Purposeful Ideas to Honor Deceased Loved Ones

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I lost my father a year ago this week and my mother 18 months ago. I was always very close with both of my parents and so the loss has been crushing. I’ve struggled to find purposeful ideas to honor deceased loved ones as a way to remember my parents throughout the year.

I want to perform purposeful acts that will honor my parents and help me deal with the crushing grief. I have been performing these remembrances on anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. It’s been a meaningful way to honor my parents and help others in my community at the same time.

soldier standing at attention with folded flag in cemetery with title text overlay reading Purposeful Ideas to Honor Deceased Loved Ones by Helping Others
man in uniform posing with young girl

I come from a good pioneer stock, with farmers and miners as my ancestors. My people don’t sit around and grieve. There is great value, I’m sure, in just being still and experiencing it, but I need to do something. I have felt deeply lost without my parents and have had a tough time finding ways to honor them in remembrance. Early in my grieving process, my husband told me he knew from the time we were dating that it would be difficult for me to lose my parents because I was so close to them. They were my parents, my best friends, and my foundation. Losing them both in just six months was a double whammy.

vintage photo of mother holding and comforting young crying girl

Recently I was chatting with Christina from The Message in the Mess about my floundering in trying to find ways to honor my parents. She suggested sharing this idea of purposeful acts to honor loved ones who have passed. I’ve gathered a list of 25 meaningful acts of remembrance. You can choose one to perform as a remembrance on your loved one’s birthday, anniversary, holidays or other meaningful dates. You could also choose to perform one act every month in remembrance.  Choose what works well for you and for the memories of your loved one.

Purposeful Ideas to Honor Deceased Loved Ones

Make Their Favorite Meal and Share It with a Neighbor or Friend Celebrate your loved one by making their favorite meal and then sharing it with one of your loved one’s friends or neighbors. If possible, make the time to actually share the meal with that friend or neighbor.

Plant a Tree  – Plant a tree in memory of your loved one.

Donate Socks in their Favorite Color – Donate socks in your loved one’s favorite color to a homeless shelter. Socks are always needed and rarely donated. You can also use the socks to make a foot care blessing bags for the homeless.

Winter Bird Feeders – Make winter bird feeders, like this one from Homemade for Elle, to help wild birds. Make enough to share with friends and family that are also missing your loved one 

Donate Stuffed Teddy Bears to a Nursing Home – Donate new and cuddly stuffed teddy bears to a nursing home to brighten residents’ rooms and day. Coordinate with the nursing home staff. They’ll know which residents could most use a surprise gift.

Volunteer with Honor Flight Honor Flight is a national organization that provides veterans with honor and closure for their military service. There are local chapters all around the country. Local chapters fund raise and coordinate flights to Washington D.C. for veteran to visit military memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. You can donate funds, accompany a veteran on the whirlwind one-day trip, cheer them off at the airport the morning of their flight and welcome them back home late the same day. If you live in the Washington D. C area, you can greet arriving flights at both Dulles and Reagan National airports.  

close up of baseball hat with "Army Vietnam Veteran" on man's knee

I’ve had the honor of greeting arriving Honor Flight veterans. I make a point of shaking as many veterans’ hands as I can and individually thanking them for their service. I had one stunned Vietnam veteran tell me that it was the first time in more than 40 years that he’d been thanked. I’m honored that I could be part of that experience for him. 

Plant a Garden and Donate the Flowers and Vegetables – Plant a vegetable or flower garden in your yard. Tend the garden and then donate the produce to a local food bank or to friends and neighbors. Donate flowers to a local nursing home or friends and family. Be sure to check with your food bank and nursing home before making any donation deliveries.

Donate Their Favorite Book – Purchase copies of your loved one’s favorite book and donate it to local a library, school, Boys & Girls Club, senior citizens group, literacy group or other local charity.

Butterfly Release and Support Monarch Waystations – Purchase and release butterflies appropriate for your area. Become involved in establishing Monarch Waystations in your community.

Send Cards to Deployed Service Members – Write and send cards to deployed service members. I know firsthand from when I was on active duty how encouraging it is to receive a message of support from a caring stranger.

Make a Scholarship Donation in Their Name – Improve the future for someone working to improve their own future through education.

Take One of Their Friends to Lunch or Dinner – Stay connected to the people who were important to your loved one. 

Share Saplings to be Planted in Their Name – Give saplings to friends and family of your loved one so that everyone can plant and nurture a tree in your loved one’s memory. 

Wreaths Across America – Participate in laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery and military cemeteries across the nation in December. Help remove the wreaths in January.

Donate to a Favorite or Meaningful Cause – Donate funds or time to a cause that would have meaning to your loved one. 

Create a Memorial Album – After the loss of a loved one, create a scrapbook for yourself and other family members to memorialize your loved one and your favorite memories

Scatter Wildflower Seeds – Scatter wildflower seeds in an area that will be enjoyed by others. 

Thank Law Enforcement and Fire Fighters in Your Community – Write cards or deliver treats to thank those that serve your community.

Visit a Nursing Home at Lunchtime and Chat with Residents – Coordinate with a local nursing home to have lunch with residents and talk with them.

Donate Helium Balloons to Local Hospital – Hospital rooms quickly become tedious when you’re in a hospital. Having a cheerful distraction is a nice gift. Coordinate donations with your local hospital.

brightly colored star balloons in a hospital room

I donated one balloon per room on the oncology wing of my local hospital in honor of my dad’s birthday. We weighted each balloon down with a metal clip that kept the balloon from floating away and allowed it to be clipped to a curtain or table. I’d never transported more than a couple of helium balloons. Take it from my daughter and me, it’s much more difficult to transport 20-something helium balloons than you might think. Let’s hear it for balloon delivery people!

Greet Returning Veterans – Check with your local veterans’ organization to see if you have a routine flight bringing military service members through your area. Greet and thank them for their service.

Volunteer at Animal Shelter – Donate time, supplies or funds to your local animal shelter.

Support Foster Children – Make a difference in a foster child’s life that is often marked by change and uncertainty through the gift of comfort cases. 

Donate Flowers to a Hospice Unit – Flowers provide a beautiful distraction to patients and families at hospice facilities. Contact your local hospice to coordinate donations 

Send Valentine’s Cards to Veterans Hospitalized at VA Hospitals – For more than 30 years, Ann Lander’s has encouraged readers to send Valentine’s to hospitalized veterans as part of the annual National Salutes to Veteran Patients. 

Support Foster Children Who Have Aged Out of the Foster System – Foster children age out of the foster care system at age 18, but are often not ready to be entirely on their own. Support foster care to success and impact a child’s future success.

Looking for more ideas? This Random Acts of Kindness calendar from Wondermom Wannabe shares an idea for each day of the month.

How do you honor the memory of your loved one? Consider choosing one of these purposeful ideas to honor deceased loved ones each month to positively impact your community and also honor your loved one.

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10 Comments

    1. Thank you, Katie. I hope to work my way through the list in the next year or so. Last year was a year of grief. I hope this next year will be a year of honoring.

  1. I just love this whole post. Part of the misery of grief is the feeling of helplessness that comes with it. No matter what, we can’t make our loved one return. These ideas give us something tangible we can do that brings positivity in the world in the name of the one we are missing. Sort of a “casting your bread upon the waters” to help the world. My heart goes out to you as you move through your mourning. I am very close to my parents as well, and I know it will be very hard on me when they go to be with the Lord.

    1. It took me a long time to realize that my impotence in the face of the loss was a big part of my hurt, Seana. I am task oriented and a hard worker, but there was absolutely nothing I could do to “fix” it. Being able to “do something” to help someone takes a bit of the pain away for a bit.

  2. I am so glad I could spark an idea for you. Losing a parent is so difficult and finding positive ways to deal with grief is so important. Love you friend!

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