“When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets. Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget I was here. I lived. I loved. I was here. ... The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave. That I made a difference and this world will see I was here.”
This quote is from a song written by Diane Warren and recorded by Beyoncé on her fourth album. Ms. Warren was influenced by the September 11th attacks on America in which 2,977 people lost their lives. 2,958 people were not expecting to die that day. In an article in “The New Republic” written by Andrew Butterfield on Monuments and Memories, he said, “Monuments are…the products of primary human needs; and they serve these needs in a way that nothing else can serve them. People build monuments ... because there are wounds so deep that only monuments will serve to honor them.” We want to not only remember our loved ones and keep their memories alive, but also to memorialize them so that others know how much they meant to us.
So how do we do this? Legacy and memory making are the breath of our loved ones. These items tell a story, whisper shared moments, ignite laughter and inspire life. They speak the words that we are unable to express or articulate. In her book “The Art Therapy Sourcebook,” Dr. Cathy Malchiodi talks about a young teenager who fell into a deep depression after the loss of her grandfather. After attending an art therapy group, where she was able to visually express her loss, the young girl was able to put aside much of her grief. For some people, “the act of making art is a way of remaking the self after a loss through exploring, expressing, and transforming feelings into visual images.”
Creating these “legacies” can be just as unique as the person who is leaving or has left us. I visited with a patient who knew he would die within 3 months. He was very depressed about his condition and he felt as though his life was being taken away from him. After speaking with him, he revealed his fascination with tattoos and how each one of his 32 tattoos had a story behind them. I suggested that he make a scrapbook of his tattoos for his two young children. We photographed each tattoo and printed photos of each. I got the prints and scrapbooking supplies to him the next day, which was his 35th birthday. I returned the day after and saw that completed the scrapbook and included quotes and scriptures for his children to read. He died two days later. The book is his story; his legacy. It represents the things in life that were important to him, and it would leave his children a big part of him that they were not able to keep.
Almost any arts and crafts project can be made into a legacy piece including a memory quilt, a shadow box, a memory box, a photo collage which can be made into any number of things from a photo book to a blanket, and a t-shirt quilt. Other art forms are useful as well like recording your loved one’s voice, writing a poem, creating a song together, having your loved one write a letter to family members, vlogging and/or blogging. The possibilities are endless.
Creating a legacy or memory project can be done with anyone, whether your loved-one died unexpectedly or expectedly, early or late in life. There is life before death and you can create memories from that life. What matters most is that they lived and they touched someone’s heart while here on earth.
~ Unicia R. Buster, Art Specialist at the VCU Medical Center (excerpt from Good Grief Conference speech)