Ways of keeping a loved one’s belongings
Make an online photo album with all their photos, or take photos of all the things you can't keep.
Convert their handwriting into an interesting keepsake, or a tattoo.
Lots of things can be made into jewelry, like photos, silverware, or handwriting samples.
Collages are a great way to collect lots of small things into a piece of art.
After you are given the go-ahead to sort through your loved one’s personal belongings, there’s a good chance you will be left with some things you aren’t quite sure what to do with. They don’t fit neatly into any of your organizational categories; it somehow doesn’t feel quite right to share, sell, or donate them, but you don’t feel like you can keep them exactly as they are.
Maybe they hold sentimental value, but have no real use. Or it just isn’t practical for you to keep them in your home, but you still want to keep them in your life. For all those things and others, there may be a creative solution involving repurposing, upcycling, or memorializing that is right for you. Maybe one of these will feel like the proper way to use the item or items in question and continue to honor the memory of your loved one.
It’s great to have physical photographs, but it doesn’t always make sense to keep all of them. Especially if you have loads of printed photos, scattered in assorted envelopes or even organized into one or more bulky photo albums. If you want to keep your loved one’s photos forever, it’s easy to create a digital album that you can keep on a drive or even share online. You don’t have to decide right away: Just scan all the photos, and if you want to, create an album later on. Or, if you really love having the printed photos in your hands, you can create a “greatest hits” of your favorite photos and assemble them into a single volume.
Also, maybe you’ll want to create a second photo album, this one of all the household belongings that you just can’t keep. If you end up selling or donating a lot of things that you still want to hold on to, consider taking photos of those things and creating a new collection, or incorporating those photos into your larger family photo collection. You can do this with any sort of collection; tickets, trinkets, recipes, stamps—the possibilities are endless.
Another benefit to consolidating photos, videos, and any other digital files onto a single drive is that it lets you keep them in a special place. You will know they are there, to be accessed when you need them, but they won’t take up space on the devices you use every day, or accidentally become corrupted or deleted.
The look of someone’s handwriting or signature can be such a unique part of them that many people want to hang onto notes their loved one wrote. If you have a collection of handwritten recipes, letters, or cards, instead of keeping these in files or folders, you can use them as handwriting samples to serve as the basis for a really special and unique memento. You can easily frame a favorite handwritten message to hang on the wall as art, or you can scan a sample and use it for almost anything. Tattoos and engraved jewelry are popular ways to memorialize handwriting.
Some services or independent artists will take the image of a handwritten note and print it onto a useful item like a tea towel or a baking dish, so you can carry it with you into the future. The recipe for a signature apple pie written in your mom’s handwriting and printed on a pie plate is a great way to ensure that you always know exactly where to find it, and will remember her when you bake. There are even sites where you can have someone’s handwriting turned into a font that you can type with and use on the computer.
If you have a collection of handwritten recipes, letters, or cards, use them as handwriting samples to serve as the basis for a really special and unique memento.
Memorial jewelry or ornaments can be made from almost anything. Lockets are a classic choice, but rather than purchasing an item which you then add a photo to, you can have the photo itself incorporated into the jewelry in some way. Some artists can laser-cut a favorite image directly onto a piece of metal or crystal, or printed photos can be coated in resin and turned into beads that can become charms on a necklace or bracelet.
Maybe you have a collection of something like a set of very beautiful teaspoons that you love but you know you won’t use. Instead of keeping them stowed away in your attic or gathering dust on a kitchen shelf, you could consider turning them into jewelry. Find an artist who can hammer the handles into circles and have them turned into a collection of rings or bracelets that you can then share with other members of your family or friends.
A memory pillow is a special pillow made from an item of clothing or piece of fabric that belonged to someone who died. There are patterns available for converting things like shirts and sweaters into pillows, so if you or someone you know likes to sew, you can convert a favorite piece of clothing into a pillow. This can be a really lovely option for children who might need something to hug when they are missing the person who died.
Another option is a quilt, made up of a loved one’s shirts or other fabrics that have been cut into squares and stitched together. It can be used as a regular blanket or displayed as you see fit.
You can always combine various items you want to keep into a collage, a piece of art that you keep privately or on display. You can use anything to make this type of collage: pieces of paper, cloth, knickknacks. They can be small or large, depending on the piece you end up creating. You could decide to make several different pieces with different themes, or one big one whose meaning or organizing principle is unique to you. There are no rules to this kind of art; you get to decide what it is, how it looks, and what it means.
Similarly, you can create a memory box from any container: a jewelry box, a cigar box, a glass jar, or even a shoebox, to be filled with trinkets and smaller items that remind you of your loved one. It can be as fancy or as casual as you like. If you have small children in your life, maybe invite them to craft and decorate a box that reminds them of the time they shared with your loved one.
You can also create a “time capsule” of things that you aren’t quite sure what to do with and designate it to be opened at a later date. If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed right now, plan to come back to it in the future when you may have more energy to decide what you want to do with the contents.
Things you can’t carry
Sometimes instead of repurposing their things, you can bring a skill or hobby of theirs into your own life. You may not think you have a use for your brother’s collection of watercolors and brushes, but if you’ve never tried painting, maybe now is the time. Making art or music or practicing an activity can be therapeutic in its own right, but it can also be a way to carry your loved one’s memory into the future. If they were a writer and you are a musician, maybe you can turn something they wrote into a song and record it.
Creativity is such a rich part of our human experience, and at a time when you are feeling a lot of emotions, especially difficult ones, engaging that part of your brain can be a valuable way to process your thoughts and feelings, and to find beautiful ways to keep the memory of your loved one alive and close to your heart.
Creativity is for everyone, not just artists. Even if you are not the one crafting an item or drawing a picture or writing a song, finding creative solutions and coming up with new ways to incorporate your loved one’s things into your life can prove to be a satisfying way of moving through your grief.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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