Grief, Healing, and the Importance of Memorialization

by | Sep 22, 2023

Have you ever heard of Find a Grave? If you go to their website, https://www.findagrave.com/, you can “search 561,248 cemeteries in 249 different countries.” At our cemeteries, we had such an increase in requests for grave locations, we had to limit the requests to online only so we could continue our main mission, burying the dead. People are searching for their roots, for their ancestors, for the tangible evidence that the lives of those before them existed in a place and time. 

Clearly, locating the graves of loved ones from our past is important.  Physically seeing their names and recognizing the importance of their lives in our lives today is a human need that spans the history of people. 

From the past to today, people continue to visit the pyramids, the graves of saints, Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Ground Zero and the 9/11 memorial, and so many more places of remembrance. We go to remember, to connect, and to acknowledge the importance of the lives of those who came before us. 

On a more personal note, we see crosses on the side of a busy road, remembering someone killed suddenly. Walk through the children’s section of a cemetery, and you will see graves covered with flowers, toys, and balloons. When a mass shooting occurs, immediately memorials spring up at the place of the shooting, often turning into permanent memorials that never forget the lives cut short. 

People come to these places to grieve, to heal, to remember.  The life of the loved one who died continues to be important to the many people touched, formed, and changed because this person lived, loved, and died on this earth. 

We can all see the trends today, though.  Scattering or separating of cremated remains of a loved one is common.  Urns sit on shelves, and eventually, even end up in garages, Goodwill Stores, or even abandoned on park benches or church steps.  If memorializing a person by burying them in a permanent place where loved ones can visit, grieve, remember, and honor that person’s life is so important, what happens when the person is not buried anywhere? 

In the article, “Changing death-related traditions reflect varied approaches to grief,” by Julie Riddle, she talks about a father who still waters the flowers on his son’s grave almost 20 years after the son’s untimely death.  The father said “losing a loved one hurts, but a place to remember that loved one helps.” 

Think about how we celebrate and honor the people in our lives now. We celebrate the birth of a child, weddings, anniversaries, and many more milestones throughout our lives. Equally important is honoring a person when their earthly body dies and having a place to go that continues to honor that person. A marker or monument, or even a plaque on a memorial wall, names the person. Often, birth and death dates are engraved, and sometimes emblems representing what was important to the person is etched or added to the monument. This person mattered. They made a difference in this world. We remember and honor them.

At Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights, we have a Children’s Memorial where people can have the name of their child inscribed on a granite wall, many of whom died before birth. The children are not buried there, often because there was nothing to bury. This is a place for grieving parents and family members to visit, where they can visually see the name of this child who died too soon. Our Children’s Memorial walls filled up so quickly, last year we added several new walls. 

Having a permanent place to visit a loved one who has died and to see the person’s name and their permanent resting place has been important to the grieving and healing process since the beginning of time.  Consider the importance of memorialization to the grieving and healing process of those left behind when you are making your end-of-life plans. A cemetery with a permanent burial place will give your loved ones a place of remembrance. 

Want to learn more? Jamie Moloney, Director of Pastoral Outreach for The Catholic Cemeteries, will be hosting a half-hour ZOOM webinar on this topic on Tuesday, December 12, 2023 at 11:30am. To register click on the button below: