This is a place to find ideas and inspiration through seeing and reading what others have done to honor someone while they were still alive, or commemorate them at a funeral/memorial service or later. Share your stories to help others, as well.
Flannel Shirt Quilt
I saw an almost completed quilt made by a young woman who planned to give it to her grandmother in memory of her grandfather. He had worn flannel shirts almost exclusively and now these shirts were transformed into this warm, lovely, comforting memorial. The outside binding was made up of the cuffs of the shirt sleeves, while the squares were cut from the shirt itself, with some of the squares including a shirt pocket.
The Dinner Party
Several years ago a woman told us this story of how she was able to honor her parents. The way I remember it was that they had either both received a terminal diagnosis or were quite sick. Since they had always been very social and held many meals and gatherings at their home, she remembered an art installation piece from the 1970’s by Judy Chicago called The Dinner Party. She drew inspiration from this, not directly copying the idea of using each place setting to commemorate a famous woman in history, but rather had each place setting focus on a different aspect of her parents’ lives which she wished to honor.
A dear friend of mine has saved the many scarves her mother often wore (made from silk, chiffon, etc). You can take a piece from each scarf and place them in a design on a piece of cardboard that has been covered with fabric for a background. After this is done you can have everything framed. The pieces can be twisted and laid in several different directions.
The daughter of a man who had loved Nascar racing wanted to incorporate that into his funeral, but discreetly. She had flowers placed at the end of the church pews that were tied with a ribbon with a small black and white check print on it, evoking the racing start flag. It made her smile a little even in the midst of her sadness.
Several years ago when a good friend died after a long illness. Before he died, he had wanted the wishes of his friends to be buried with him. We all wrote notes and letters to him about what he meant to us. Those letters were tucked into his casket and buried with him. We felt that we were able to honor his final wishes in this way.
A Living Memorial Service
Gabe Williamson was dying. The congregation he belonged to, the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County, in Maplewood, NJ, wanted to celebrate his long life. I wasn’t a member of this congregation when Gabe was dying, it happened years before I moved to New Jersey. But the living memorial they created for him had such a strong impact on the congregation, that I heard about it regularly from a variety of people. Everyone thought it was wonderful. I might not have all the details exactly right, but this is my sense of what happened.
Gabe was brought to the Society meeting house, a space that had been a big home at one point, and still retained that cozy feeling. The couch was his resting place for this event. Gabe had had a long and active life. There were many people who came to share their appreciation with Gabe, his family, and the assembled congregation. I’m pretty sure there was music he had selected, and I can’t imagine that there wasn’t a whole lot of good food, something that was a hallmark of events at that Society, when I became a member. The sentiment I heard repeated the most was, how wonderful it was that people got to tell Gabe what he meant to them while he was alive. That they knew that he died knowing how much they respected him, and valued the work he had done; that they were glad he was in their lives.
Gabe died 4 weeks after his congregation, his friends and loved ones had gathered to honor him. I first heard about this living memorial service well over 20 years ago. While I haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a living memorial, the idea of sharing with people how much they mean to me, is one I try to adopt, and I have shared the idea as a possibility for many people. Maybe someday there will be a living memorial service for me. – Susan Rose, Leader, Ethical Society Without Walls
Honoring Uncle Jim
My Uncle Jim was dying at home and my Aunt Lorraine asked me and my mother to stay overnight with her because she felt the time was close. We helped her change his pajamas that night and when she told him “I love you” he responded with his own “I love you.” We said goodnight and she tucked herself in beside him as she always had. I slept in their living room and at 3AM my aunt came to me and said that she thought he had passed and would I come into their room because she wasn’t sure. I told her he had left his body and it was sweet to see him in just the exact position he had when we tucked him in. We woke my mother and spent the next few hours in the kitchen over coffee talking about our dear Uncle. He was the most perfect gentleman and had lived his values honorably.
As we talked, my Aunt mentioned that she wanted him to be buried in one of my coffins. I had painted some nice wooden coffins. She and my uncle had always chosen very usual things during their life together in regard to their belongings and I was surprised that this was her choice now. She wanted me to add a painting of the plane he flew during World War II to the coffin. I always tried to leave some place for something personal on a coffin, but this one was special because I had tried over and over to find what would complete the design in that spot and failed. Finally I left that area blank and now the placement of the plane was more perfect than I could have planned. During those long ago flying missions my uncle had suffered from frostbite and lost some sensation as a result, but he regarded his service as a gift he gave to the world. His three sons, coming from a distance, saw his coffin for the first time at the funeral service and thanked me deeply. I was grateful to have been a part of his tribute.
For several years I’ve seen a car with small bumper sticker (not on the bumper) with a picture and dates of birth and death.
A woman who had lived in Austria reported that people there wore black armbands, possibly for about a month, to indicate that they were grieving. She liked this custom because, as she said, it helped people be a little kinder in their interactions with the griever. I’ve often thought that it’s too bad that we no longer have this unspoken information conveyed from people wearing black armbands or black clothing here (although I realize that my own fashion sense relies on being able to regularly wear black simply by choice). Your world has changed when someone dies, and sometimes it’s jarring that the rest of the world just keeps going on. –Monalisa Gilbert
On the back windshield of a van I saw an oval shaped decal, with the shape of a butterfly within. Words superimposed over that had a young woman’s name – ‘Mary Smith’ with dates of birth and death, and also the exhortation: Slow down for Mary
Veterans Day Moment of Silence
Here is a Boston Globe article about an initiative to have a nation-wide two-minute Moment of Silence, modeled after an existing Remembrance Day in Israel.
One example of mosaic scrapbooking is a mosaic memory mirror which I made for my sister to honor our mother. By breaking up a few cherished teacups which were passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me, I was able to find a new way to incorporate memories and see them in my daily life. The teacups are one of my earliest childhood memories as I stared at each unique piece and reveled in their beauty. Though these cups were in my life for over 50 years, I never really used them and though it took a lot of courage to cut them up, I was happy to find new uses for them and to have a way to exhibit them in an object which I would look at and into every day. I included an old photo of the three of us when my sister and I were children and a small golden bee to honor her name, Bea, and her penchants for antique bee pins. I especially liked the feeling of comfort seeing my own face in the mirror surrounded by bits of her life.
Finished mosaics can include objects such as photographs, medals, news clippings, jewelry, broken pottery and almost anything else one can conjure up. Symbolically, the process of picking up the pieces and putting them back together again, is both healing and inspiring. – Betsy Rodman, The Mosaic Oasis
Among all the thoughtful commemorations I’ve been hearing about in response to the tenth anniversary of September 11th (and I’ve certainly been struck by the many ways that individuals have privately grieved and integrated this tragedy into their lives), I wanted to highlight an ongoing community response. Evidently groups of people gather together in many cities every September 11th to walk and talk together. A quote from the website of the organization that facilitates this:
“interaction, friendship and love are still the only antidote to misunderstanding, fear, and hatred.” This link has stories from people reporting about their experiences on these walks.
Stars in the Sky
A friend’s mother died, and in commemoration, the family found a program where you pay money to officially name a bona fide star in the sky. They named one after their mom. I found a little, battery -operated star and sent it to them the next Christmas (a few months after her death). They told me that they left it on, blinking, all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and that it was helpful to see it as they were missing her, plus helpful to have a sense that others were thinking of them.
Tributes from Loved Clothing
I make tribute pieces from the clothing of loved ones. Several clients have had me make pieces for the wall, combining photos and small objects with scraps from clothing. Another client commissioned a series of warm scarves for his family, from armfuls of knits his mother wore, everything from fine sweaters to the last bathrobe they bought her. The work is always moving for me. Just going through the clothes brings up memories. The work transforms fabric into something new, and makes love present. – Linda Dunn
A woman whose father had always wanted to sail to Australia had a service in which people sang sea chanties as a way to show their love and to send him on his way from this lifetime.