5 Creative Ways to Remember a Loved One – DIY Memorials

DIY memorialsCreative DIY (“do it yourself”) memorials include tattoos, t-shirts, car decals, and other different ways to remember a loved one who died. Here are five non-traditional ways to keep someone’s memory alive. These ideas are from a press release from Baylor University.

“With ‘do-it-yourself’ memorials, people are creating their own ways of memorializing the dead, particularly in a more secularized society,” says Candi Cann, an assistant professor of religion in Baylor’s Honors College – and the author of Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century. “Some people are alienated from some common traditions such as a long funeral Mass. Cohesive rituals may not be part of their lives.”

She made a presentation on “bodiless” memorials at a recent international conference called “Death, Dying and Disposal,” of the Association for the Study of Death and Society. Photos of unconventional tributes are in her soon-to-be-released book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century, which is based on interviews with the bereaved.

These non-traditional ways to remember a loved one who died (DIY memorials) are “the opposite of what occurs in the religious realm with martyrs and saints, and with relics,” she said. “Martyrs and saints bring us closer to holiness and to God through their bodies and narratives of their suffering.” But when death is up close and personal, mourners are increasingly uncomfortable with the reality of the corpse.

5 Do-It-Yourself Memorials

Death has never been pretty, and humanity has dealt with that through embalming, purchasing elaborate headstones, and, more recently, embedding ashes in ocean reefs. Another different way to remember a loved one who died is giving the departed a sendoff with a fireworks display that includes ashes – or make your own beautiful and creative cremation urn.

But, according to Cann, modern-day bodiless memorials are increasingly “returning” the dead to us through visual or virtual “replacements” that are more personal than a memorial in a cemetery or in nature.

Tattoos to remember a loved one who died. “The idea may seem new, but it’s not that far removed from the customs in Victorian England” says Cann. In the Civil War, people often wore a lock of a loved one’s hair or a photo in a brooch or watch chain. “People simply want to carry the dead with them,” she said. “They see a tattoo as forever.”

In one photo in Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the 21st Century, a father displays a tattooed likeness of his son’s smiling face. The young man, who drowned, had longed during his life for a tattoo of Hawaii. In the image on his father’s back, the son sports such a tattoo. Generally, it’s young people who get tattoos to express grief, Cann said. “Often, they choose one of their grandparents that died, because that’s their first loss.”

Mourning t-shirts. All-black apparel at funerals has long been an expression of grief, but these days, a “mourning T-shirt” may be the deceased person’s favorite color. It may display dates of birth and death, an image, and an affectionate nickname. “A T-shirt also is a way for people who aren’t family or allowed time off from work to say, ‘I am grieving,’” Cann said.

Car decals, as well as shoe polish or liquid chalk on vehicle windows, are being used to pay tribute to the dead, not just support for causes and sports teams or good wishes for newlyweds. I don’t think I’d personally like a creative DIY memorial that involves my Mazda 2, but I definitely want to be remembered in a different way! That’s why I wrote How to Decorate Your Coffin.

DIY memorials

“DIY Memorials” image via International Space Station

Moments at the scene of a death. While it has long been common to leave teddy bears or erect wooden crosses at the scene of a tragedy, people are becoming more imaginative and personal. One of Cann’s photos shows a snow-white “ghost bike,” festooned with a maroon Christmas garland and placed at the site of a bicycle accident. But “the bike is a clean, pristine version – not the one that was mangled,” Cann said.

Online memorials. Besides funeral home websites that allow “virtual visitors” to sign guest books, online mourning has evolved to include Facebook’s “Rest In Peace” permanent memorials. Other creative ways to remember loved ones – or DIY memorials – include virtual tombstones that allow people to use their smartphones to scan headstone codes and launch websites with an interactive life story for those who visit the grave in person or online.

“The dead will return to haunt us if we do not acknowledge them,” says Cann.

What do you think about these DIY memorials? I welcome your thoughts on different ways to remember a loved one who died.