How have you held private and symbolic memorials?

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Boy Balloon Art Print from Etsy seller KendraStudiosInc
Boy Balloon Art Print from Etsy seller KendraStudiosInc
I have a 10-yr-old son who (by his own choice) had no relationship with his dad after our divorce. My son was just getting to the point where he could tell his father how he felt when his father passed away.

My son didn’t want to go to the service. But I would like to do something with him, as some kind of remembrance and acknowledgement of loss.

All I can really think of is balloon release — where you write a note to put inside and let it go. I suppose this isn’t really a bad idea. But was looking online to see what else I could come up with, and couldn’t find any other ideas for memorial ceremonies.

Can anyone think of a way for us to privately and symbolically observe an memorial for someone? -Kimberley R.

We’ve discussed a lot ways to have an offbeat memorial service, or have memorials set up in your home, or on your body. But…

How can you hold a private ceremony to symbolically mark remembrance and acknowledgement of loss?

Comments on How have you held private and symbolic memorials?

  1. I lost my sister Debbie back in January. She was 38 years old and had a brief but brutal battle with AML. She leaves behind a brand new husband, two adolescent sons, our parents, 4 sisters, 4 nephews, a niece and a host of others who loved her. Her “funeral” was a celebration with burgers and margaritas (her favorite) and we are planning to hike all her favorite trails in a North and South Carolina together.

  2. Please don’t release balloons. Please. The environmental impact is horrible.

    Maybe do a small candle memorial? Light a candle, say a thing…let your son light a candle and say a thing…then meditate over it. very simple, very personal, and it lets your son say what he feels.

    • You can get biodegradable balloons, but I don’t know how much better they actually are.
      If OP feels like releasing something would be especially cathartic, what about sending flowers down a river? Or even making little boats out of bark or something else biodegradable, which could carry a note like the balloons.

    • Not to sound heartless toward the environment, but I feel like if releasing a solitary balloon with a note inside helps a grieving kid feel better, it’s worth it. Latex is made from plants and will eventually biodegrade. They could pick up a handful of litter when they’re done and call it even.

        • And turtles and fish. Here in Australia endangered platypus often die from balloons. I honestly don’t understand how it is still legal.
          I went to a funeral last week where they did a balloon release. I didnt make a fuss, but I did refuse to take part.
          I have written letters after a loved one has died and then thrown then into the lake or burnt them and that was a very cathartic experience for me.

    • In addition to the regular funeral, I did this with a relative, to discuss with him certain abuse errors that I wanted us both released from, but certainly didn’t want to bring up at the funeral. I felt that, immediately after death, he was in the best position possible to actually listen, because his soul would want to be free to move on, and all of his living reasons for defensiveness would be gone. So I forgave him, with the understanding that forgiveness did not mean saying what happened was nothing, or that I deserved it, but rather that something did happen grave enough to need forgiveness. Under those conditions I could indeed forgive, and thereby unbind us both.

  3. I like the idea of a balloon release.

    Many years ago a close friend of mine committed suicide. I did go to her funeral but still was having a hard time dealing with it. There were times I would have liked to visit her grave, but she was cremated and didn’t have one. Something that brought me a little bit of peace was to write letters to her, then walk down to a secluded spot outdoors and burn them. Kind of a tiny ongoing memorial service for one, I guess.

    My ex-wife’s daughter had a very inconsistent relationship with her absent father. He died when she was eight. He saw her a couple of times a year between ages 5-8, and the visits were always full of tears and misery. After he died she started to idealize him, and would talk about how much she loved and missed him. I’m not sure if that’s normal or not, or if this is what we should have done, but we just tried to go with it. She has a great relationship now with her father’s other ex and her half siblings. In the years after he died they would all go out to visit his grave on anniversaries together. It seemed to be helpful. I don’t know, I’m kind of still just muddling through here. :/

    I’m so sorry you and your son are dealing with this. I hope he’s able to find some peace too.

  4. On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I walked a labyrinth. I found some chants to say as I walked in and different ones to say on the way out that were about release. I left a rose in the center.

  5. Canadian Unitarians have created a website at to help families create secular, humanist, spiritual, or religious, ceremonies for all kinds of life events (happy, sad, and otherwise), it will also help you connect with lay chaplains, specially trained individuals who can help you create rituals for your family.

  6. I like the idea of burning a note he writes to his dad…something about “here’s what I want to say to you, I’m sending it to you in smoke because you can’t read anymore”. Easy to repeat this one every year on the anniversary of his dad’s death, or – maybe better – his dad’s birthday. You could also tie a sprig or two of rosemary (for remembrance) to the note before you burn it. I’m also a fan of time capsules – put together a small box of important tokens, bury it somewhere you’ll be able to find later, then dig it up again next year, or in 5 years.

  7. Let him pick a flower or plant that he likes or could represent his dad or the relationship. Then he can write the note place it in a hole you guys dug, either on your property or in a place you can plant on, and plant the flower. It allows him to release his feelings into the ether, environmentally friendly, and (if at your home) it can be something he can nurture and take care of while remembering good things about his father and their relationship.

  8. I also like the ideas of burning a letter or something else written. You could read it aloud first or have it be private. You could also burn sage afterwards, which symbolizes purification, the clearing of old energy, and the beginning of a new chapter. Your son may or may not be looking for an outlet for some of those more complicated feelings.

  9. When I was planning my father’s non-religious memorial service, and the separate family ceremony we did to scatter his ashes, I consulted the book Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death by Sarah York, which has all kinds of wonderful ideas for non-religious and personal ceremonies, and she discusses different situations where either the relationship or the death was especially difficult.

    My dad was raised Jewish and several different family members (agnostics and atheists) found the Jewish custom of lighting a yahrzeit (anniversary) candle a year after he died to be helpful. You allow the candle to burn for 24 hours (if you can figure out a way to do it safely), and we all approached it differently–I think my brother didn’t say any words or do anything else, but just kept noticing the candle every once in a while.

  10. [Hmm, I hope I’m not posting this twice, but I’ve refreshed and can’t see my other post]

    I really like the book Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death by Sarah York, which I used for planning both my father’s non-religious memorial service and the small family ceremony we had to scatter his ashes in the ocean. She has many different ideas and specifically addresses several situations where the death was especially awful or the relationship was strained, and helping children grieve.

    The Jewish custom of yahrzeit (lighting a candle on the anniversary of the death and letting it burn for 24 hours, if you can do it safely) is one that I and several family members found helpful. (My dad was a non-practicing Jew and the rest of us are atheist or agnostic.) My brother did it with no special words or actions, just kept checking on it while it burned all night.

    I think it is great that you are thinking of ways to help your son process this that will feel personal.

  11. For yearly remembrances with a small, private group, I rely on a private Dia de Los Muertos celebration on November 2. Simplest version: You create a little altar with a picture of the deceased person or people, decorate it with flowers and candles and anything that reminds you of the person. You cook a meal with their favorite foods and sit around eating it with other people beside the altar. Then you reminisce, sharing stories about the departed. If there is anyone you’re afraid of having show up, you set out bread and water for them on the outskirts of the property.

  12. I often take clothes from relatives and friends I’ve lost or who have moved away, and wear them always. I also usually ask for something from their home, like a spoon rest or a pot or something useful so I can have their presence in my day to day life just like they were. I love when people ask about what I’m wearing or presenting a dish in or cutting with because there is always a tender story behind it. I’ve moved so many people into my home this way and am reminded of those I’ve lost often.

  13. How about letting your son write a letter to his father, writing down some of his happy memories, as well as all the things he never got to say to him and would have liked to tell him. Then you could help him bury the letter, or burn, set afloat, etc. in a spot that either holds special meaning to your son and his father, or just somewhere that is a comforting space to your son. Perhaps somewhere he could easily return to if he’d like to release more feelings about/toward his father.

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