There is plenty of advice, but anyone who has first-hand experience will tell you that each of us needs to find our own way. Coming to terms with such loss is a process, and it’s one that can take many forms.
An important part of the process for many is memorializing the deceased in some way. Traditionally, commemoration of an individual’s life takes place over the course of a wake, a funeral, and a burial. These rites and rituals, with deep cultural and sociological roots, often help to give friends and family some closure. At the same time, the grave site provides a physical space where those in mourning can go to grieve, to remember, to converse with the dead.
But what if there is no grave?
Many people now choose cremation instead of burial, and while ashes can be buried, in many instances they are not. Some people find it difficult when a loved one does not have a permanent resting place that can be tended and visited. In addition to honoring the deceased, a grave site helps those left behind to maintain a feeling of connection to the person they lost.
There are, however, countless ways to create and sustain a feeling of deep connection without needing a headstone or other traditional memorial. In fact, even if you do have a grave to visit, these personal rituals and routines can really help you come to terms with your loss while at the same time giving you a way to honor your loved one.
Establish an Alternate Memorial
Just because you don’t have a grave to visit doesn’t mean you can’t have a special place set aside to honor your loved one’s memory. There are dozens of items and spaces that you can dedicate to someone. You might sponsor a park bench in a location where your loved one enjoyed walking or watching the sunset. There are many places that accommodate memorial bricks or plaques. You could even donate a memorial sculpture to be installed in a park, city square, or building.
Create a Memento
It can be comforting to have something of your loved ones to remind you of them. While people often hand down jewelry and other valuable items, sometimes the most intimate and cherished items are personal belongings like clothing that wind up in out of sight storage. Instead of putting these items away, you might find a unique way to display them like making a quilt out of favorite clothing items or framing a particular piece of clothing under glass. You can also use a variety of items to create a keepsake box or a scrapbook, collecting and arranging items to help you remember special events or favorite pastimes. You can use a shadow box or a shelf on a bookcase or really any free space you can find to create a shrine. A shrine can be tended much like a grave site, with fresh flowers and other offerings. And if you want a memento you can always carry with you, maybe you’d like a tattoo of the person’s name or a quote in their handwriting, or some other special symbol that represents your relationship.
Sometimes actions speak louder than words and choosing to do something in the present is more effective than lingering over the past. Did your loved one have a favorite charity or other organization where you could volunteer your time? Maybe they had a trip they always wanted to take, but never got the chance. You could take the trip for them. Or maybe they had a random bucket list of things they planned to do. You could start crossing items off yourself, all in memory of the joy they felt when considering doing these things themselves.
Start a Tradition
Another way to do something that carries the memory of your loved one into the present and the future is to establish special traditions that you can carry out every year or season. You could hold a special dinner with all your loved one’s favorite things on the menu, plant a particular vegetable in the garden each spring, hold a pumpkin carving contest in the fall, make special sugar cookies for the holidays. Even something as mundane as spring cleaning can take on special meaning if you associate that annual rite with a loved one’s past traditions.
There really are countless ways to remember and honor a loved one. Take your time and think about what feels right. There are no rules you need to follow. No matter which choice you make, it will be the right one.