Memorial Day is often associated with camping weekends at the beach, BBQ’s, and high school marching bands. Originally called Decoration Day, it was first officially observed on May 30, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, when at the conclusion of President James Garfield’s speech, 5,000 observers placed flowers on the graves of both union and confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. While Memorial Day focuses specifically on honoring those who died while in the Armed Services, for some grieving families it can be a time to honor and remember anyone in their lives who has died. Many grieving children and adults worry they will forget so much about the person who died. They fear not being able to recall the sound of their grandfather’s voice, the smell of their mother’s hair, or the way their little brother’s laugh echoed around the living room. Many of the activities and questions we share with the children in our program focus on helping them to hold onto the memories they have. A favorite one for us to do in the late spring when the rains recede is to gather outside and ask children to bring to mind a memory of something they used to do with the person during the summer. One at a time they can blow a bubble into the sky and say their memory out loud (or not). For many children, especially those who were very young when the person died, they don’t have many personal memories, so they rely on family and friends to tell them stories and share photos. They particularly love stories about them and the person who died such as the day they were born or things they did with the person on special occasions. Children also like stories about the person’s day to day life: what foods did they like/dislike, how did they like to dress, who were their best friends, what kind of job they had and how they decided to work there…etc.
If you’re looking for ways to honor and remember the people in your life who have died, here are some other suggestions from families at The Dougy Center:
- Go to the nursery and pick out plants that remind you of them in some way. Have children make special signs for the plants explaining the connection: “Pink tulips for our grandma who bought me a pink stuffed bunny”
- Paint or decorate a special box that you can fill with mementos, photos, or written memories. Ask children where they would like to keep the box.
- Cook a meal of the person or people’s favorite foods. Write up the recipes on index cards and invite family and friends to use the other side to write down memories of times they shared these foods with the person.
- Ask family and friends to write down stories about the person, especially things they know about that you or your children may not. For many children and teens, they especially hearing about what the person was like when they were their age: “I remember your dad when he was fourteen and let me tell you, you get in way LESS trouble than he ever did!”
What other memorial traditions have you and your family created? Feel free to share on our Facebook page.