8 Grief Symbols That Help Us Find Meaning in Mourning

These eight unique symbols of grief have helped us find comfort for centuries.

Published April 16, 2024
family couple holding hands

Grief is an immeasurably difficult thing, and it’s an uncomfortable fact of life. Yet, these grief symbols prove that you can find meaning and purpose in mourning. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, and it doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be meaningful to you. Discover the symbols that helped other cultures cope with their grief and perhaps draw inspiration from them.

Mourning Rings

Antique Victorian Hairwork Mourning Signet Ring

Victorians were obsessed with death. One of the many ways they processed their feelings of grief was through mourning rings. These were usually embellished with death-centric motifs like skulls, R.I.P., and onyx and jet gemstones.

One of the more decorative and tender elements included in many of these rings are braided locks of the deceased’s hair. Yet, this mourning hair braiding wasn’t limited to just rings and came in all sorts of displayable forms.

Postmortem Photography

Photography was just becoming commercially available in the late Victorian period. Naturally, the death-obsessed Victorians saw an opportunity to combine the fascinating technology and their passion for passing. And so postmortem photography grew in popularity.

Postmortem photography was the practice where family members would have photographs taken of their dead loved ones before they were buried. These corpses were dressed and posed to make them appear the most recognizable.

These photographs were important keepsakes for mourning Victorians and gave them one last totem to remember their beloved family members by.

Wearing White

In Buddhist culture, white symbolizes rebirth — an important element of its spiritual tenets. Given their belief in samsara —the cycle between life, death, and rebirth — wearing white to a Buddhist funeral and/or during their mourning period represents a show of support and faith in the deceased’s transition from death into rebirth.

Given this, you’d be hard-pressed to see black at a Buddhist funeral.


Bright poppy flowers against the blue sky

Poppies are said to represent death, and they’re worn around the world as a symbol for remembrance of those who’ve passed. From red poppy broaches to honor those who passed in war to the purple poppies in New Zealand that honor the animals who’ve served and/or died in a conflict, there are so many unique ways people use poppies to grieve their loved ones.

Related: Get to Know These Eerie Symbols of Death

The Triskele

Much like the white clothing and decorations that are customary at Buddhist funerals, Celtic traditions have the triskele to connect their sentiments of life, death, and rebirth.

Because of this symbolic meaning, triskeles have been added to funerary arrangements and given as gifts. You might receive a locket or ring with a triskele after someone beloved passes, reminding you that there’s a greater thread connecting you, even in death.

Cypress Trees

Leyland Cypress Trees in New Mexico

One ancient symbol of grief is the cypress tree. Like many of the symbols on this list, the cypress tree was believed to represent the transition between life and death. One classic example comes from Greek mythology, where a man named Cyparissus was turned into a cypress tree so that he could grieve the beloved pet stag that he accidentally killed for eternity. 

In modern contexts, you often see cypress trees in cemeteries as they help the spirits transition from one state of being to another.

Mizpah Jewelry

9k yellow gold Mizpah

One major Jewish grief symbol is Mizpah. Mizpah (Hebrew for “watchtower”) comes from the story of Jacob and Laban and the pile of stones (their figurative Mizpah) that signified their bonding agreement. Over time, the Mizpah grew to symbolize an enduring connection between two people — whether through distance or death.

There are many examples of extant jewelry with the Hebrew word printed on it, and people are still gifted Mizpah jewelry today.

Death Beads 

South Korea isn’t a big country but being densely populated can pose many challenges. One of these problems is finding space to bury their dead. Given that there are a few laws surrounding the conditions for traditional burials, many have turned to other options.

An incredibly beautiful way to process their grief and memorialize their lost loved ones is through death beads. Like memorial glass figurines and jewelry, these death beads are created from a loved one’s ashes. They’re then displayed in decorative bowls or containers for the family and visitors to see.

We’ve Been Grieving for Lifetimes

If there’s one thing these multicultural grief symbols show us, it’s that we humans have been grieving for lifetimes. Having a physical representation of your feelings, such as something you wear or plant, can help you externalize an incredibly internal process. Grief never really fades, and neither do these beautiful symbols that capture it. 

8 Grief Symbols That Help Us Find Meaning in Mourning