When you hear the word memorial, what are the first things you think of? Maybe a bench of some sort, lighting candles, or releasing balloons? Some people struggle to find ways that feel right for them to remember or memorialize someone who has died. Let's take a moment to break things down a bit ...
... the reality of balloons ...
Let's call out the elephant in the room, shall we? Releasing balloons. This seems to be a staple way to send a message to our people who died and feel as though we can carry on a connection with them. I totally understand how impactful it can seem and how it creates quite a powerful moment. In the last decade of being in this field, I have seen quite a few balloon releases myself.
But can we talk about the impact of a few minutes of Insta-worthy pictures versus the long-term impact on our Earth and wildlife? Studies show that wildlife sometimes eat the balloons, mistaking them for food. Even though balloons may be marked as "biodegradable" so many of them fail to mention that the latex is (over years and years) but the other chemicals that go into balloons are not. Then there are Mylar balloons (the shiny ones that usually have printing on them). Neither of these are digestible in wildlife's systems, so they usually end up dying due to balloon ingestion. Whether it's balloons ending up littering the Earth or harming wildlife ... is it really worth it?
Check out this article/video from Fox 6's Bret Lemoine talking about the danger of balloon releases.
So, what can we do instead?
I love when this question is asked, because it means that people are ready to expand their horizons and find something healthier and more innovative! So let's go through a bit of a process - will you do this with me?
First: What is your goal? You might ask why this is important, or have a bit of a "Duh, to memorialize someone who died." moment. I'm going to ask you to look a bit deeper. Are you looking to reach out to your person? Send them a message? Take some structured time to remember and honor them? What is your purpose with this activity?
If you are part of a larger group creating an event, think of what you want your participants to walk away feeling/thinking/experiencing.
Second: What was important to them? I like this question because it makes us pause and takes us out of autopilot. It's not just "Someone died. Time to get balloons." It's taking time to think about that individual's life, personality, and interests. It's personalizing their moment of honor.
If you are hosting a large memorial event where things cannot be individualized, take time to think about how one group activity can help participants honor their person/people through their memorial experience, while still participating in a large group activity (examples below).
These questions may seem as though they created a simple process - and you're right! The idea was not to make this into a complicated process. It was to clear your mind so you could become more mindful and intentional about your form of memorialization. Hopefully this helped you to think about different options you could use in your life or organization/business!
Here are some great eco-friendly ideas that are really impactful:
Light a candle: This is another staple that is seen when memorializing someone. Think big on this one and see if you would like to do a traditional candle lighting, or if you want to get battery-operated lights that go on with a timer. Whether you are doing this alone or with a group, it can be comforting to put that candle in a home and have it switch on as a reminder that our people may not be physically with us, but they are always there.
Plant a tree: A tree can be planted in a community space or private property and can be a place to gather, can be decorated for special dates, and can grow for generations.
Painting rocks: another great way to allow individuals to express themselves. These can be indoor or outdoor rocks.
Seeds of hope: Hand out seed paper or seed bombs for people to plant in someone's memory (please make sure they have plants native to your area)
Planting a message: This is where an individual writes a message to their person who has died and then plants it in a pot with an indoor or outdoor plant.
Labyrinth walks: can be very powerful time to reflect on one's grief journey and the person who died.
Bubble thoughts: are a great way to send a message to someone who has died. All you have to do is be intentional about the message you want to send. Then just like a wish, you blow the message into the bubble and watch it wander off.
Dissolving words: Have you ever heard of dissolving paper? This is a great tool to help people write messages to someone and then have their words dissolve as they are watching it - giving the feeling of the message going to their person who died.
Memorial garden: Maybe this is a wildflower garden, a veggie garden, or something totally different. This is a great community and family activity. Just like the tree, it is a great place to visit, spend time, and literally work on your grief as you care for these living things.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it has given you a few ideas of things you could do in honor of your person/people.
Please know that StarBright is always happy to provide consultations or even planning/program services to help you create an innovative memorial you are proud of!