Those of us who have lost children know the fear of their memories fading. After saying goodbye to our beloved children, we don’t want to forget their existence — but people are often afraid of saying the wrong thing or “reminding” us of our tragic loss, so the memories of their lives quietly stay below the surface.
One way to get around the awkwardness or timidity of our losses and keep our kids’ memories alive is through memorials. By celebrating a loved one’s life and creating a space for others to do the same, we keep our son or daughter in people’s minds — and hearts.
But deciding to host a memorial and finding the right way to honor a child are two different things. It can sometimes be easy to pinpoint the perfect thing: If your son loved soccer, you may want to sponsor a soccer scholarship. If your daughter had a special connection with animals, an annual donation to a local animal shelter may be a great way to remember her.
There are lots of memorial efforts to consider, and each has an appeal for its ability to keep our loved ones’ memories close.
A tree, rock, or park bench: Planting a memorial tree or buying a memorial bench or rock at a beloved park can be a great gesture. One grieving mother whose son loved their neighborhood park planted a tree in his honor and placed a plaque below it in tribute to him. She said, “I love the idea that he would have climbed that tree as he got older, and it makes me smile.”
A garden: If you’re interested in honoring an outdoorsy, nature-loving child but want to do something that engages you, a garden is a good option. Many towns have Adopt-a-Spot opportunities or need help maintaining existing — or proposed — gardens in parks, nature areas, and community blocks. Creating a memorial sign for the garden keeps your child’s memory close while the demands of planting, watering, and weeding can keep you busy and attached.
A scholarship: Many parents who have lost older children find scholarships appealing because they can honor a particular subject area of interest or school. A father who lost his son in a drunk-driving accident in college said that his son loved the school he attended and that inspired him to create a memorial scholarship in his son’s honor.
A website or page: While guestbooks have long been a part of digital obituaries, many websites have cropped up to host memorial pages. These pages often are built on templates that can be customized to incorporate a child’s favorite things — butterflies, baseball, travel — and become a “living memorial,” allowing people to leave memories, particularly on special days like birthdays. You can also build your own website if you want to create a more robust picture of your son or daughter, such as creating a portfolio section for his or her artwork or a blog for his or her writing.
A charity donation: Like a scholarship, a charity donation is a wonderful way to put money behind the things that mattered to your child. Some parents opt to donate to causes that will prevent other parents from enduring similar losses, such as cancer research or the children’s ward of their hospital. Others choose to donate to causes near and dear to their child, from homelessness to art therapy.
An event: An event allows parents to actively bring together people who cared about their child in memory and service. This requires more substantial planning and organization, but an event can take any shape: You could host a fundraiser or put together a carnival to simply inspire warm feelings. One couple decided to remember their daughter by hosting a fundraiser for her rare autoimmune disorder, working with local retailers to put together an auction and dinner. They said that the event lets them put the focus on her for one night, and it gives them something to look forward to.
There are as many ways to honor lost children as there are personalities, and memorials can help inspire, distract, and lift up parents who are hurting. Best of all, they offer a tangible way to keep a child’s memory alive.
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