Will I forget my dad? What if I forget him? How can I remember?

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Memory work is a grief intervention to help children remember. So often adults and children fear they will forget their person. Moms voice or Dads face may fade into the past. Sharing stories, recalling special moments, creating rituals, and making memories into projects and books help to keep that special person alive in a healthy and safe way.

Margie (7): a case study

Margie was a 7-year-old whose dad died of pneumonia a few months before. Frightened by a nightmare, she ran into her moms bedroom and woke her up sobbing: Mom, I am so afraid I wont remember Dad. I cant hear his voice anymore and Im scared. Will I forget it? She burst into more tears. This is an all too common fear for children. How can we answer their questions?

Im afraid I will forget my dad. What can I do to remember him?

It is scary to think you might forget your dad - the way he looked or sounded or felt. Sometimes we can do memory projects to help us remember. Do you have a favorite picture of you and Dad?

I know. I like the picture of Dad and me making a snowman.

That sounds like a good one. We can make a picture frame together for it and you can tell me all about that day. You can use lollipop sticks and glue and little stones. Then you can put it in a special place to help keep the memory.

Sometimes I cant remember his voice; or even what he looks like. That scares me. What if I forget my dad?

Your dad will always be in your heart. Its common for children to feel if they arent thinking about their person all the time - then they have forgotten them and dont love them. Its OK. You dont need to think about Dad constantly to love and remember him.

You could ask all of your dads friends and family to give you a story about your dad and a picture of him. You could put the stories and pictures of your dad in a special memory book. As you read each new story and see each new picture, it will help you not to forget Dad.

You can also listen to Dads voice if you have a recording or see him on family videos. Do you have any?

My sister saved Dads voice on a mobile phone message. My mom has a video of Dad and me. Can I share them with you?

That would be great. I would love to hear your dads voice and hear what he said. The video helps me see your dad and you together. It is another good way to help you remember and help me get to know your dad. You can play them whenever you want so you dont forget.

Amber (12; Margie's older sister)

I miss Dad so much. Moms angry, Margies sad, and sometimes I cant even talk about it. What can our family do to remember him together?

It is important to remember Dad as a family. Sometimes family projects let everyone share their grief and their memories together. Grief support groups are helpful where children and parents can come together and share with other families. That way your family knows other people going through grief too. You can share memories as a family with others.

Our family went to a support group together. We made a big family banner about Dad and talked about it. Can I show it to you?

Your family banner tells a wonderful story. It lets people know Dad loved purple, pizza, and football. You, Margie, Jonathan, Mom, and Dad look like youre having so much fun at the football game. Its a good memory. In fact, I think its a great memory!

We shared the banner the last night of the group. I wore Dads favorite purple hat and we brought a pizza for everyone to remember Dad. But how can we remember together at home?

One thing you can have at home is a memory table. Each person in your family can put something on it that reminds you of your dad. It can be a picture, a special note, or even Dads ring. You can talk to each other about it if you like, or just leave it there for everyone to see.

Ill put my tape of Dad playing the guitar and a picture of Dad in his army uniform. He was in a rock-and-roll band.

Good idea for your memory table. You can even make a sign saying memory table and find a special place for it. Invite everyone in your family to join you.

Is there anything else our family can do together to remember Dad?

I have some suggestions. See which one you like. You could make a special garden in your backyard. Everyone can pick his or her favorite flowers to plant for Dad. A remembering ceremony might feel good on Dads birthday. Everyone could have a balloon, write a special message on it, and send it off to your dad together. Your whole family could go to dinner at Dads favorite restaurant and maybe even eat his favorite foods and share memories together.

It hurts to think about the holidays without Dad. It makes me sad. What can we do to remember Dad at Christmas?

Holidays can be hard after a person has died. They are times when the whole family should be together, and so its natural to miss your dad. But it does help to do things that keep him there in spirit as you prepare for Christmas. It will help you remember Dad that day. There are lots of things you can do. Bake Dads favorite gingerbread cookies for the holiday. Make a beautiful star for the top of your tree to remember Dad. Hang all the stockings on the fireplace, including one for Dad. You could even make it a family ritual on Christmas to have a beautiful candle to light just for Dad. You could all share memories together to remember your dad in happy ways.

Jonathan (10; Margie's older brother)

I like to draw and write. I think about Dad when I am alone and remember a lot. Can I make something about those memories?

I know you miss your dad very much. Since you like to write and draw, it might be fun to make a memory book about Dad. You can put in pictures of Dad, and important dates like his birthday and the day he died. You can make each page a memory about him. One page could explain how he died. Another could be your funniest memory. Still another might tell about your best memory or a time you cant forget. You could include your feelings, like sadness or worry, and what you do about them. You might even want to write Dad a letter or have a page that says goodbye. Sometimes there might be something you are sorry for. You could add that page too.

I have my dads wallet. It means a lot to me. Can I make a special place to keep it?

Yes, you can make a place to keep special things that belonged to your dad. Lets call it a memory box. It can be a box that holds important items from your dad, like his wallet. You can decorate the outside with Dads favorite color, and then find pictures, stickers, and words that remind you of Dad. Then put the wallet inside.

Ill keep the memory box next to my bed and put in Dads old football cards too. It makes me feel close to him to have things he loved.

Concluding thought

Involving children in memory activities helps to keep their loved one alive in their hearts. Listening to a loved ones recorded voice or seeing photos and videos can help refresh a memory. Some of these activities are memory boxes, memory books, memory tables, memory rituals, and grief support groups. These can be useful ways to add meaning and comfort when remembering a person who died.

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