Everyone reacts differently when a loved one dies. Some keep their minds off deceased loved ones because reminders of them can be too painful. Other people find comfort surrounding themselves with the artifacts of a departed loved one.
You may actually find solace in doing DIY projects to memorialize a friend or family member who has died. These at-home projects can be done in loving memory of loved ones who have passed away.
This kind of activity is beneficial for many reasons. First, you will ultimately get a lasting memento of your loved one. Maybe more importantly, the act of creating this memento may help you process your grief.
Here are some DIY projects you can do to memorialize a loved one who has died.
1. Photo Compilation
One simple way to memorialize a friend or family member is by gathering photos together. You can put them in a decorative photo album or put together a memorial collage. As part of your project, you can also take the opportunity to digitize photos.
This will enable you to create online albums and will also help you preserve long-forgotten family photos. Looking at these photos and organizing them can help ground you in memories of happier times.
2. Memorial Quilt
If you’re an experienced quilter, a memorial gift is a beautiful tribute project. Many people have a difficult time knowing what to do with a loved one’s belongings after they die. Keeping items like clothing is impractical and can keep you a prisoner in your own grief. But donating them or throwing them away can be emotionally difficult.
Some people find it very healing to transform beloved garments into a memorial quilt. This quilt can be stitched together out of your loved one’s favorite articles of clothing. Did your mom love soft flannel nightgowns? Did your husband adore ironic graphic tees? You can select their most iconic articles of clothing for use in your quilt. There’s something emotionally transformative about reimagining beloved items into something new.
3. Dress Shirt Pillow
If you like the idea of a clothing-based memorial (but aren't a confident quilter) a dress shirt pillow may be an easier entry point for you. If you still have dress shirts belonging to your late father, they can be easily transformed into pillows. When you miss your loved one, you can hug that pillow and feel a little closer to him.
4. Handmade Christmas Ornaments
The holidays can be incredibly difficult after the death of a family member. You want to be able to enjoy your usual family traditions but it can be bittersweet to celebrate without your loved one.
Handmade memorial ornaments are a sweet way to include deceased family members in the holidays. Memorial ornaments can feature a photo of the deceased or they may be more abstract. You can fill a clear glass ornament with tokens that signify the deceased’s interests. There are so many ways to interpret and personalize this nostalgic project.
5. Shadow Box
A shadow box is a display frame that allows you to display photos or mementos three-dimensionally. Shadow boxes are great ways to preserve items like flags, sports jerseys, baby shoes, or any number of other items.
You can also put together a memorial shadow box in honor of your loved one. You can include a portrait of the deceased, a copy of his funeral program, and dried funeral flowers. Even if you’re not ready to display a shadow box memorial right away, it can be a good way to help process the immediate aftermath of the funeral.
6. Memory Jar
Encourage your family members to jot down their favorite memories of a recently deceased loved one. Have them write these on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a memory jar. Whenever anyone wants to think about this loved one, he or she can pull out a piece of paper and reflect on that memory.
When several people participate, it adds another layer of surprise. You may hear a well-loved family story from a different perspective or learn a story you’d never heard before. It can help you feel that there’s so much more of your loved one to discover even after she’s gone.
7. Framed Handwriting
Handwriting is almost as unique to a person as a fingerprint. Finding your loved one’s handwriting after you die can feel like being reminded of her. You can keep these bits of paper tucked away or turn them into fine art.
Whether you find a love letter or a silly grocery list, these fragmented words are worth preserving. You can mat them and frame them in simple, modern picture frames. The letters themselves will be preserved even as they are available for everyday display. It can really make you feel like your loved one is still with you.
8. Memorial Art
If you need to process emotions through creative pursuits, memorial artwork is a great way to turn your pain into something beautiful. You could create a portrait of your loved one if you’re skilled at painting. If you’re good at photography, take snapshots of a beloved place that meant something to the deceased.
If you’re not artistically skilled but you do have patience, pick up font stencils and reclaimed wood. You can stencil an inspirational quote on the wood and hang it on your wall. No matter your skill level, you can show your emotions through artistic endeavors.
You can also create a design for an "in loving memory" decal to place on your car or windows to have close to you.
9. Plant a Memorial Garden
Some people have an undeniable connection to nature. If your deceased loved one was one of them, being outdoors may help you feel more connected to their memory. You could plant a single memory tree. Over the years, as the tree grows, it will remind you that life endures even in times of great pain.
If you’re really ambitious, you can plant a garden full of your loved one’s favorite flowers. You could explore the language of floriography and plant flowers that have hidden meanings. Time spent gardening can have an almost meditative quality when you’re grieving. You can create something beautiful and begin healing after loss along the way.
10. Family Tree
When a loved one dies — especially a parent or elder — it’s easy to feel unmoored. For your whole life, you identify yourself as part of your family. When that family is changed by death, you may struggle to feel a sense of belonging in the world. Sometimes connecting with your heritage can help you start to find your path again.
Take the opportunity to learn more about your family history by exploring your genealogy. You can also take an oral family history of surviving family elders to preserve stories about the family going forward. Sometimes connecting to our past can help us deal with the pain in our present.
11. Recreate Beloved Family Recipes
When you make something to honor your family members, it doesn’t have to be permanent. You can make a meal from a beloved family recipe in order to honor your loved one. Food is heavily tied to emotion and memory.
Make your Grandma’s favorite green bean casserole or your mom’s infamous spiked eggnog recipe. Even though the satisfaction they bring may be fleeting, the connections you make to your past will be deep.
12. Cremation Urn or Vase
Your deceased loved one may have chosen to be cremated — what will you do with the cremains? Some people choose to scatter the ashes in a scenic place. Some get ashes turned into keepsake jewelry. And some people opt to keep the ashes in a beautiful, decorative urn or vase.
Take a pottery class or finally get around to learning about glass-blowing techniques. Instead of paying a fortune for a decorative container, you could actually make a vessel to contain your loved one’s ashes. This kind of project can make for a truly personal and beautiful memento in honor of your loved one.
Try These DIY Projects to Commemorate a Lost Loved One
You want your loved one to rest in peace. But when you’re the one left behind, peace doesn’t always come easy. Grieving is a long and often painful process. Everyone must navigate grief on an individual basis.
Creating DIY memorial projects may help you cope with a loss if you like to work with your hands. As you process your emotions, you can create a long-lasting way to memorialize and celebrate a person who mattered to you.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.