The last words spoken. The last touch. The last meal shared. The last laugh. The last show watched. The lasts…moments and interactions that would otherwise go unnoticed in everyday life now sacred. Memories that, when lucky, we wish to bottle and protectively hold on a shelf. Untouched for eternity. Never dimmed. Never forgotten. Accessible to us, for us, always.

Remembering those lasts can at times feel unbearable, oppressive, truly unendurable. IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN, I would have…I could have…I should have…. The magical thinking of grief and loss. Don’t get stuck there.

In time, when the bevy of overwhelming emotions that paralyze us in grief, coming in relentless waves, slows there will be space for the memories. When remembering the time when….makes you smile instead of bringing you to your knees.

There will come a time when photographs will bring forth welcomed nostalgia of moments, conversations and experiences shared.

There will come a time when hearing a familiar song will again bring a smile to your face.

There will come a time when smells will elicit memories of meals enjoyed, traditions shared, places explored, and fill you with gratitude.

There will come a time when remembering will strengthen, comfort, and remind you of the love shared. And you will be okay. You will not be overcome with the searing pain of loss. You will not be engulfed by the immense void, the extreme emptiness, the despair. You will remember. You will breathe. You will be okay.

And when that time comes, there are things you can do to remember your loved one well.

  • Select favorite items of your loved one’s clothing and have them made into a quilt or pillow.
  • Create a memory box: Ask family and friends, from all parts of your loved one’s life, to write down or email favorite memories and place them inside of the memory box to read on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or whenever the need arises.
  • Create a playlist of songs that remind you of your loved one.
  • Make a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name on their birthday or on the anniversary of their death creating a legacy of giving in their honor, (A donation to the Humane Society for an animal lover. A donation to the public library for an avid reader. A donation to the Hunger Network for a foodie, etc.).
  • Donate a bench, or plant a tree, with a plaque honoring your loved one at a favorite playground, walking path or park.
  • Create a photo slideshow with favorite pictures and music as a keepsake.
  • Create a tribute scrapbook: Include information about your loved one, (where they were born, birth certificate, ink print of their hand or foot, their favorite color, favorite foods, recipes, interests and hobbies, etc.). Add photographs and other meaningful items such as tickets from concerts, theater, sporting events, certificates, awards, letters, artwork, favorite quotes…anything that captures the essence of their life.

There are many ways to remember, to honor, to commemorate your loved one and their life. Make it meaningful to you. It does not matter when they died, how they died, or how long they lived. What matters is that they were loved and that they will be remembered.


Jennifer Stern

Jennifer Stern, LISW, graduated from the SSA Master of Arts program at the University of Chicago and has worked as part of private practice for over a decade. Her areas of focus include working with individuals and families on grief, loss, bereavement, and difficult life transitions resulting from illness, marital conflict, divorce, and other complicated, fractured relationships. Her focus as a cognitive behavioral therapist is to empower individuals to take meaningful and purposeful action to create desired change in their lives. She teaches clients about the power of choice, wise minded thinking, and productive communication strategies as stepping stones to healing and transformation.

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