Making Time for Memories

Small toys looking at their Memory Lanterns in nature

When I am supporting children with grief and loss, I offer opportunities for remembering. This may be through arts, crafts, play, or talking. Many people find support through various ways of expression and grieving.

Small toys making memory boxes

“Grief is just love with no place to go.”

– Jamie Anderson

It can be helpful to give grief places to go. One of my favourite activities to suggest with children and families after a death of a loved one is called Layers of Love. With each layer of sand, they each say a memory they have of their loved one. They layer, share, make a record of the memories, they make art, and most importantly they spend time remembering their loved ones.

Layers of Love Activity

Suggested Materials:

  • Clear container (a jar, old candle holder, or small vase)
  • Different colour sands (may be able to find this at craft stores or online)
  • Candles (optional and only with adult supervision)
  • Card-stock paper
  • Stickers (optional)
  • Pens or markers
Small toys adding a layer of sand into their Layers of Love

Suggestions: Fill the container with different colours of sand layered one on top of the other. With each layer share a memory of your loved one. Record the memories shared on the paper and add stickers if you want to. ​

Small toys reading the list of memories shared in the Layers of Love activity

Then, at the end, if you would like, place a small candle at the top snuggled into the sand.

Small toy lighting the candle on top of the Layers of Love

It can be helpful on days when you are missing your loved one and wished they were around, you could light this candle and think of the times you shared together.

Another favourite activity is the

Remembering Rock Activity

Small toys displaying the Remembering Rocks they made

Suggested Materials:

  • Flat rocks with a smooth surface to paint on
  • Paint (I prefer Acrylic because it dries faster)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Fine tipped black Sharpie pen for fine detail
  • A sealer (optional) for your finished product to protect it from the weather if you would like to have it outside. I use a UV-resistant clear matte spray I got from a craft store.
Small toy with penguin themed Remembering Rock and a paint palette with paint

Suggestions: Find a peaceful place to paint your rocks and, if you would like, share memories about the loved ones you are remembering. Paint the rocks with whatever reminds you of your loved one who has died or whatever feels good for you at this time. Then wait for it to dry, which could take a day or two depending on the paint you use and how many layers of paint you use. Then, if you would like to place it in a garden or outside somewhere, coat it with a sealer to try to protect it from discoloring and damage from the weather.

Small toy with cactus themed Remembering Rocks

Using the Remembering Rock Painting Activity with a Group:
I have done this activity in big groups before and noticed that people will often break off into smaller groups and share memories about their loved ones. I do not try to create conversation about grief and loss; it tends to naturally occur.

Small toys with lady bugs and sunset themed Remembering Rocks

The only instructions I give are to paint this rock in memory of their loved one or however they wish to paint it. I explain that this rock can then be put in a garden (if it gets sealed), on a shelf, or anywhere else they spend time remembering their loved one.

My most favourite activity is the

Memory Lantern Activity

Suggested Materials: 

  • Jars (one per person)
  • Stickers
  • A permanent marker
  • Tea lights (one per person)
Small toy with a space themed Memory Lantern

Suggestions: Find a calming place to set up your craft supplies. Then decorate the lantern however you wish. You may make the lantern in memory of your loved one who has died, or you can decorate the lantern to look however you want it to.

If you are creating this alongside others there may be opportunities to talk about special memories you have of the loved ones you are remembering, if that is helpful for you.

If you are creating this activity alone, you may have opportunities to think about those special memories. Or you can say them out loud if that is helpful for you.

If you are supporting a child, try to keep the focus on their stories. It can be helpful if you share some of your stories to help normalize their feelings, to share more of your memories together, and to demonstrate expressions of grief. Being vulnerable with feelings can help open the space for children to do the same.

Small toy with a jewel themed Memory Lantern

Using the Memory Lantern Activity with a Group: I have used this wonderful activity during grief camps and throughout an 8-week group. At the very end of the camp or group, we light the lanterns and I offer an opportunity for anyone in the group, if they would like to, say something about their loved one or say what they would do if they had one more day with their loved one, and then place their lantern in the middle of the circle.

Keep in mind, that this is done on the last day of camp or on the last week of an 8-week group, once everyone has gotten to know each other better. What comes up is often thoughtful, heartwarming, and meaningful. It is important to remember not all people wish to express their grief in the same way. Always let children know they have the right to pass and can choose to walk into the circle and put their lantern together with the others without sharing their thought or they can hold on to their lantern if that feels best for them.

Small toys with snow, fish, and music themed Memory Lanterns

This can be quite a powerful activity. Make sure to leave time for the children to be able to express their feelings after the activity. If possible, it can be helpful to turn the lights down or wait until the sun goes down. I found that the darkness allows more permission to let our emotions out and cry if we wish to. I also found it helpful to have bubbles for blowing on hand as we can blow the bubbles out into the room or sky which makes us breathe deep breaths which will hopefully help us as we share our thoughts.

Find Ways to Continue that Bond

What can you do on special days; important days that you wish your loved one was there for? You could light a memory lantern or your Layers of Love. You could read aloud your memories and possibly add to those memories. You could look at your Remembering Rock. What about making their favourite food? Or bringing some of their pictures along with you on your special day?

Love does not stop at death. Bonds continue on.

What can you do to help yourself, or a child you are supporting, on days you miss your loved ones most?