Both of my parents passed away when I was young – my father when I was 14 and mother when I was 21. I feel at peace most of the time, but in the spring and summer, many special days come and go without them here. My mom’s birthday and anniversary of her death, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and my dad’s birthday all come in this season and makes their absence felt more keenly.
Now that I have my own little girls, I’m determined to make sure that they know who their grandparents were and hold a special place for them in their heart. We started doing a day of remembrance for my parents when Eva was about one year old and now it is one of our favorite family traditions. ‘Grandma and Grandpa Day’ does not always happen on the same day of the year, but on a beautiful, warm, sunshine-y Saturday in the spring or early summer.
The day is filled with all of my parents favorite things, and can change a bit from year to year. One year we went to a tulip festival, because my mother adored tulips. We watch a basketball game (or play one of our own) because my dad was a huge Celtics fan and would always play with my brother and his friends in our driveway. We’ve visited the same beach town that my parents brought me to as a kid and we are always sure to eat ice cream in their honor and share funny stories with the girls about their Grandma and Grandpa. We also share pictures with them and little moments that make the day feel more like a celebration of life and love, and less about the sadness of the loss. Today I’m sharing with you a few practical tips to plan your own day of remembrance for a loved one.
Consider visiting ‘family’ landmarks. The special fishing spot my dad frequented might not appear to be significant to most people, but it held a lot of childhood memories for me. Your landmarks could be driving by a childhood home, visiting a park you used to go to, or having dinner at the restaurant your loved one liked best. There’s also a good opportunity to visit their resting place.
Recreate a memory. I have great memories of playing in the garden with my mom while she planted flowers and trimmed plants. I can recreate some of this with my own girls by teaching them the same things that my mom taught me in the garden. For your family this might be making a family recipe together or hiking the same trail you used to with your loved one. When you do this, you’re making old memories new again and including future generations in your family’s story.
Use your senses to cue happy memories. A sound or a scent associated with a person or memory can bring you back in time. I love to use these senses to stir up happy memories of my parents. I look out for lilacs to smell because they remind me of the lilacs blooming in my childhood backyard. You may remember the smell of your dad’s aftershave. I know that when my mother-in-law goes, we will all remember her listening to Josh Groban as she cooked Italian food. Whatever you remember, use senses to stir up those wonderful memories.
Remember (and write) their story. It is so important to keep our loved ones alive by telling their story. I really try to talk to my kids about my mom and dad in everyday settings, but especially on our day of remembrance. I love using FamilySearch to find & record our family’s genealogy. In addition to basic facts about my ancestors, you can add in details of their story. Whether you use a genealogy story or not, it’s so special to write down your family’s history. I wrote down what I remembered about my parents’ childhoods, where they went to college, how they met, their career details, hobbies, personality traits I admired, and memories I had of our life together. Every year, I’ll add more and plan on having it printed into a book with pictures once I’m satisfied with what I have.
Do good in their honor. My mother was so compassionate, and my father had a generous heart. On their special day and always, we try to honor them by doing good – we know that’s what they would be doing if they were still here. Try connecting with a cause that was important to your loved one, whether it’s environmental preservation or working with children, you can keep their legacy of kindness alive through your own acts.
I hope you consider creating a family holiday for a loved one of your own. This really has helped me to view my tragedy as a part of our family’s story and reminds me that our love can still grow even though my parents are gone. Let me know if you tried it and how having a day of remembrance worked for you! I would love to hear how you remember and celebrate your loved ones.