Why We Establish Memorials and How to Create One 

Updated April 26, 2022
American flags on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

From creating a lasting tribute to showing respect for a sacrifice, there are many reasons why people establish memorials for loved ones and other important people who have died. Some people create memorials as a way of coping with the overwhelming grief felt after a death. Others use monuments to honor the memory of a person or historic event. Exploring the purpose of memorials and monuments can help you ensure that any tribute you create will be meaningful and lasting.

Why We Have Memorials for Loved Ones

When you lose someone you care about, it can be difficult to know how to honor that person's memory. Memorial services and monuments can serve several purposes when family and friends are mourning a loss.

Memorials Help People Remember

A memorial, whether it's a service with the community or a stone in a special place, is very much about remembering. In fact, a survey on YourDictionary found that many people associate the word "memorial" with remembering a person or event. When someone important is gone from the world, a memorial can help make sure that person is still alive in memory.

Memorials Sometimes Provide Closure

A memorial service or monument can offer closure for family and friends, according to Psychology Today. Although grief takes many forms and sets its own schedule, a memorial offers a way to mark the closing of a life. If there are unresolved issues in your relationship to the deceased, a memorial can also provide a way to process those.

A Memorial Can Be About Gratitude

A monument or memorial can also provide a way to process grief with gratitude. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, it's possible to experience grief and gratitude at the same time. Gratitude can even help ease the process of coping with grief, and a memorial can offer a way to focus on gratitude.

Importance of Memorials for Famous People and Events

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

For centuries, commemorative statues, buildings and monuments have been erected in memory of those who perished in wars, natural disasters, major accidents, and even terrorist attacks. Memorials can also honor important people and their contributions to the world. These are a few famous memorials that serve this purpose:

Memorials Foster Unity

Citizens from all over the world join forces and create public remembrances of those killed during historic events, and memorials offer a chance to create a sense of unity. This is especially important when the loss spans different regions, political groups, religions, or generations. People can put aside their differences to remember a shared loss.

A Memorial Can Help People Understand

Over time, the scope or breadth of a sacrifice can be lost. It's difficult for people to understand how many people were killed in the Vietnam War or how significant the Holocaust was simply by reading numbers in a history book. A memorial provides a way to show the importance of a loss or event. One of the reasons people establish memorials is so future generations will understand the sacrifices made by those who died.

Memorials Can Offer a Place for Grief

In some situations, such as wars or terrorist attacks, families of those lost may not have a body or ashes to bury. There are many reasons why war memorials are important, but one of the most significant is that they can offer loved ones a place to honor those they have lost. Whether the memorial is located in the place of the attack or disaster or it simply lists the names of those who were lost, it becomes a powerful symbol and a place to spend time, leave flowers, or grieve for loved ones in another way.

Tips for Creating an Effective Memorial

Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial

Memorials come in all forms. They can be simple or complex, virtual or real-life, and public or private. Some may be extravagant and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others are priceless. Keep the following tips in mind if you're creating a memorial.

Make the Memorial Personal

A memorial needs to fit the person who has died, or the loss suffered by a group. Keep the following factors in mind to make a memorial personal:

  • The personality of the person who died
  • The deceased person's religion and culture
  • Specific things that mattered to the person, such as favorite flowers or special places
  • Effective ways to show the scope of the loss, such as the shoes of Holocaust victims

Think About Who Will View the Memorial

In order to create an effective memorial, you also need to think about how the memorial be viewed. Will people see it up close or from a distance? Who will view the memorial once it is completed?

Consider the background and needs of the people who will view this tribute. If they will be family members, a more intimate memorial might make sense. If they are members of a community or the memorial will honor multiple people, something larger could work.

Consider Different Types of Memorials

Memorials can be as simple as a potted plant or as elaborate as a large war memorial. You'll find there are lots of different options for creating an effective memorial, including the following:

  • Gardens - Memorial gardens are a popular choice when commemorating a person's life. The hope is that whenever the plant blooms, you will remember that person. It's very simple, but also a very beautiful and honorable way to keep someone's memory alive.
  • Trees - Planting a tree can create a lasting memorial to someone special. Contact the Arbor Day Foundation for information on planting memorial trees.
  • Fruit-bearing bushes - You can also contact your local recreation or state park system to find out how you can have some bushes planted in memory of a lost loved one. Bushes that bear fruit can be especially nice because they encourage birds.
  • Online tributes - Virtual memorials are becoming more popular these days, as people create remembrances online to be shared with people worldwide. Some free and easy-to-use online virtual memorial sites include Virtual Memorials, Christian Memorials, and Memorial Link.

Main Purpose of Memorials and Monuments

Although there are lots of reasons why people build monuments and memorials, all these purposes are connected to one thing: remembering. What makes a memorial effective is its ability to bring people together in remembrance.

Why We Establish Memorials and How to Create One