Honoring Your Lost One

Altars, Ofrendas & Memory Boxes...

Collecting mementoes of your lost loved one and putting them in one place can be very helpful to you in your journey of grief. Doing this helps you "box up the memories" in one place for easy access, and also helps confine them to one area of your home environment. We'll explain below why this is important.

There are two ways we suggest that you can do this: altar-making or a memory box (or both).

Altars to Lost Loved Ones

Most bereaved families do this automatically. They might not realize they are making an altar, but they are. When tragedy strikes, and the grief is fresh, they may instinctively gather up photos of the lost one, artwork he may have created, items he used in sports or hobbies, and favored clothing. They arrange it on a table for visiting mourners to see. This is an altar.

Making an altar helps you reconnect to your loved one, brings him closer to you, giving a sense of safety and accessibility in the midst of great sorrow. Playing music the lost one loved can also help keep them alive in your heart.

Create a special space in your home as an altar to honor your lost loved one. There are no rules. Place whatever you think is appropriate on a table, mantel or bookcase shelf. Visit your altar when you feel the need to reconnect with him or her.

Honoring the Spirit of the Lost One

Altars, Ofrendas & Memory Boxes...

You may be interested in building an ofrenda, a hispanic tradition that honors the dead on el Dia de los Muertes (Nov 1 & 2, All Saints and All Souls day).

Though you might think this is morbid, Latin American celebrants typically approach "the Day of the Dead" joyfully, with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of their deceased loved ones. They feel they are celebrating the continuation of life; the belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.

The Ofrenda is a decorated area that displays offerings to deceased souls to show appreciation and love for them. It usually contains the following items:

The Elements of a Traditional Ofrenda (Latin American Altar):

  • Photos and Statues
    The centerpiece is usually a photo of the departed loved one. Statues of religious patron saints are also common in hispanic cultures.
  • Food and Drink
    The deceased's favorite food and drinks are set out. Although the spirits can not physically eat, they absorb the essence. Fruits, grains and favorite dishes are usual. The one constant food on the ofrenda is the Bread of the Dead. Water is also offered, and signifies purity and renewal.
  • Flowers
    Flowers symbolize the brevity of life, and are arranged on the ofrenda. The traditional flower is the cempazuchitl, or Mexican marigold. Their pungent aroma is said to help guide the dead home.
  • Candles
    Many candles can be found on the ofrenda. The many different shapes, sizes and designs signify those who remain alive; those the dead have left behind.
  • Incense
    Copal incense is used to help spirits find their way to this world. Copal is the traditional incense used in Mexican churches and homes.
  • Favorite Items
    Favorite items of the deceased are placed on the ofrenda. Items might include clothing, cigarettes, toys for children, daily use items such as hand towels and soap or other significant items.

Consider putting together your own Ofrenda to honor your lost loved one, especially during the traditional All Saints Day celebration. Perhaps you may find comfort in this lovely tradition just as those from Hispanic cultures have for centuries.

Box Up the Memories

You may prefer to keep your memory items together in a special box. A memory box is a safe container where you can contain your grief and open it up whenever you want to. Each time you view your box and explore its contents, you may feel more connected to your loved one.

Creating a memory box to honor your lost loved one can be a very healing experience. Take plenty of time and care to make it special. This memory box is yours – so use your own creativity to decorate it anyway you choose.

To make one, you first need to find an empty box. It can be a craft box, shoe box, jewelry box, cigar box or any other type of container that you wish to use. You may even buy a nice wooden box or get a blanket box at the crafts or discount store.

Decorate the box by painting or covering with fabric, ribbons, flowers or other decorations (walk through Michaels for inspiration). You might create a collage of photos and stickers to decorate it. You can paint the inside, or line it with soft fabric.

Once you have finished decorating your box, collect objects that remind you of your loved one. This may include: photos, letters, obituary, death certificate, toys or stuffed animals, artwork, prized possessions that he or she loved, a favored piece of clothing.


Visit your memory box whenever you feel the need to reconnect with your lost one.

It will be helpful to gather all your memory items in one place, to help keep your grief together, and not fragmented, or scattered about your home environment. As your grief begins to resolve, you will find yourself depending on your altar or memory box less and less for emotional support. There is no timetable for this, just follow your heart.

Much later in your bereavement, you may want to take the altar down, leaving just a photo of your loved one. One day, you might even place that in your box of memories. Keep everything together in a box, and store it on a shelf in a closet.

It will always be there if you need to visit it. You will eventually get to where you don't want to see it on a daily basis. Box up the memories, but don't dispose of them. They are your legacy from your lost love, and you will treasure them for your whole life.

Find comfort by making a tribute scrapbook or grief journal.

Return From Memory Boxes to Healing Artwork




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