It is not trite to say that our loved ones are with us no matter where we are, but there is a certain geography to many people’s grief. If you live across the road from the cemetery where your loved one is laid to rest or their ashes are scattered, then the coronavirus travel restrictions (“stay at home”) might not be affecting you so much. But many people are now in the frustrating situation where they are not able to visit their loved one’s grave or another place that is a significant part of their usual grieving rituals. In this article I’ll be looking at what we can do instead, within own home spaces.
Self-isolation or being required to stay at home is something that has been asked of us to slow down the spread of the coronavirus and/or to protect our own health. It has its own hazards. Loneliness and feelings of powerlessness may engulf us. Being too much alone with our thoughts can lead anyone down a depressing path, but for those who are grieving the death of a precious loved one, this enforced isolation could be making the difficult feelings of grief even more intense.
In our ‘normal’ journey in grief, visits to the cemetery or other particular outdoor spaces can be an important part of our routines in living with loss. Tending to a grave is one way of showing our love and care, and there are other places where we might also go for comfort.
For instance, next week I would have been bringing a cross made of flowers for Easter to my children’s grave – a date that coincides with the 9th anniversary of Catherine’s death. Around this time of year I also usually do a short pilgrimage up the Great Orme to the tiny ancient St Tudno’s church in North Wales . (I pass by the wild goats on this walk – the same Llandudno goats that are now quite famous! See here) This is followed by a visit to the gorgeous Bodnant Gardens where the spring flowers flourish in an abundant riot of colour. None of this is possible at the moment. Instead, I’m decorating a new cross to put up in our garden, the same small garden where I am walking round in circles (because I’m self-isolating after a temperature).
Perhaps you too have some frustrations and disappointments because you can’t get away from home. But let’s remember, there are lots of ways to ‘do a memorial’ to our loved ones right where we are.
Some ideas for remembering and memorials within the confines of our own homes.
We’re all different and what appeals to one person won’t appeal to another, but these are a few ideas I’ve found helpful or come across. Please do add your own suggestions in ‘comments’ as I am sure you have plenty of your own.
Lots of people find it helpful to have a special corner or space for remembrance of their loved one, and this could be even more important at this time if visits to the cemetery are not possible. The corner could have pictures, special items, candles, a plant growing, and so on, and could be visited at a certain time each day. Even if we have other spaces in the home that are ‘theirs’ such as their old room, having a specific spot to go to seems to be helpful.
Garden or balcony remembrance
If we are fortunate to have a garden or at least a balcony, an outdoor remembrance space can also be quite special. We could make a ‘cairn’ with garden pebbles. Plant something. Designate a tree or a bush as a special remembrance spot (if we haven’t already) and tie a little ribbon each day. Set up a bird feeder. Grow a wild flower patch. Again the motion of ‘going there’ each day – or as often as we want – might be comforting. It’s not a substitute for going to the place where our loved one is laid to rest, but it can be representative and that might have to be enough for now.
Playlists and recipes
With extra time on our hands, it could be a good opportunity to do some creative remembrance. Ideas are endless. For instance, we could make a playlist of our loved one’s favourites songs and share it with friends and family on social media. We could pull out a recipe book and cook something they used to enjoy.
What better time to sort out the boxes or computer folders full of photos? If we already have a photobook or collage of our loved one’s life story, we could make another, perhaps with a focus on one particular aspect, like the places they visited, or their clothes, or hobbies.
(Digital photo printing services are still operational [here in the UK] and some of them have special offers on at the moment.)
Another idea is to visit places that are an important part of our loved one’s story. Use Google Maps (satellite view) or Google Earth to zoom down to locations we went to together, or where they were born, or have some other significance. I’ve found houses that I lived in 30 years ago doing this. It’s a ‘pass the time’ activity that doesn’t have something concrete at the end, but that’s okay.
Use your imagination and your talents
Perhaps we could: Write a poem. Write a story about a funny incident in our loved one’s life. Paint a picture of a special place. Make a drawing or painted word cloud of words that describe our loved one. (Kind, witty, intelligent, tall – would be the start of my cloud for Catherine). Here in the UK some people are displaying teddy bears for children to spot on their walks, so if you have the talent, how about making a teddy bear from an item of your loved one’s clothes and displaying that? The ideas are endless. I am sure you have plenty of your own.
None of these activities make up for the fact that our loved ones are not here, and nor can they completely replace other grief ‘rituals’ like visits to the cemetery, but they can give us something to do and ways to express our grief, which is important for our mental and emotional health. Engaging in activities such as these can also mean that we’re taking a little bit of control over our situation. Of course, it wouldn’t be healthy to spend all of our time this way, and we need to find other ways to unwind, relax and occupy ourselves as part of being kind to ourselves.
Hopefully the ‘indoor grieving’ will not be necessary for too much longer, but for as long as it lasts, let’s embrace our loved ones in our hearts, thoughts and homes, while also leaving space for ourselves.
Until next time – stay safe, be well.
- There are loads more ideas here in this free booklet that you can download from The Compassionate Friends.
- Ideas of what to do with photos
- Sorting out memories, and a project to try
Please do share your own ideas, suggestions and experiences. If you email me pictures, I can put them up in a follow up post if you wish.