Coping With Loss: Honouring a Loved One After They’re Gone


By Jennifer G. McKechnie, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist

There’s no way around it — losing a loved one hurts. And unfortunately, it is something that most of us will experience at some point in our lives. Whether the loss of a friend, a beloved pet, or a family member, coping through this time, and through periods of grief as they arise, can be exceedingly difficult. But finding ways of honouring that person we have lost can help us through our grief.

Something that I like to remind people is that grief is a by-product of love. It’s the sadness and nostalgia that shows up because of the love that we hold. So taking time to acknowledge our grief can be a way of acknowledging our love.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings of grief, try something a little different: Pause and allow it to be there, just like the weather outside of your window. Gradually, it will shift, and something else will take its place for a time. But it’s important to create some space to be with our grief and, in so doing, hold the memories of our loved one close.

Self-care, like making good choices around food and hydration, sleep, and movement are important for managing our energy around loss. But just as importantly, finding ways to honour our loved one may be necessary for our own healing. Below are some ideas to consider:

  • Pick some of the clothing that your loved one wore to have as a keepsake, wear as your own, or create a memory quilt out of. A local artisan may be able to turn favourite textiles into a memory-filled throw that you can wrap yourself in on more challenging days, or a keepsake teddy bear that can be cuddled for years to come.
  • Consider doing something special for your loved one on a day that you’re really struggling. Miss having tea, cookies, and a game of cards with Nana? Call over a couple of people, put the tea on to brew, and shuffle the deck. Chances are, others are missing that too.
  • A popular way of keeping a loved one’s memory alive is to plant a hearty tree in your yard or in a public greenspace. Watching the tree grow over the years can be soothing and a natural reminder of the person you lost.
  • Purchasing a memorial bench or plaque at a local park is another way many people choose to honour loved ones. This can provide a special place for people to go to sit and remember their special person.
  • For a more far-reaching approach, some may choose to travel abroad to a person’s homeland to scatter ashes or create a memorial in a place that represented something special to their loved one.
  • If you want to feel a source of connection all of the time, memorial tattoos can come in all different shapes, sizes, words, and images. Think about something that was special about your loved one and consider getting inked.
  • Some prefer to know that their loved one lives on through altruistic measures, like donations to specific programs or places that were important to them while they lived. This could range from donating to a rescue where a pet came from, asking family and friends to donate to a cause in memory of your loved one, or making a grand gesture like donating a portion of their life insurance benefit to charities, such as a local hospice, hospital, or organization that was significant to them (the options are endless when it comes to charitable agencies to choose from).
  • Other ways of feeling close to the person you’ve lost can include creating musical playlists that incorporate meaningful music from that individual’s life, reading books that touched them, or taking up a hobby they once loved.
  • Depending on your loved one’s cultural background, there may be certain traditions to honour, respect, and maintain connection with that person. For instance, some cultures attend to the gravesite, bring celebratory foods, or leave favourite items behind.
  • Finally, consider special occasions as a day to celebrate the person or pet that you lost. Perhaps you might want to volunteer at a local animal shelter in memory of your pet, or throw a birthday celebration for your missing family member. Do something that brings some soothing energy to you and others who may be missing that loved one as well.

To avoid the associated pain, sometimes we avoid thinking about those we have lost. This might help us feel better temporarily, but can create a lot of hardship down the road. Instead, remember that although grief can feel painful, it is there because of love. Allow yourself to grieve through actions that honour your loved one and remind you of the love that you hold.

Editor’s Note: Did you know that you can name your favourite charity as a beneficiary of your life insurance policy? For more information, give this article a read: Donating Life Insurance Benefits. Want to raise funds for a cause that was near and dear to your loved one’s heart? Serenia Life members can apply for an Action Team benefit (value: $250) to get a fundraising event off the ground — another great way to honour a loved one you are missing.


Jennifer G. McKechnie is a trauma therapist working with both children and adults. Jennifer utilizes interventions such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, as well as Polyvagal Theory in her work. She values ongoing learning as a key part of maintaining and growing her practice. When away from the office, Jennifer incorporates self-regulation techniques into her day by connecting with nature through running, as well as spending time with her partner and pets.