End of Life Planning

3/22/2022 | By Megan Mullen

Among the saddest occasions in our lives is losing a loved one. As we mourn their passing, we may feel unwilling to take part in daily activities. And yet we may also long to do something … something to mark their lives, their loss, their time on this earth, and to extend their memory. As we find a way to memorialize a loved one, we channel our sadness in a positive direction.

We suggest 10 ways to memorialize a loved one. You may find an idea that suits you and the one you lost. Or you may use these ideas to create a different memorial, something that perfectly suits this person’s personalities and interests. It’s up to you, someone who knew and loved that person, to choose the best way to celebrate their life.

1. Dedicate to a public memorial.

Public parks, nonprofits, colleges – a variety of organizations have opportunities for contributions to be marked on benches, reading rooms, paving bricks, etc., Some of these markers, like meditation rooms, do double duty: not only do they remember the deceased, they also provide a peaceful and tranquil place for reflection.

You can also create a memorial bench of your own, to put into your own garden, a space for you to rest and feel closer to your loved one.

2. Adopt one of your loved one’s practices or behaviors.

A now-deceased family member who was a little superstitious always insisted that we all say “rabbits” first thing at the start of a new month. It was supposed to ensure we got money in the coming month.

She left toy rabbits or figurines near our beds so we wouldn’t forget to say it if we got up early. So even though this woman, wife, mother, and grandmother left us over 18 years ago, we still say “rabbits” unfailingly at the start of a new month. It’s a ritual to remember her, not the promise of money.

We would guess that many surviving family members do things like this in memory of a loved one, even without realizing it. So if someone asks you, “Why do you do that weird thing?” you can reply by saying, “I remember a loved one who always used to do that.”

3. Transport your loved one to a beloved place.

For years, people have been taking the ashes of friends and family members to meaningful places – a favorite mountain, a frequent fishing spot, the ocean, their garden, etc. These days, there are even “far out” options: send a bit of their ashes into space or to an underwater reef.

Before scattering cremains, be sure that you have proper permissions. It’s always okay to distribute them on your own property, but you may need permission for public lands, parks, and waterways.

4. Keep a part of them with you.

A simple way to keep your loved one close is by carrying or wearing something that belonged to them or that they gave you. I wear a small gold chain that my father gave me 24/7. I often wear a ring that I had crafted using a stone from one of her rings (my sister and I divided the stones so we each would have one).

As another lovely way to support a regular memory of a person, some businesses and artisans can use cremains to create jewelry and other handcrafted items as well as in tattoo ink.

5. Nourish a new tree.

You can memorialize a loved one by using their ashes to nurture new life. Besides scattering ashes in a garden, you can use them specifically to plant a new tree – whether added to the soil or in a biodegradable urn. The new tree can represent the memory of your loved one, and later, the tree’s offspring can even be transplanted to other meaningful places, like a friend’s or sibling’s yard.

6. Donate to or adopt from a humane society.

Was the deceased a pet owner or supporter? Did they adopt pets from shelters or rescues? If so, it would be great to create a legacy by adopting a pet in their memory, sponsoring a homeless animal, or donating to the organization – an endowed gift if you can raise enough funds.

According to the ASPCA, the number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has dropped from roughly 2.6 million in 2011, but approximately 920,000 shelter animals are still euthanized each year. You can save a life by adopting a pet in need – in your loved one’s honor. Just be sure you have the time and financial resources to properly care for a pet before adopting one.

7. Dedicate a book to your loved one.

This suggestion is especially for authors. If someone who is no longer with you played a significant role in your life, what better place to memorialize them than in some of the book’s first words? Perhaps this was a parent or grandparent. Or it might have been a nurturing mentor who provided encouragement and guided you through the writing process.

Better yet – memorialize a loved one by creating a book about them! You can solicit written and pictorial contributions from friends and family, then self-publish it for distribution to friends and family. From simple photocopying and binding at a local print shop to self-publishing services such as Lulu or IngramSpark.

8. Create or curate an online memorial.

Since they first appeared in the 1990s, online memorial websites or social media pages have been booming. These virtual locations range from DIY sites to professionally curated and maintained ones.

Online memorials can be used as an obituary with a guest book for people to leaves notes, or even as a virtual funeral, whether streaming in real-time or set-up for visitors to pay their regards privately. Much imagination has gone into developing these innovative options.

Expect to receive gratitude and kind words of appreciation from student recipients!

9. Fund a scholarship in your loved one’s memory.

Attending college grows less affordable, putting many students or would-be students at a significant disadvantage. Few families today can afford to send their children to college, much less complete their own degrees that they started years earlier. That’s why today’s colleges need scholarship donors more than ever.

So there might be no better way to remember a deceased friend or relative than memorializing them with a one-time or continuing (endowed) scholarship. It can be based on successful grades, the field a student is pursuing, financial needs, and other criteria. And that’s the beauty of it. You can help a student through college by preserving a loved one’s memory and values.

10. Establish an emergency fund for immigrants.

In 2018 the U.S. dropped below Canada as the world’s top immigrant destination. And in FY 2020, the nation resettled fewer than 12,000, far from the 70,000 to 80,000 resettled annually earlier in the century. Given today’s turmoil abroad, many immigrants are fleeing violence, war, and persecution in their home countries. Just in the past year, the needs of Afghan and Ukrainian immigrants have received justified attention.

Search the internet for undocumented immigrant relief funds, and you’ll find plenty of non-profit organizations seeking donors. As with scholarships, you might give a leg up to someone in dire straits.

A note of caution

In establishing any type of memorial fund to a nonprofit, you will want to ensure that the aid is going to groups that align with your loved one’s values and passions and that meet the stated needs rather than being diverted to the pockets of shysters. Use an objective rating site such as Charity Navigator to make sure that your loved one is being honored to the fullest extent.

Megan Mullen

Megan Mullen is a freelance writer, librarian, and former college professor. Senior life is one of her niches (and a personal interest). Megan enjoys using her writing and research skills to create well-crafted web content and other publications.