Table of Contents
- Why Do People Create Continuing Memorials?
- Planning Your Own Continuing Memorial: Things to Consider
- Planning Your Own Continuing Memorial: 6 Ideas
- Carrying on Continued Memorials as Family or Loved Ones
- Want to Discover More Tips for Planning Ahead?
When we talk about preplanning, we often mean planning ahead to ensure significant legal, health, financial, and end-of-life decisions are made and communicated. But you might also want to think about a continuing memorial.
Considering how you want to be remembered after you’re gone doesn’t have to be morbid. In fact, working together with a few close loved ones on this type of project can actually help you make more memories with each other. Read on for more information on continuing memorials, which includes plenty of ideas you might start from if you choose to preplan for yourself.
A continuing memorial is a tangible item or location, a message of some type, or a planned event that honors your memory and provides repeated comfort to loved ones after you’re gone. These memorials can be simple, such as one or more written letters, or more complex, such as an annual family trip. They can also be digital: Facebook offers memorialization options for personal pages.
Why Do People Create Continuing Memorials?
Continuing memorials are created and planned for families for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few reasons you might preplan to leave behind this kind of gift or offering for your loved ones.
1. Ensuring wishes are honored
Continuing memorials that put an emphasis on communication may ensure your wishes about certain things are known so they can be honored.
There are legal vehicles and other tools that help you ensure your wishes are honored immediately and through the years.
- A will lets you designate how you want your possessions — both tangible and digital assets — distributed among family and friends. Wills are governed by estate law, which differs in each state. Since wills are often read during estate administration after immediate issues of final disposition (burial or cremation) are handled, a will may not be the best place to put your wishes regarding memorialization.
- A trust lets you leave assets to beneficiaries with some rules in place for how those assets can be accessed or used. Preplanning for cremation or burial lets you work with an experienced provider to decide many factors regarding your final disposition and any associated memorial or funeral services ahead of time. While these are all great ways to ensure your wishes are honored — and things Neptune Society recommends considering — they often don’t include specific memorialization options. You may wish to share preferences that are not of a legal nature.
For example, you might have advice or wishes to impart to a younger relative or child that they aren’t yet old or experienced enough to understand. Alternatively, you may want to make your preferences known about specific financial or business decisions — but only if those situations become applicable. Continuing memorials are a way to do this; you can write letters or record videos and entrust them to someone to share with the relevant people when the time comes.
2. Leaving something meaningful for loved ones
Continuing memorials may not be about your wishes at all. Looking ahead, you may want to provide comfort to friends and family after you’re gone. Gifts, letters, videos, and other continuing memorials can provide ongoing encouragement and a reminder of your love.
These memorials don’t have to be in the form of communication. You might ask that a bench be placed in a special location in your honor; when family and friends visit that bench, they are reminded of you and the things you shared in that space.
Ultimately, a memorial that is meant to be meaningful to loved ones can be almost anything. Think about what would be most appreciated and useful to your loved ones.
3. Keeping the spirit of your memory close to the family
These types of memorials – whether it’s a passive memorial, such as a bench in your name or even an art installation in a family home, or a more active one involving letters or videos – help loved ones remember you, reflect on your life and time they spent with you, and honor your legacy in a way that is appropriate and in keeping with your wishes.
Planning Your Own Continuing Memorial: Things to Consider
When planning your own continuing memorial, remember that there aren’t a lot of rules. Choose a method that fits your personality and your relationship with your family and friends. Some things you might consider when planning:
What do you wish to accomplish with the memorial?
Do you want to make some immediate wishes known or provide a comfort for loved ones in the days and weeks after the time of need? Is a beautiful reminder of your life enough, or do you want to provide specific communication throughout the years?
What strengths or talents can you bring to the process?
Visual artists or crafters might create something like a quilt, which could incorporate memories and even fabrics associated with your life.
Do you have someone you trust to help carry out the continuing memorial in the future?
If you want letters or videos delivered or shown in future years, decide who can be entrusted to keep them safe and ensure they are shared as planned, in accordance with your wishes.
What is the budget associated with your continuing memorial?
Remember that a high price tag doesn’t equal a meaningful memorial; being personal and thoughtful is more important than spending money.
Do you want to work with others to plan the memorial?
Depending on what you want to do, you may need help. Even if that’s not the case, close family or friends may feel honored at being asked to assist, and the project can be a bonding or memory-making experience.
Planning Your Own Continuing Memorial: 6 Ideas
Continuing memorials are personal, so you might have an idea unlike anything on this list. You might also start with a concept on this list and customize it to fit your own plans — it’s completely up to you.
- Obituary message
In reading about continuing memorials so far, you might not have considered how an obituary fits the definition. These write-ups, which may be published in local newspapers or online, serve as a permanent record of your life.
Many obituaries follow a certain format or include the same type of information, such as who preceded the deceased in death, what family or special friends survived the deceased, and a few facts about the deceased’s life and career. The words may be saved by loved ones in scrapbooks; digital obituaries can last for years (and theoretically, forever) online.
You can take advantage of this lasting quality if desired by customizing your obituary message. You could even write it yourself ahead of time to ensure certain messaging about your memory is passed on. Not all news organizations will publish an obituary that strays heavily from the typical structure and length, but the internet puts the power of publishing in your hands, so you aren’t limited to anyone’s rules.
- Leave behind a public or private gift
Some individuals choose to donate money or a gift as a memorial for themselves. Estates and family members may also choose to do this in memory of someone who was lost.
Gifts may be simple and inexpensive, such as a stone in a garden or even a tree planted in your honor. Some people opt for something more extravagant, such as an entire wing at a hospital, library, or university.
Between those two extremes are a wide range of options. Memorial gifts you might consider include:
- A bench in a public setting (you’ll have to ensure the right approvals), on private property that’s open to the public, or within a family garden or yard.
- A permanent sign or statue.
- A donation to a building fund or other cause that allows for your name to be put on a portion of the building or on a brick.
- Books donated to a local library in your name with the appropriate placards.
- Create or buy something to leave behind for your loved ones
Leave a gift specifically for your loved ones to enjoy in your honor. The aforementioned quilt is a great way for someone with a gift for sewing to leave behind a meaningful treasure. Other ideas for things you can buy or create to act as a continuing memorial include:
- Special pieces of jewelry
- Collectible item(s)
- A memorial garden
- A piece of furniture, especially something lasting that you’ve made yourself
- A scrapbook
- A family tree
- A memoir
Remember to think about what you can leave your loved ones that may be special to them. It doesn’t have to be something fancy. For example, a carefully curated card box of all your best recipes can be extremely meaningful.
The gift itself is something that will remind loved ones of you, and every time they make a recipe from the box, all those eating it will be taking part in remembering your spirit and life.
- Write letters to be read on special days that you choose
Letters can be an incredibly personal way to leave behind a lasting legacy. A parent may write his or her child letters to be read upon each birthday or on special occasions. Spouses may write letters of love for the one they leave behind.
There’s no limit on who you can leave letters to, though an extensive letter-writing memorial can be time-consuming to plan and put into action. Here are some tips for making this type of continuing memorial work for you.
- Open a free email account with a service such as Gmail. Send emails to the account when you have something you want to record for the future. Leave the account log-in information in your will. You could do the same thing with cloud storage services such as Dropbox.
- Write or type hard-copy letters and entrust them to someone like a lawyer or a close friend to pass on at the appropriate time. Make sure you have a secondary plan of action in case that person doesn’t survive you, and keep copies of the letters yourself.
- If writing isn’t your thing, make video recordings. You can give the files to someone else to show at the right time, or you can collect them on a cloud server and allow family to view them anytime.
- If you simply want to leave a few letters with advice and loving encouragement for others, the project may take you a couple of days. If you want to create years’ worth of communication for your loved ones, that’s going to take more time. Be realistic about what you want to accomplish, and when possible, approach the project a little at a time to ensure you retain your enthusiasm and don’t burn out.
- Plan future trips for loved ones that were on your bucket list or mimic a memory you have
Trips can be a wonderful way for your loved ones to honor and remember you in the future.
If you know you won’t be able to get to a top location on your bucket list because of a chronic illness or your age, you might encourage loved ones to travel there in your honor in the future. It might be fun to work together to plan the trip you wanted to take, researching the destination together and designing an itinerary. When loved ones do take that trip, they’ll be able to remember those fun times together.
Another travel-related idea is planning for loved ones to mimic a vacation or other special trip from your life. It might be something you did with them, such as a spouse returning to a honeymoon location to enjoy memories and the spirit of the one they lost. It might also be a trip you took on your own, but have told them about many times through the years.
- Invest in a paid service, such as a time capsule
Invest in a service that lets you create a physical or digital time capsule to be delivered to your loved ones at the time you specify. You could create a physical time capsule with photographs, letters, recordings, and personal mementos that will trigger memories for your family.
Carrying on Continued Memorials as Family or Loved Ones
If someone you love has passed away, you can also create your own continued memorials after the fact. Here are a few ways you might carry on remembering a loved one.
- Encourage holiday traditions. Teach younger generations the holiday traditions that your loved one started or cared about. Tie these traditions to the memories of your loved one. For example, when hanging holiday ornaments, point out the ones that remind you of your loved one and why.
- Make birthday and remembrance days special. Do something on your loved one’s birthday — or other special occasions — each year. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. You might eat their favorite snack in their honor, read something they wrote, or gather to listen to a song that was meaningful to them.
- Maintain a special family dinner. Meet once a year or more for a special family dinner in honor of the loved one.
- Plan an event for the family. Choose something your loved one would have enjoyed and gather everyone to go to a sporting event, concert, theater event, or other outing.
Continuing memorials can be very meaningful because you are gathering together to remember and honor your loved ones, keeping the spirit of their memory alive and vibrant.
Want to Discover More Tips for Planning Ahead?
Planning ahead means different things for different people. Find out more about what you can do to ensure peace of mind in the future and reduce your family’s burden by signing up for our Thinking Ahead email series.
Note: This is intended as a resource to help families. Be sure to speak with a professional regarding estate planning.