As a death doula, I often help families with children process grief. If you haven’t heard of end-of-life doulas, you’re not alone! We’re trained professionals who provide holistic non-medical services such as advance care planning, companionship to the dying, respite care, or grief support to individuals and their loved ones during transformative life changes. We ultimately want families and communities to normalize talking about end of life.
As part of my job, I encourage family members to create meaningful legacies for their person who died. This can help provide children with a sense of purpose and also help significantly with coping and healing.
Five easy ways to create a legacy:
- Cook foods that remind you of your person.
Make it a part of your family’s legacy to cook your loved one’s favorite dish during a special celebration, be it the winter holidays, a birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or a whole bunch of days! In my family we make “Auntie’s 7-cheese macaroni.” The savory aroma produces instant smiles throughout the house! Fact: The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.
- Create a memento box.
It can be comforting to keep trinkets and mementos that remind you of the person who died, focusing perhaps on places that remind you of them or experiences you shared together. Items may include tickets, bits of nature (like leaves or stones or shells), photos, or other souvenirs of places you visited together, whatever brings back a memory. Legacies are moments in time or tangible keepsakes that are remembered and cherished. Helping children take part in creating their family’s legacy can be a powerful tool in their grief journeys.
- Make artwork.
Creating art–such as a drawing or painting or even coloring from a coloring book–is not only a lovely way to create a memory, but a powerful mood regulator that provides an opportunity for one to create lasting and meaningful legacies through self-expression. As a doula, I have incorporated art when working with families to safely explore underlying emotions attributed or associated with death and grief. Coloring books are my go-to as you can effectively focus your attention on the act of creating instead of uneasy thoughts. Plus, coloring books are so easily accessible from your local dollar or craft store.
- Build a video library.
Technology makes it easier to provide public access to end-of-life resources. Capturing voice and images on video before someone dies helps to create a legacy memoir for families to capture the essence of their loved ones. This can help friends and families find purpose in their grief and leave nothing left unsaid. I have even had the pleasure of working with families to create digital legacy vaults to remember, preserve, and share their family legacies by converting them into NFTs to upload into the metaverse! It’s an innovative way to preserve moments that mattered most for your future generations to enjoy.
- Give in the person’s honor.
Every year, make it a family legacy to give to a charity in your loved one’s name. It could be for a cause focused on something that they loved and adored, or something they would have loved receiving themselves. Your family can plant a new tree every year, participate in a charitable 5k, or volunteer somewhere like a soup kitchen!
Ashley Johnson is an alumnus of the University of Florida and a trained end-of-life doula. She currently serves on the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance’s board of directors. Her death care career was inspired by growing up in a low socio-economic neighborhood that lacked advocacy on how to deal with end-of-life practices. In 2019, Ashley launched Loyal Hands, an end-of-life doula consulting agency to provide education, services, resources, and companionship to agencies, the elderly, and even the healthy, as everyone has an end-of-life journey.