Why memory making is important for grieving families

14 June 2019

What are memories? Memories reaffirm that loved ones will go on living in our hearts and minds, and that they will always be an important part of who we are. By taking time to do things to remember the deceased, we keep their memory alive. They are a part of us, and we a part of them.

Memories are made naturally throughout life and are created from attending special occasions or outings and sometimes simply through daily, spontaneous moments. It could be a funny mishap, a first trip on a boat, the feeling of touching a dog’s fur for the first time. A memory is attached to a moment in time; sacred, special and unique.

For families caring for a child with a terminal condition there is a heightened importance in retaining these memories so they can be revisited and drawn upon after the child’s death.

When a baby dies, the mum is given very few choices as to medical procedures, and she may feel as if she has no control over her body. Memory making helps the family weave the baby into the fabric of their lives and continue parenting the baby. Not being offered the opportunity can have a detrimental effect and interfere with grieving. Limbo and Kobler (2010) reported that mothers who do not spend as much time with their baby as they want can experience a seven-time greater risk of developing depression.

Journal writing is another way of healing through memory making. “I remember thinking… how can I ever be happy again?” said Sandy, a bereaved mother who wrote an open letter to fellow grieving parents for HuffPost. “I felt as though my pain was visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline…”I’m Sandy and I’ve lost a child.”

“Then a friend gave me a journal and said, “Write. Just write.” The first blank page was so difficult. I could only put down one sentence, “My son died and my life will never be the same.” The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper”

There’s no magic secret to the journal. Just pick up a pen and begin with one word or sentence. Keep writing. Healing is not on a timetable. In fact, time doesn’t fix this kind of loss. Healing comes from actively pursuing life again. After a while, you’ll look back on your words and not recognise the person you once were. You’ll see how strong you really are.”

Some examples of memory making include:

§ Time spent with family and friends

§ Sibling/family activities such as cooking together, games

§ Holidays

§ Day trips and outings such as going to the zoo

§ Plaster/Ink hand and footprints

§ Photographs and videos

§ Scrapbooking photos or craft

§ Lock of hair

§ Comfort objects- blanket, cuddly toy

§ Special items of clothes

§ Jewellery

§ Planting a tree or a plant

§ Lists of favourite sayings, toys, etc

§ Preparing favourite foods

Whether their life lasted many years or just a few moments, each child earns the right to be remembered by those who loved and lost them. Memory making is a vessel in which to capture the love a family has for the child after they have died.

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
― Jamie Anderson