Memorial Keepsakes and Urn Jewelry

by J. Malec


Image taken by East Lothian Museums, used under Creative Commons license

“The Victorians recognized that death’s presence was woven into the texture of life, giving that life one of its essential meanings.” - Deborah Lutz (qtd. in “
See Death as a Triumph Not as a Failure”)

Not too long ago it was a common practice to celebrate death. A loved one’s life was honored and cherished by creating memorial keepsakes. Anything can be made into or recognized as a remembrance: a special possession such as a favorite book or tea cup, bibles are often kept, as are letters, jewelry, watches or pocket knives. Each of these can become a touchstone of remembrance.

A popular Victorian keepsake was often made of human hair. Ornate wreaths were woven of human hair, and hair was incorporated into mourning jewelry. To gain some perspective on the amount of time and care given to creating hair keepsakes, take a peek at Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri. It contains the world’s largest collection of hair mementos. Viewing the collection of intricately designed pieces and reading the history provide a sense of the love that went into making each keepsake.

Image taken by Kellie CA, used under Creative Commons license

The thought of doing this today may not be the first thing to cross your mind when final arrangements must be made. But creating a memento can be a wonderful way of keeping memories alive.

What can be kept as a memorial keepsake? 

In contemporary culture, keeping a small portion of cremation ashes in memorial keepsakes and jewelry is a growing trend. However, commonly available memorial jewelry can also be used to carry a lock of hair from your loved one’s brow instead of ashes. OneWorld Memorials' Titanium Cremation Jewelry is especially suited for this purpose. Hair can also be incorporated into a scrapbook page or as part of a framed photograph as an added touch.

Can I make my own memorial keepsakes?

For the crafty do-it-yourselfer, a little creativity and elbow grease prove worthwhile in creating unique, one-of-a-kind keepsakes. There are plenty of tutorials available online, such as those collected on Pinterest by Eileen Callejas on her ‘Keepsakes and Memorials’ board. Clicking on an image shown will link to instructions on how to create your own version. Craft or hobby magazines also provide useful ideas that can be adapted to this purpose.

Don’t be intimidated by a lack of skill or know-how. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on your loved one’s life and story. Take your time, allow memories to come and go, and weave these into whatever you are making. Share your process with family and friends, and you will be surprised at how receptive they will be. You may even find that the simple act of crafting may continue to bring you closer to the departed for years to come.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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