Mementos and Keepsakes: What Are They?

by Jerri Haaven, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, Certified Celebrant


What are mementos? Mementos are small trinkets or decorative items that symbolize a precious or significant memory. They can also be larger items, like keepsake flag holders or even urns. They act as a lasting and heartfelt tribute, often to someone that has passed. Urns for ashes can be considered mementos when they are created in uniquely personal and creative ways. For example, the mother of a very close friend requested that her ashes be mixed in with sculpting clay. Her daughter then sculpted a beautiful vase from the clay that contains her mother’s ashes. Other options include necklace urns, glass urns and other keepsake urns. Be creative when designing a memento or keepsake to honor a loved one.

When selecting a memento, think of the things that remind you of the person you want to memorialize. A poignant memory surrounding the scent from a bottle of perfume or the aroma from a loaf of bread your grandmother made may hold special memories for you. Hold the lock of hair from your baby’s first haircut and think of each milestone they have reached. Reminiscent of a past experience, these mementos may serve to keep alive the memory of someone we may have lost. By definition, a memento is an object or item that serves to remind one of a person or past event. Why is this so important to us?

Memento Origins

Mementos can be traced back to the 15th century, but it wasn’t until Queen Victoria reigned in the 19th century that mementos began to evolve and become more common.

When her beloved husband Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria was so overcome with grief she spent the rest of her life memorializing him. She wore black clothing, also known as “widow weeds.” She ordered custom designed jewelry made from jet, a black gemstone, to memorialize her Prince Albert. The Queen completed her ensemble by wearing a ‘mourning ring’ as public display of her grief until her passing in 1901. This set a trend for upper society women to do the same. The Victorian Age is replete with relics of the age depicting women in varying stages of mourning by adorning themselves with similar pieces of jewelry and clothing that the queen wore. However, this practice soon diminished after the queen’s death. The wish to remember a loved one lives on.

Mementos of Today

More than five centuries later, the importance of capturing the essence of a moment, a life or a pet has exploded in its importance. Photographs, the written word, athletic medals, a collar, sculptures and men and women’s jewelry are prime examples of how we remember a person or pet who was close to us.

When planning for how to create a memento for family or friends, simply look around your surroundings to find inspiration, particularly if you are in the process of pre-death planning. If cremation is a choice for you, consider the possibilities of creating a memento, a type of keepsake urn made in such a way that your ashes actually become a part of it.

The commonly known method to dispense cremated remains is to utilize an urn for ashes for placement on a home shelf. Another known method is to distribute the ashes in a number of keepsake urns to give to family members. Companion urns hold the remains of two adults. Or, is it your wish to have your ashes scattered someplace significant to you? OneWorld Memorials has quite a number of interesting and high quality keepsake urns that can also be used as mementos to create a beautiful reminder of your loved one.

Recently there has been a rise in less common methods of creating unique keepsake or memorial urns. Consider the following and how you might customize a method to create a lasting memento honoring your loved one.

  • Jewelry - Infuse a pinch of ash in a custom-designed necklace, bracelet or ring. Or, consider the use of a jewelry urn, or a necklace to hold ashes. You can also have your loved one's ashes incorporated into a lab-created gemstone, which can be set into a ring, a necklace or another jewelry item.

  • Hand blown glass is a beautiful way to incorporate the ashes of the departed into a unique piece of art you'll be proud to display.

  • Clay bowls, vases, plates or other ceramic pieces can be made by mixing ashes in with sculpting clay.

  • Unique Items – If you are looking for ways in which to remember someone who has passed away, or to buy as a keepsake for yourself, take a look around the deceased’s house. Is there an opportunity to create your own memento? Some things to consider might include a special pocket watch, an hourglass, or even a teddy bear. Don’t overlook stained glass or a favorite plant that can be transplanted with the ashes.

The unlimited possibilities are available to explore. We’ve provided a few ideas to spark your imagination. For more ideas, take a look at our keepsakes, designed to hold not only ashes, but also your fondest memories.

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