10 Ways To Remember A Loved One

by - October 4, 2014

Memory is a living, breathing thing and it's death presents the moment we stop remembering.  There's something of the immortal in it - something eternal that follows us as long as we let it - a fingerprint, left behind by the one who left us behind.

Ten Ways To Remember A Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna RusnakWe're nearing three years since the loss of my father-in-law - since that moment on the day my son reached his decade upon the earth that we watched the very earth he spent his ten years upon fall onto the box that held the man we once knew as so much more than a memory.

Three years is awfully long in the eyes of a child. Much is learned and much replaces the person they were and no matter how we try they still seem to lose their grip on what once was so important. 

Because to a child, a memory of three years old is nothing more than a shadow, a brief passing, something they've heard other people talking about...somebody that they used to know.

So how do you help your children remember? How do you help them hold onto a piece of what was lost? How can you ensure that the legacy of a life-well-lived informs their character even if they can't really grasp the memory for themselves?

Memory cannot be passive.  

Memory is storytelling.

Memory is alive as long as you breath your own life into it.

And so it becomes a part of our every day. Little mentions that mean it - HE - is never lost.  That he lived and touched our lives and so his story becomes our story. And we pass it on. And it helps them love him even now, three years later.

Zander's best friend moved nearly an hour away this summer. It wasn't until I was to drive him for a visit that I realized we would be just around the corner from the grave site.

"Let's pick some flowers from the garden and we'll put them on Grandpa GiGi's grave," I told the kids.

"Why?" asked Noa, as she pulled a Black-Eyed Susan up by the roots. "Will he see them? Can he even see us from heaven?"

"No," I told her.  "But it will help us to remember him."

He is buried in the most beautiful cemetery, just a little ways from the stone of Canadian artist Tom Thompson where people leave paint brushes and coins and whiskey in his memory.  

There were wind chimes in the trees and they broke the peace with a fairy tinkle as we brushed some dried grass from the stone and the children laid their flowers.

Ten Ways To Remember A Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

"What do you remember about Grandpa GiGi?" I asked them.

"Perogies!" said Liam because he did a heritage project and learned that Grandpa was Ukrainian.

"Didn't he like to sing?" Zander offered.

"I don't really know..." Noa said. Because she had been so so young.

And so I told them the story again. The story of his comb-over - that long shock of grey hair that he combed from one side all the way across to the other as if he believed that we would believe he wasn't really going bald - and how I'd mess it up on him and he'd holler 'HEY!' but with a smile in his voice.

"Do you think Grandpa GiGi would like the flowers?" Noa asked.

"Of course he would!" I told her.
Ten Ways To Remember A Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
Everyone has a different process of memory and I've compiled a list of ten different actions you can take towards keeping a memory vibrant no matter your process...

1. Take flowers or trinkets to the grave. This may seem obvious but a stone stands in reference to the life it represents and the laying of a flower or small gift is a tangible way of paying tribute.

2. Uphold traditions. Holidays can be hard when darkened by the shadow of a departed loved one but you must remember that the one thing your loved one would want is for you to keep living your life. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays - instead of dwelling on the empty chair, focus instead on sharing the great memories of holiday's past.

3. Light a candle. One life can brighten the world within it's influence - just as one candle can light a hundred candles without losing it's own flame. Though there are many religious traditions that uphold the ritual of candle burning, it could be a simple, private moment in your own home for reflecting on the moments your loved one brightened your life.

4. Plant something in their memory. There's something ironically beautiful about putting into the ground something that will thrive and grow after the death of a loved one.  When my beautiful little nephew passed away at only five days old my sister planted a lilac tree in the front yard of what is now my home and every year, as the blossoms begin to show, I am reminded of sweet little Dylan.

5. Wear/use something that belonged to them. This doesn't have to be a shirt that isn't to your tastes or a belt that doesn't really fit. I have attached a pretty jeweled brooch to one of my purses to honor the memory of my husband's grandmother - it's a subtle but special way to keep someone with you.

6. Honor a special collection or hobby. My father-in-law collected model cars and we inherited many of them. I am not a 'car-girl' by any means and I would never purchase something like that for myself but I've found creative ways to use them through my decorating and now I really kind of love them. They have become a feature through our home in a way that makes sense to us and they are constant reminders of the man they came from.

Ten Ways To Remember A Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak - cut for cancer
7. Make a donation in their memory. It could be money or time. Or hair. Zander had these beautiful, Rapunzel locks but because he loved his grandpa and wanted to do something to show that love, he raised money for cancer research in honor of the grandfather he'd lost to the disease and donated all that gorgeous hair to make wigs for children. {You can watch a video of his haircut here.}

Ten Ways To Remember A Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak - terry fox run8. Do something in their honor. Much like #7, the simple act of naming your loved one as you participate in an event can go a long way to preserving and honoring their memory.

Every year the public school participates in the Terry Fox Run and this year, Noa came home with this on her shirt How cute is that?!

9. Listen to their song.  A couple years before he passed, Fred told me he wanted me to sing I Can Only Imagine at his funeral. It has now become an anthem to his memory and I can't hear it without seeing his face.

10. Tell their stories. Because, as I shared at the beginning of this post, that is the one thing that lives forever and it is how our children can intimately know the person they were too young to really remember on their own. Stories matter.  The silly and the serious. Because they sustain memory - they breathe a little life where there is life no longer - they uphold the legacy of the author of that narrative.

10 Ways to Remember a Loved One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

How do you preserve the memories of your loved ones? Do have anything else to add to my list of suggestions?

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  1. A very good, very insightful blog, Alanna.

  2. Alanna...you made me cry again!!! Thanks for keeping Dad's memory alive.....so glad to read that you and the kids had this conversation and spent some time at dad's grave ...so many people don't know how to talk to kids about loss or realize the importance of sharing the lives of those who have gone before us! You are such an inspiring example of how we can take pause and remember. Thanks sister;)


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