Tiny Ways to Honor the Dead


Doing something to honor a person we love who is no longer in a body pleases the heart and satisfies the soul. It is a kiss through the veil. Activity is natural to us. We miss our regular acts of service and love—making a meal, sending a card, buying a gift, placing a phone call. Death stymies us. At every turn we face a detour sign that blocks our natural impulse to connect.

Of course, we honor our dead in traditional ways like headstones and crypts and arrays of flowers. We endow scholarships, fund benches in parks, start charitable foundations, dedicate books (that’s me). There are also really personal ways that can ease the sting of our thwarted impulse to connect. Here’s one that arose spontaneously for me.

As I was preparing to take down an unhealthy tree on the far edge of our land I noticed how sculptural its bare branches looked. I stood back, wondering, if I left the rest standing, how turn it into an art project. Over lunch I asked my visual artist husband what he might put on this tree. “I’ll think of something,” he said. “I’ll add it to my list.” I wanted something that could happen in the next hour.

Suddenly my deceased daughter’s sun-hats came to mind. A bag of them had been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years. I counted them. There were thirteen hats. I went out to the tree. It had thirteen branches.

That’s how Randi’s Hat Tree came to be. It has no plaque. It pleases me that her hats make passers-by laugh. You won’t count thirteen hats in the photo though. Some have been sacrificed to snow and wind. The rest are drooping and shredding and fading. One branch has broken off. Within a few years there will be no more hats. I find this temporary quality gratifying. It’s our love that lasts. I don’t need a marble monument to remind me of that.

Here are a few ideas for what you could do in the name of a dear dead one:

Plant a tree, a rose, a wildflower bed. Watch it grow, wither, and bloom again in the spring.

Give a quarter to a homeless person. Say, “This is from my mother…”

Offer up today’s practice—prayers, mantra, meditation—to honor someone beloved.

Balance a pebble on a fencepost as you walk by.

Put up a birdhouse.

Spend ten minutes weeding the library’s flower bed

Walk to the corner and back again as a gift to your beloved.

In what tiny ways have you honored someone? If you try some of my ways, what was it like when you saw that pebble on the fencepost the next week? Or when bluebirds nested in the birdhouse? Or the next time you saw a homeless person? Did any of this ease the sting of a moment’s grief? What happened over time?  I’d love to have you share these on my website at www.anniemattingley.com.

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released by Hampton Roads on October 6, 2017. Pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Find out more on my Book Page.



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