Memories and Rituals


Talking about death and dying is a sensitive subject. Be sure to follow your own wisdom and modify and customise any presented strategies to best suit you and your family.

Memories and rituals are important ways of maintaining your connection with the person who has died. Death ends a life, not a relationship. You and your family will always have a relationship with the person who has died.

Find ways big and small to incorporate a loved one who has died into your life.

Ways to honour the loved one are to put up photos, keep a journal or special book where messages can be written to your loved one. You can also create a scrapbook or movie compiling favourite memories and items of your loved one.

It is ok to talk to, and about, your loved one who has died. Many people do this and it is not something to be discouraged. Some people talk in their heads, and others out load, especially when looking at the grave, or a photograph. Others communicate to their loved one by writing or creating art.

Create a memory box. Some people find it helpful to create a place to store important mementos and items of their loved one. You can have one box as a family or people may choose to have their own box.

Important opportunities for rituals can be your loved ones birthday, anniversary of their death, father’s day, mother’s day, or significant religious or cultural celebrations (e.g., Christmas, Yom Kippur). You can incorporate the deceased in a number of ways. Examples include taking a moment to silently remember the deceased before a meal, or going around the table and having everyone share a funny or lovely memory of the deceased from this time of year. It can also be significant to honour the deceased through preparing their favourite food. If the deceased is the one who cooked, it can be a way to connect if you attempt to make the meal they used to make.

You and your family may choose to visit the grave on a regular basis and honour your loved one by leaving flowers, saying a prayer, playing a song, or reading a poem.

You can remember and connect with your loved one through all 5 senses. Be creative and find something that is meaningful for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Touch – think of a special item that reminds you of your loved one and share this memory with a safe person (friend, family member, counsellor) or place the item in a special place. The item may be a piece of clothing, favourite mug, or anything that was meaningful to your loved one.
  • Smell – what smells remind you of your loved one? Is there a candle, perfume, dish soap, laundry detergent that reminds you of them? Or perhaps a scent related to a place – the smell of the garage, or the ocean. Smell is a particularly powerful way to access emotions and memories.
  • Taste – what did your loved one like to eat and drink? Is there a special meal you can have to connect with the deceased?
  • Sight – Photographs are the obvious visual way to connect with your loved one. However, you may find other significant visual cues. Maybe a gift they gave you, or something with their handwriting on it.
  • Sound – Some people have recordings of their loved one, this could be from an old video on your phone, or even their outgoing voicemail message. Other ways to connect by sound include listening to a significant song that you shared with them or just know they loved.

Making time and space to purposefully remember your loved one can be very rewarding and significant. It can also be very draining and emotional. Allow yourself space and plan your time around a ritual or memorial appropriately. It can be helpful to put a time-limit in place for your memory time, and have a way to purposefully end the remembering time. It can be helpful to have an activity scheduled that can change your focus afterwards. Examples of ways to purposefully shift your focus can be:

  • Do some deep breathing.
  • Have a refreshing shower or bath, or wash your ends slowly with a favourite soap.
  • Make plans to meet a friend for a coffee or talk on the phone.
  • Watch a favourite movie, TV show, or read a book.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Exercise.
  • Have a nap.
  • Play with your children.
  • Do some household chores.
  • Listen to an uplifting song.

If you are concerned that you are struggling with remembering your loved one, do not hesitate to seek out additional support by reaching out to a counsellor here on Parenting through Cancer.

For a full list of Parenting through Cancer resources click here
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