Memorialization with Monuments and Headstones

A memorial can help honor the memory of a lost loved one

Over the centuries the content of memorialization, which is described as the process of preserving the memory of a person or an event, has changed dramatically from culture to culture. Some cultures, such as those in ancient Greek and Asia, built huge temples to memorialize leaders of their society, while the lower levels of society were either give very small tributes, or no memorialization at all. Other important cultures took that same approach of creating large temples or monuments, but instead of memorializing a single person of figure, the temples were used to memorialize entire segments of society, or even entire villages. Still others, for whom cremation is the normal disposition of a person, take a simpler approach to memorialization: simple ceremonies involving the scattering of cremation ashes is the main form of memorializing the life of the deceased. A modern day twist to this practice of spreading or scattering the cremation ashes is for the family of the deceased to have someone videotape the ceremony. While there may be no permanent area of rest for the lost loved one, the videotape serves to honor their life as the final remembrance. Regardless of the tradition, the main idea involved in memorialization remains the same: to pay tribute to a person or even that affected our lives.

A monument that honors the life of a loved one is a great comfort for familiesIt is this latter addition to the traditions of memorialziation that seems to prove the truth behind the assumption made by most modern sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists: and that is that memorialization is, and has always been, done more to benefit the living than the dead. What other purpose would videotaping a cremation ceremony serve than to comfort the living years or even decades after the event? Another modern tradition that seems to confirm this assumption is the practice known among scholars as “spontaneous memorialization.” Under this tradition, people visit the site of unexpected deaths very shortly (sometimes within minutes) of a passing and display mementos such as drawings, letters, flowers, or items that were special to the deceased. This phenomena has been popular in the United States and across the developed world for much of the 21st century. It is particularly common at the scene of deadly automobile wrecks and, in fact, an entire small industry has developed in recent years to serve this tradition. Type “road side memorials” into any Internet search engine, and you will find up to a dozen companies offering ready-made memorials designed to be personalized and shipped quickly and then displayed at the scene of a car accident where, unfortunately, lives have been lost. It is interesting to note that in some states, this practice has become controversial because atheist groups object to religious symbols being displayed on public property; but that discussion, while interesting, is largely beyond the scope of this article. This tradition became a subject of serious scholarly inquiry shortly after the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City. Researchers noted the types of mementos placed at the scene, the length of time mementos were left there, and even the apparent mood of those who left them. They then compared these data with that of “spontaneous memorialization” in other parts of the United States and the world. This has given great incite, not only into the recent development of this tradition, but also to memorialization as a whole because it shows how greatly people have developed and changed the way they mourn in general. Again, we reiterate that this phenomena enforces the idea that any type of memorialization is more for the benefit of those left behind because it helps to show what grieving individuals find to be comforting after a life-changing event, such as the loss of a friend or family member. In this case, what brings the survivors comfort is to 'take' the belonging or remembrance to the deceased, which gives peace of mind in knowing that the deceased will depart our world with that which they valued, or with an item that shows them they will never be forgotten.

Regardless of what idea that this custom may enforce, or not enforce, the main conclusion that scholars have made regarding spontaneous memorialization is that, like all other types of memorialization, it is an important part of the grieving process for the living. Just as the grieving process is different for each person, the decisions about what to present and how to behave at a spontaneous memorial varied dramatically when scholars were keeping note. Some people left special keepsakes, or clothes; some left music, some left original poetry. Some cried. Some laughed. Some were somber. Some appeared angry. Researchers have yet to establish any consistent trends for spontaneous memorialization, and that leads them to conclude that, like all other forms of memorialization, the goal is to help the living cope with fear and other difficult emotions that death inspires.

Memorials are often said to pay tribute to the memory of the dead, and, on the surface, that may be their true purpose. But research seems to indicate today that a more powerful motivation for memorialization is to help the living to feel better about the frightening prospects that death brings about. Either way, memorials in themselves are of great importance, not only to the grieving family of the deceased, but to all future generations to come. The memorials of today will be the artifacts of tomorrow, which will be studied, and learned from, by our future descendants.

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