Whether they’re sitting across the kitchen table from us or have been “late” for decades, writing memorials and tributes about loved ones can be hard. It’s easier to tell stories than try to encapsulate everything we feel about a person in a single essay or speech.

Writing Memorials and Tributes Graphic

Pulling together memorials and tributes has been on my mind the last couple of weeks as I lost two friends in the span of two days: one to a bicycle/automobile accident, another to cancer.

In the case of my friend who died from cancer, I was lucky. I had written about her in My Personal Hero and Why post, although I didn’t write it as a memorial. Still, it was good to have something that expressed how I felt about her in the wake of her death. I was also glad that she’d known how I felt.

Memorials and Tributes are wonderful to include in a memory or family story collection. They’re poignant reminders not just of the people you’re writing about, but also of the relationships you enjoyed.

A Fitting Tribute

Words aren’t the only way to pay tribute to someone we cherished or still cherish. (We don’t have to wait until we lose someone to think about what they mean to us!)

After Frank, the avid bicyclist, died, friends got to experience a fitting tribute first hand. A buddy of his organized a memorial bike—a simple afternoon jaunt through the subdivisions Frank like to ride through, ending at his house.

As we followed the leader on bikes which varied from garage-sale bargains to top of the line equipment, it occurred to me how pleased Frank would be with the memorial ride. Friends not giving up a sport—but proceeding carefully. All helmeted, with wary eyes watching out for on-coming traffic, but enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer afternoon—together, in his honor.  We posed together in front of his garage, knowing he’d be smiling down on us. (Criticizing our photographic endeavor, because he was an excellent portrait photographer, but smiling nevertheless.)

How to Write Memorials and Tributes

  1. Go for the tribute. Don’t wait until someone dies to think about and express what that person means to you. Also remember, you can write multiple stories or essays about a person. You don’t have to get everything you feel on one sheet of paper or in one ten-minute speech.
  2. Spend time brainstorming about what the person means to you before you get started. It goes without saying that Memorials and Tributes need to come from the heart. A little time engaging your emotions before you engage your cerebral cortex will help find words that convey how you feel.
  3. Consider what type of tribute your loved one would appreciate. Eloquent words are certainly welcome, but is there a philosophy or ideal you could embrace or perpetuate? A love for nature or art or a show of honor? Charles Colton was right when he said, “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery.”
  4. If you’re writing a memorial or tribute for a funeral service, think about what will resonate with the audience. What did you love most about the deceased? What will you miss the most?
  5. Write first, wait, then edit. No matter how great the writer, thoughts bloom with time, as does our ability to express them well.
  6. It always takes me by surprise how much people like reading about a mutual friend or relative. Sharing your own feelings sparks conversations and shares the love.

Your Turn

When were you able to write a meaningful memorial or tribute? What makes them hard to write? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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