The Healing Power of Remembering and Recording

February 20, 2024

Every person on this earth holds space in the lives of those around them. We fill that space with our voices, talents, wisdom, laughter, touch, beliefs, innovations, style, and even occasionally with our struggles. Each human experience is unique and varied, complex and beautiful. This is why those who have lost a loved one compare their absence to a vacancy, a hole, void of that person’s light, and presence, and love.

In our grief, we try to fill those holes by clinging to memory, every fragment and detail. But our memories are not always as they seem. The mind’s ability to remember is limited and fallible. We tend to think of memories like pictures we take with our minds– accurate records that can always be recalled and relied on to show an event exactly how it happened. But in reality, memories are more like a shared webpage that can be updated, edited, influenced, and even deleted by ourselves and others. 

A research team at the Universities of Glasgow and Birmingham published a study that shows how our memories become less vibrant and detailed over time until the central “gist” of an event is the only part preserved.

Over time, the edges of those most precious remembrances become blurry, the details get jumbled, and we can’t recall the things we swore never to forget. These secondary losses can make us feel like we’re losing our loved ones all over again.

This is why the process of actively remembering and recording memories holds so much power to heal and bring peace to those who are grieving. 

Recording Methods

The idea of recording a lifetime of memories can feel overwhelming. Especially if we believe the only way is to write them all down. But even if writing isn’t your forte, it may be a beneficial place to start. In an article in Psychology Today, James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, has studied how writing about emotional upheavals in our lives can improve physical and mental health. “One of the brain’s functions is to help us understand events in our lives. Writing helps construct a narrative to contextualize trauma and organize ideas.”

Writing can be healing, expressive, and soul-searching. Every person has memories and life events that are worthy of being written down, and some things can’t be accurately recorded in any other way. But writing doesn’t have to be the sole method of remembering. 

Other recording methods include:

  • Compiling photos into an album or videos into a digital compilation
  • Voice recording memories
  • Interviewing other people close to the deceased
  • Family history research
  • Gathering, preserving, and displaying mementos and heirlooms
  • Creating a playlist of their favorite songs
  • Planning an event with friends and family to continue a favorite tradition
  • Cooking from heirloom recipes, making photocopies, and sharing
  • Compiling letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and other information about and written by the deceased
  • ….and more

The most important part about recording is just to begin. Take it one memory at a time using the methods that you most resonate with. Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay if the results aren’t perfect or complete. Every effort will preserve something beautiful. 

Connecting with Emotions

Grieving means navigating a complex array of emotions. Remembering and recording memories provides an outlet for expressing these emotions in healthy, constructive ways. It allows us time to reminisce, laugh, and even cry. 

A Hospice Foundation of America article on grieving explains, “Swallowed feelings don’t disappear. Instead, they may become the basis for unresolved grief, depression, anxiety, and even chronic physical symptoms. Allowing your feelings, whatever they may be, is essential to coping with grief.”

Creating intentional, planned time for remembering and recording can be a natural way to work through the grieving process and allow our varying emotions. 

Finding Comfort in Shared Experiences

The process of remembering and recording memories is a shared one. When someone dies, we’re usually not the only person grieving their loss. Knowing that others are hurting in similar ways encourages us to reach out, opening ourselves to a community of people who are able to lift and support each other through the grief. 

Reminiscing with others can improve brain health and mental state, which is helpful medicine when mourning. David Merrill, M.D., director of Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center, says, “Sharing memories can be uplifting and calming. It can boost a person’s mood and counteract feeling sick or even depressed. Feeling joyful when reminiscing makes your brain function better.”  

Sharing and recording memories with friends and family can provide comfort and support, creating a shared space for healing.

Honoring Milestones and Traditions

Family traditions are as unique and varied as each family who celebrates them. Revisiting a favorite holiday tradition, commemorating significant life events, and recording the milestones that were meaningful to our loved ones allow us to revisit the sweetest moments we spent with them. These acts of remembrance become a meaningful way to stay connected to the essence of the person we miss and teach future generations about who they were in meaningful ways. These celebrations become a guide, imparting wisdom, values, and a sense of identity that resonates through time.

Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

As we put in the effort to remember and record, we reflect on why those memories are important to us. It enables us to reflect on what our loved ones have taught us and who we are because of them, turning our grief into a celebration of the person's impact on the world. We can see how those countless moments of joy, triumph, hardship, and struggle blend to create a life worthy of honor, a life well-lived. 

We invite you to explore our website and view the resources available to help you on your remembering and recording journey. May the process be one of peace and healing.

To start recording and sharing your tributes, visit us on Amazon.

Explore More Articles

Featuring the latest in Our Tributes updates, funeral technology news, and compassionate perspectives on grieving and mourning.