By Patricia McCrossan, Head of Patient and Family Support at North London Hospice
I have supported many people to make memory boxes throughout my career and the respect I have for their commitment and selflessness never diminishes.
Some people prepare a box for their children, or other family or friends before they die, and some people compile them after someone has died. Either way it remains a very personal, beautiful legacy for generations to come.
Many people say: “I will prepare a memory box, but not yet”, as if it may tempt fate. I ask them how they will recognise the right time. Some people decline more quickly than expected and don’t have the time and energy to complete the task in the way they would have liked. One mother was saddened to not have the time to prepare what she would have liked but had the touching idea of returning all the cards and paintings her children had made in their childhood. Unknown to them she had safely stored them and wrapped them in bow ties envelopes to return them with the same love and sentiment they had been given to her. She also left her son her expensive sunglasses which he had always borrowed.
An essential thing to consider when making a memory box is to ensure you label items carefully, so nobody in future generations comes across some items in a box and nobody knows what they are, or who they belong to.
On many occasions I have seen the comfort that memory boxes bring to people and the pride they take in knowing that someone used precious time and energy to prepare it for them.
Many families prepare boxes after someone has died and they share items that hold special memories and connections.
I never feel guilty if someone sees a tear rolling down my face when supporting someone with this task, as I hope it acknowledges how privileged I feel to have accompanied them in the task and that I relate to them on a human level too.
It is something that always makes me consider what I might put in a memory box, but it’s never the right time to do it!
Making Memory Boxes
Making a memory box may be one of the most emotional yet rewarding things you have ever done. It leaves a physical reminder for those who are special to you.
You may want to prepare a box for your children and could do this as an activity together.
- Boxes can be obtained from any retail outlets and plain boxes can be decorated in order to personalise them
- Think about the size of the box you use, don’t use something too big and then feel disappointed that you could not fill it
- You may want to make small boxes for several people or one large box to be shared by your family
- Specially designed boxes can be obtained from Winston’s Wish (winstonswish.org.uk)
- A supply of envelopes and sticky or tie on labels are useful for attaching to items to explain why they have been included or why they are special to you.
Here are some ideas of things you can put in a memory box:
- A small bottle of your favourite perfume/aftershave
- A CD or memory stick of your favourite music or music with special meaning to you
- A lock of hair
- Your favourite recipe
- Handwritten cards with general message or for future significant occasions e.g. special birthdays (it may be helpful to reflect on how many of these it would be appropriate to include i.e. a young child may find it difficult to receive cards for many years)
- A favourite item of clothing e.g. scarf or tie
- Cards, drawings, letters you were given by the person(s) receiving the box(es) – they could be wrapped in a ribbon with a note explaining they have been treasured and are being returned with the same sentiment they were given.
- Items that have been kept from baby memory boxes etc.
- Take (or ask someone to take) pictures of your favourite things/places/people etc. They could be taken on a disposable camera, which would be left in the box labelled e.g. My Favourite Places. The pictures can then be developed by the person given the memory box