A Buddhist Memorial Service: Making Time to Remember Years Later

It is Buddhist practice to hold a memorial service for loved ones every set number of years after their death.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/BorirakRecently, my family and I gathered for a memorial service for not just one family member but 3: my grandpa, grandma, and mom. My grandpa died 14 years ago, my grandma 6 years ago, and my mom 5 years ago. Traditionally, these services consist of chanting, incense offering, and a message by the reverend. The service functions as a time for you to meditate on the memories of the one who died and to recognize the impermanence of our own lives. When the service ends, we all have lunch together to continue to share stories.

However, this memorial service for my family was a little different.

My aunt asked everyone who was coming to the service ahead-of-time to write out a favorite memory or story about my grandpa, grandma, or mom. One-by-one my aunt received email after email of unique stories and memories from all the people that had loved my family.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/styf22On the day of the service, her and I stood up front and read what everyone had written. Hearing those stories sparked so many other memories that we hadn’t remembered for a long time. There were even stories that we had never heard before, like how my grandpa asked my brother to make coffee and instead of using the coffee-measuring spoon, my brother used a measuring cup. Lots of the stories had us laughing really hard and others made us miss them all over again.

It felt good to hear those stories during the service. It was nice to see my grandma’s youngest sister laughing as she remembered the quirky things my grandma did. It was moving to see the eyes of my dad and my mom’s sister get teary as they heard the many stories about my mom.

What was significant about this event is simply the fact that we got together to talk about my grandparents and my mom. Listening to the stories brought me comfort because it showed me that my grandparents and my mom were not forgotten and others still missed them too.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kynnyOur mortuary talks a lot about the significance of ceremony and the healing moments that take place when family and friends come together when someone has died. Hearing those stories during the service was something our family needed. It was touching to see that people took time out of their schedules to support us and to keep the spirit of my grandparents and mom alive.

It’s never too late to have a memorial service for the ones we love and I encourage you to have family and friends gather together again and remember. It can be as simple as getting together over a meal but to know for that event everyone is given the opportunity to express their loss will continue to heal hearts.

Dr. William Hoy says it best, “A nation that does not honor its dead will ultimately lose its reverence for life. If the dead do not matter, it will not be long until the living do not matter either.”

Continuing to come together years later, or decades later, to remember and celebrate loved ones can be just as, or even more, meaningful for family and friends to experience.

 

|| what do you think?

What things do you do to remember a loved one?

Have you ever wanted to hold a service like this but felt held back?

How does your family take time to remember your loved ones?

Lauren

About Lauren

I'm a Southern California dreamer. Practicing yoga, exploring the outdoors, and having a good chat over coffee are some of the ways I like to recharge. Since starting at O'Connor Mortuary in February as a funeral service assistant, I have a new perspective of what time means and value the people in my life. I think it's amazing how the human spirit can be recharged from just a simple act of kindness. By working on services and helping families through one of their most difficult times, I truly have found my passion and am now training to become a funeral director.
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  • Anne

    Lauren,
    That was news to me about your tradition to have another memorial years later. What a wonderful thing to do. I am so glad you do this and were able to have so many memories to read to everyone. Everyone can heal a bit more. And it means the world to know they are NOT forgotten.
    The closest I came to it was a year later after Lou’s death his birthday arrived, since he died 2 days past his birthday. I felt it was important to gather the family and have a party for him. It was our night of memories. That’s how I handled it. We had a cake, his favorite birthday meal, sang and told our favorite memories, spontaneously, then watched his video we made of his pictures and songs and ended of course with Annie’s Moon as he called it, soooo more stories. It was healing for all of us.
    Thanks for sharing. I am glad you are here.
    Love,
    Anne

    • Lauren

      That is so great that you brought your family together to celebrate Lou! That sounds like the start of an amazing tradition.
      I’m glad that we have each other!
      Love,
      Lauren

  • Shayna Mallik

    Lauren,
    What a great blog! I never new about this tradition and think it is a great idea. When we loose someone dear to us we all need to remember them by sharing stories that will bring laughter and tears. I really like how your Aunt had everybody write the memories down before the celebration and then read all of them. You have such a strong and close family! Thank you for sharing about your service years later!!!

    Shayna 🙂

    • Lauren

      Aww thank you Shayna!

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Lauren (or should I say, fellow Buddhister),

    What a lovely story to share with us all. I think its great that you continue to have these times to be with your family and share these stories. I think that events like this should happen most often. It is obvious by your story, that it was very impactful and reverent to now. Thank you again for sharing!

    Te amo,

    Joanna

    • Lauren

      Oh Joanna, I am touched by your kind words. Te amo.

  • Lauren,
    I think what your family did and the beautiful way you have written about it will empower other families needing another ceremony. Anniversaries hold power for us because of what they represent and because they give us a time to pause and savor the memory. We have them for birthdays & weddings and I believe we should have them for our dearly departed as well. Having that time to remember is so healing and special.

    I really cannot thank you enough for sharing your blog – the time sounds like it was truly blessed and a wonderful experience for everyone involved. I so appreciate the inspiration & freedom you are imparting to all of us who find ourselves needing that time but don’t have the courage to claim it. I’ll start claiming.

    Molly

    • Lauren

      Thank you Molly! It is great to hear this has been inspirational. And I love what you said about anniversaries and how they “give us a time to pause and savor the memory,” perfect!

  • Tom

    Thank you, for sharing your experience about our family. My sisters and I talk about certain moments whereby one of us will do something in the same manner my mom would have done.

    • Lauren

      It’s those moments when I do things like how a loved one did things that I find the most joy.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Lauren,
    I love your faith tradition of holding memorial services every so many set years after a loved one has died. For those of us who have lost someone close, I think that one of our biggest fears is that we will begin to forget our loved one. How special that you got to read and hear so many wonderful stories about our grandparents and your Mom, and what a beautiful tribute to each of them.

    Thank you for sharing your family’s special moments with us. Your blogs always bring tears to my eyes and help me on my own journey.

    Becky

    • Lauren

      Thank you Becky! It means a lot that my posts help people.

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Lauren,
    What an incredible gift it is when we pause and remember. When we take the time to stop and be still in this hustle and bustle world it allows us to connect and re-connect to what is most important. A wonderful tradition to continue to gather and remember as a family, those that have gone before us. It is one thing to be told about the significance of a healing ceremony or trained to communicate that to our grieving families as an arranger. But another thing all together when you live it and experience it yourself. Now you can communicate the importance of having a healing and meaningful ceremony to all families you serve with confidence, knowing how true it is. Lauren you are a great director and arranger and an even better person! Keep up the wonderful care and hard work you do for our families everyday!
    Chuck

    • Lauren

      Aww thanks Chuck! Going through the experience of a memorial service a couple years later has been powerful and definitely something every family should do.

  • Neil

    Hi Lauren –
    Your faith tradition has so many deep, meaningful rituals. The memorial service for your family is a beautiful, I believe you are keeping the relationships alive. There is so much mystery in life & death, we cannot fully understand it, yet there can be just as much hope.
    Sad to say we don’t have any real tradition after the funeral is over, other than retelling some funny stories from time to time. Thank you for sharing wit us! Great blog

    • Lauren

      “There is so much mystery in life & death, we cannot fully understand it, yet there can be just as much hope.” Beautifully said. Hope recharges the human spirit and allows us to see the greatness in things.

  • Elsa

    Hi Lauren,
    Thank You for sharing. I think it is so great that your family has this tradition to come together to continue to celebrate and honor the life of loved ones so close. It must be such a comforting experience to come together and share stories that after so many years, you are hearing for the first time. How lucky you are to have such a priceless tradition.

    • Lauren

      Thanks Elsa! Not until I started working here did I realize that this is something that is not very common. But it can be something that doesn’t have to be religious and just a time to gather.

  • Jeff Turner

    Lauren,
    It is such a blessing to hear of the wonderful tradition that your faith offers to all of us who might consider borrowing the practice for ourselves. I love the simplicity behind the gathering and the significance of remembering. I do pray comfort for you and your family as you continue the journey that is this life with its mixture of dark and light, sadness and happiness.

    Many blessings be yours as you touch the memory even of the event that you were able to take time to savor the sweetness of what you shared with those three very precious people in your life.

    Jeff

    • Lauren

      Aww thank you Jeff, your words of support mean a lot!

  • Erin Fodor

    Every anniversary of my father and uncles death I let go of red balloons with a little message written on them. This is something I heard from a song and have religiously done this every year since their death. I love the idea of having another memorial service years later. There are so many stories left to hear! And it’s a good reason for everyone to get together and remember their loved ones. My mom and I constantly talk about him to keep his spirit alive. Its now not so painful but brings joy to us both. Thanks for the great blog Lauren.
    XOXO,
    Erin

    • Lauren

      That is so great to hear that you do that for your dad and uncle every year!
      XOXO,
      Lauren

  • Joe Lavoie

    I remember my wife Renee by eating a western bacon cheeseburger , which was Renee’s favorite at the cemetery on July 13 this was not only the day she died but also our anniversary so it serves as a dual purpose one to remember and one to think what we may have done to celebrate our anniversary would we have gone away or just a nice quiet dinner. We would have been married for 28 years this year so maybe I will have a little service in addition to my western bacon cheeseburger. Thanks for the ideas to help keep the memories alive.

    Sincerely , Joe Lavoie

    • Lauren

      Thanks for sharing Joe! You can celebrate this year with the double western bacon cheeseburger!

  • Shasta Cola

    Hey Lauren, That is such a cool thing you and your family do! I think that would be great for every family! It seems like a lot of the times, you see people at the funeral when you’re so out of it you might not even remember what went on or was said that years after things might be a lot clearer. I think those stories shared would be very healing, and even though no one forgets about the person who died I think sometimes there is a not wanting to talk about them anymore to avoid making anyone sad. To hear the memories and know that the person is still alive in other peoples’ hearts as well must be very beneficial to everyone involved.

    • Lauren

      That is so true that families are in a haze during the funeral service. Getting together a year or two later is enough time that has passed where one could soak in and appreciate the memories.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Dear Lauren, this is such a touching piece- thank you for sharing this practice with us! I think everyone should do something like this, regardless of culture or religion & I absolutely love the example that this Buddhist practice sets. We all need to follow it. I truly believe that no one truly dies until they are forgotten. This is an amazing way to ensure that our loved ones live on. Thank you so much! Love, Carrie

    • Lauren

      Thank you Carrie! Telling stories are the best way to keep them in our hearts and mind.

  • Lori

    Lauren,
    I love this tradition that your family has to honor your loved ones recurrently. The most significant losses for me have been my father and my grandmother, my mom’s mother who passed in 1987. They are significant for two reasons….my father took his life and therefore, with this being such a tabu subject in 1973,nobody ever talked to me about him again, basically ever. He just vanished from the face of the earth. My grandma on the other hand is very much alive in our memories. There is not a time that my mom, aunt, cousins and I are together that a story of her is not shared. I think the latter is the better way to grieve, of course. I love that you have shared this sacred tradition with us.
    XOXO,
    Lori

    • Lauren

      Lori, thank you for sharing that. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a dad and not being able to talk about him. I glad that your experience with the loss of your grandma is the opposite.
      XOXO,
      Lauren

  • Christopher Iverson

    Lauren,
    A wonderful sharing of your family traditions. Not having a death in our immediate family in over twenty years, I haven’t had the opportunity to really memorialize, especially after the anniversary of a death. Your sharing helps me reflect on the beauty of continuing the memory of those we lose. It keeps the connection alive with stories, songs and precious memories. Because in the end, all that remains is love…and the memories of love and life.
    Christopher

    • Lauren

      “All that remains is love,” that is beautiful. Thanks Chris!

  • Jenn

    I get frustrated when I hear my living, aging family members say things like “just cremate me and put me on the mantle.” It seems everyone is so preoccupied with not being a burden on anyone that I feel like the importance of ceremony is getting lost in translation. I think we need to remember as a society that a memorial service CAN be as simple as cooking a family meal and taking time out to say a few words or as elaborate as a church service with a room full of flowers. The size and cost isn’t what matters, its the content and peace it brings those in attendance that matters. I know I will kick and scream if someone in my family tries to persuade us not to have services for any of my loved ones, even if it means a potluck at a park, it will happen. 🙂 I love the tradition of having a service over a years time or more as well. Great blog Lauren!

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Lauren,
    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful view into your families private celebration. My uncle died earlier this year, and we are going to come together as a family and go through the memory keeper that we received at his service. I’m so glad that your event was a success, and I’m looking forward to the time that my family will be together to remember my “Unkie.”

    kari

  • Fitz

    Hi Lauren,
    Really a great blog! Thank you for sharing and reminding us of the importance of remembering; even if it’s years after the death. It’s never too late to have a service of remembrance for a loved one. It’s not only healthy for the family and friends who know them but also for those in the family who didn’t because they weren’t born when the loved one was alive. It builds family heritage. I can’t help but think of all the families that we have served that have attended our remembrance service each year. We have families that attend year after year to honor their loved one. It certainly reinforces what you have written…the importance of having a service and remembering.
    Fitz

  • Rosemary

    Lauren,
    What a beautiful and meaningful practice this is! Our family does remember the significant anniversaries and days of our loved ones, but not in such a formal gathering since many of us are scattered across the country. Perhaps the opportunity will arise at some point to bring us all back together again. I know it would be a lovely time of healing and sharing. Thank you for sharing this lovely tradition, Lauren!
    Rosemary

  • Amy

    Lauren,
    What an amazing blog. Thank you for sharing how you and your families still honors your loved ones. Continuing to talk and share stories and memories keep them alive within you. My family and I speak about my dad everyday. Some of the stories are funny and some bring tears and are very emotional. This father’s day will be my first without my dad and as a family we will be opening his memory keeper and hearing all about him from those who truly loved and enjoyed him. I commend you and your family for the way you continue to love and honor your mom and grandparents.
    Amy

  • Diana

    Lauren,
    I enjoyed reading about your family traditions. I can see how listening to stories about your loved ones can bring such comfort. Making time to remember is never too late. I’m sure this blog will be very helpful to the families we serve. Great blog!

  • Stacy

    Thank you for sharing your experience in participating in a meaningful memorial service for your family Lauren. Beautifully written blog! Hearts do continue to heal when sharing memories or thoughts about a loved on who has passed. I think its wonderful that your family carries on traditions and never forget those who are no longer present physically. Dr. WIlliam Hoy is a great speaker and I very much enjoy participating in his seminars; I found his quote very fitting to your blog. Keep sharing your stories because although our loves ones are no longer living in this Earth they are still very much alive in our hearts 🙂

  • Lauren

    Thank you Mark!

  • Mitch

    It’s very nice to hear stories about someone close to us. It lets you have a slightly different view of the person. That must’ve been a very special day for you. It is always important to keep the person’s memory alive. Thank you for sharing.