving and memorializing as well,” says Dr. Jada. “Our brains eventually suck memories away and it’s hard to recall those memories. This is a way to say, ‘Hey, I have this video, or I have something digital to hold onto and revisit.”
8. Get Together on Their Birthday
Every year, when your loved one’s birthday comes around, gather with friends and family, and take some time to have a drink or share a meal in memoriam. Keeping that sense of connection between those of you who have felt the loss is a good way to share your grief and also collectively celebrate your loved one’s memory. “Connectivity is so fundamental to our needs,” says Dr. Jada. “It’s a basic fundamental need for us to be able to connect and to reach out and grieving collectively is something that one can do to keep a loved one’s married memory alive.”