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Remember a Loved One's Death: Sharing Those Memories With Others

I grew up attending wakes and funerals to remember my relatives' lives. This article shows my personal way of marking my husband's passing.

"The soul of man is the candle of God."

My husband Bill died on January 6, 2013, from complications of his long and patient battle with Muscular Dystrophy. To honor his memory, I donated to several causes and because he was, and I am, ardent Roman Catholics, I'd also have Masses said. However, as the anniversary day approached at the beginning of 2014, I wanted to do something special and more personal.

"The light of God is the soul of man."

"The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the innermost parts of his being."

These variations of Proverbs: 20: 27 equating God's light with a man's soul or spirit clarified my internal debates about how to define my late husband. He was the light of our lives while living, and his light lives on for our family and close friends.

How to remember that light?


My husband and I

My husband and I

The Remembrance

Embracing An Idea

We have some family members and several friends who are Jewish, so I was familiar with Yahrzeit. This is a German/Yiddish word meaning “year’s time.” The Jewish tradition is to annually commemorate a loved one’s death. The tradition usually includes lighting a 24-26-hour candle at sunset on the eve of the Yahrzeit and to leave it burning until the flame extinguishes itself.

Answering a Need

So, planning and carrying through my own Yahrzeit commemoration of Bill's spirit appeared to answer my need. My three adult children also wanted to commemorate their Dad, but only one was able to make the time I selected which turned out to be Sunday, January 5 at sunset.

My planning turned out well and I intend to maintain this practice making it a tradition. Perhaps in the coming years, more of the family will be invited and attend. My daughter and I lighted the candle and in turn read some of the psalms. Then we looked through her album of pictures and talked about the memories these prompted. It was just the right blend of ritual and remembrance. The evening turned out successfully for both of us.

Solo Remembrance

Seeing the candle flame in the living room after my daughter left and throughout the next day until it extinguished itself the evening of January 6 was indeed a comfort to me. (Incidentally, after our little ceremony I had to put the candle in a secure location where my cat would not knock it over.) I really like thinking of Bill as a continuous light in our lives.


My husband and one of our daughters.

My husband and one of our daughters.

Prayers as the Candle is Lighted

Beth Elohim Temple - Wynnewood, PA.

"Sustained by words of faith, comforted by precious memories, we kindle the light in remembrance. "The human spirit is the light of Adonai" (Proverbs 20:27). As this light is pure and clear, so may the blessed memory of the goodness and nobility of character of our dear husband and father illumine our souls."

The light is kindled. Those present may say the following: "Bill's (name of the person being remembered) memory is a blessing."

Choose from more prayers at the websites of Temple Beth Am - Pinecrest, FL 33156 (Miami-Dade County) and TempleEmmanuel, Newton, MA.

Remembering

Light is an eternal source of strength.

Light is an eternal source of strength.

Psalms that May be Read

My daughter and I read these psalms in turn:

  • Psalm 21 (The king rejoices);
  • an old favorite is Psalm 23 (The caring shepherd);
  • Psalm 121 (I will lift up my eyes);
  • and the last two perhaps a little heavy and somber, but appropriate nonetheless are Psalm 130 (De Profundis, Out of the depths) and Psalm 142 (I cried unto the Lord.)

Find Psalms and other readings online at The World English Bible (WEB) a Public Domain (no copyright) Modern English translation of the Holy Bible.

My personal preference for reading aloud is the older forms of English:

The following version of Psalm 23 is from The World English Bible (WEB):

"Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

Sunflower - looks toward the Sun which is its Source of Strength

how-to-remember-the-anniversary-of-a-loved-ones-death

Rituals and Daily Life

My Favorite Photo of my Husband

Bill Bramlage Digging Planting Holes for Blueberries, Leverett, MA. May 1971.

Bill Bramlage Digging Planting Holes for Blueberries, Leverett, MA. May 1971.

Steps in Organizing a Remembrance Ceremony

The time required for the Remembrance Ceremony: Thirty to sixty minutes.

Cost: As little as $2; as high as $125 if purchasing all materials

Materials:

  • 1. Picture of your loved one and / or a meaningful statue or religious symbol, like a crucifix. ($25)
  • 2. Table cover that enhances the mood of your environment. ($35)
  • 3. One candle that will burn for 24 to 26 hours. Buy a yahrzeit candle at the grocery store or a local Jewish synagogue, or buy a 6-Inch beeswax column online. The beeswax columns and votives are especially suitable and have a light fragrance. ($1 - $5)
  • 4. Impervious mat of some sort to prevent damage to table or chest surface from heat or dripping wax. ($5 - $10)
  • 5. Books that contain the psalms or other inspirational quotations. ($5 - $20) Save money use internet links.
  • 6. Gentle music that is meaningful to you ($25). Again, save money. Download MP3 selections.

Center of the Remembrance Ceremony

A Cherry-wood Chest Adorned with Candles and Autumn Bittersweet

A Cherry-wood Chest Adorned with Candles and Autumn Bittersweet

Instructions:

1. Choose a suitable location for your ritual. I choose to use the top of a cedar chest that sits in front of a north-facing bow window. The window niche accommodates my small orchid collection. Seasonally influenced designed cloths and decorations usually cover the chest.

Colors

My Favorite Colors

My Favorite Colors

2. Cover a flat area in your chosen location with a unique cloth or arrangement from nature. Material and designs may vary from refined to ethnic; colors from subdued mono-colors to vibrant multicolors.

San Damiano Crucifix

A Personal Favorite Source of Reflection

A Personal Favorite Source of Reflection

A Crucifix may inspire meaning.

3. Place picture(s), candle, meaningful symbol and perhaps a potted plant or vase of cut flowers on the covered surface.

Stones as a Memorial

Within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on the grave. Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave.

Within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on the grave. Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave.

4. Bring participants to the area; make sure that they are comfortably seated or standing in a good location. Invite participants to place items that remind them of the person you are celebrating on the table top.

Light as Spirit

how-to-remember-the-anniversary-of-a-loved-ones-death

5. Deliver your dedication if you have one. Light the candle; begin with the readings. Don't forget the matches!

One of My Favorite Books of Psalms: The Psalms of David 1st Edition

1st Edition by James S. Freemantle (Author), Stephen Freemantle (Author)

1st Edition by James S. Freemantle (Author), Stephen Freemantle (Author)

6. Read chosen selections either by yourself or sharing with others. If you do this ceremony by yourself, I suggest that you read aloud; it lends solemnity to the ritual.

Tea and Conversation

how-to-remember-the-anniversary-of-a-loved-ones-death

7. Once the candle is lighted and readings proclaimed, if you have family or friends participating, you might want to take time for simple refreshments. This is a great time, alone or with others, to look through photo albums or memorabilia and reminisce.

Remember by Giving a Helping Hand

how-to-remember-the-anniversary-of-a-loved-ones-death

Some Customs for Remembering a Loved One

how-to-remember-the-anniversary-of-a-loved-ones-death

© 2014 Georgene Moizuk Bramlage

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