A Year Out…Creating Rituals of Remembrance

Adding Grandfather's leaf to the Tree of Life

Adding Grandfather’s leaf to the Tree of Life

Remembering OpPa

Remembering OpPah

Remembrance Leaf

Remembrance Leaf

How can families remember one we have loved?  This was Nancy Spencer’s question as she neared the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death.


Rather than seeking illusive closure, many families are creating rituals of remembrance.  When Don Spencer, a good friend of ours was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, for the next 20 months he invested all his energy into bonds with his wife Nancy, three children, and eight grandchildren.  A former Olympic trial athlete and Executive Coach, he also used all his physical will and intelligence to fight this lethal disease.  This gave him two more memorable family summers at their beloved cabin at Priest Lake, and the joy of meeting his ninth grandchild, Nicole.

To help their family remember his inspiring life and deep love, Nancy created a celebration on August 18th, the 1st year after his death.


First, children and grandchildren gathered at the North Spokane Hospice House where they added an engraved leaf in his memory to the Tree of Life.


Then, they came to our home on the back patio for feasting, music and fun.  She brought engraved rocks with sayings each of the grandchildren had written earlier that will be placed at the lake.

 Then stories were shared, including an experience one granddaughter, Katherine, had on the soccer field in a recent game.  “I was hesitating on making  a shot  and I felt like BoPah was saying “Go for it!” And I did and scored a goal.” Always a competitive coach, we all could imagine those would be his exact words of encouragement for his grandchildren.  Sarah, another granddaughter, spoke of seeing him in the stars at the lake, a favorite stargazing place for the family.


Music from Judy Hafso, a teacher at the children’s school, brought singing and whirling dancing from Liam, his 5 year old grandson and joy for all of us seeing his exuberance, truly a heritage from his grandfather.

Nancy also brought pictures and writings the children had created in an earlier ritual where they wrote characteristics of their grandfather to match the letters in his nickname BoPah. Then, after each word, like Brave, she asked how many shared that characteristic of Don. Lot’s of fun conversation and laughter emerged from the children seeing themselves in their beloved BoPah. The best part was seeing how natural it was for the children to talk in remembrance. They each lit a candle by his picture.

Then, time for strawberry/huckleberry shortcake, in memory of Priest Lake sun-drenched days picking high mountain berries ended our festive gathering.

What could have just been a lonely sad day for all became another Spencer family memory of love and on-going fun together.

Have you created any rituals of remembrance you could share?

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Pilgrimage (54 Posts)

Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child offers encouragement and information for other parents living in the long season of sorrow. Drawn from interviews from mothers and fathers on their grief journey, plus Linda Lawrence Hunt's memoir of their family's loss, it also includes recent research on grief, resilience, and creative healing.

3 Responses to A Year Out…Creating Rituals of Remembrance

  • I will send this ritual of remembrance to several friends who are approaching that one-year marker of loss.
    Thank you to both the Hunt and Spencer families. I could picture each part of the party and almost tasted that strawberry/huckleberry shortcake. Now I remember Don too.

  • Lura,

    Thank you for sharing Nancy’s creative ways of helping her family remember Don with your friends. It really was a magical night, especially seeing the children being given natural opportunities to express their memories of their beloved OpPah. Too often I hear people tell me “Our family rarely feels comfortable talking about our loss,” and this suppression seems to add another layer to their grief. Yes, the homemade strawberry/huckleberry shortcake was wonderful….maybe I should post the recipe?

  • This is such a beautiful column…thank you for sharing this. Catherine

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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website www.allianceofhope.org

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer) www.acco.org

+ Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.org

+ First Candle: www.firstcandle.org Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) www.catholiccharities.net/loss

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) www.missfoundation.org On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children www.pomc.com

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: www.taps.org 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths