What is a memorial?

When someone close to us passes away suddenly, our natural reaction is shock, disbelief and emotional pain. A common reaction is to want to do something to remember and celebrate the life of the person who has died.

Some people may wish to hold remembrance events or memorials to celebrate their loved one’s life. While this can help people to grieve, it is important to note that, when someone has or is suspected to have taken their own life, the impact on their family, friends and community can leave people feeling very vulnerable.

Any act of remembrance following the death of a loved one can be a memorial. This could be:

  • placing flowers, scarves, teddy bears, cards or other tokens at a site of special meaning
  • holding vigils
  • installing benches
  • an organised event such as a walk, run or cycle
  • the creation of a book of condolence

Why have a memorial?

Memorials can help those bereaved by probable suicide by supporting them through their grieving process. They may help bereaved individuals to express grief.

Engaging friends and family in planning a memorial can lessen some of the loneliness that can occur following the death of a loved one. Memorials may help those bereaved to understand that they are not alone and may provide a forum to talk about the deceased.

Things to consider

Memorials could inadvertently create risk or cause distress. It is essential to consider:

People differ in how they react to reminders of the loved one they lost. While one family may be comforted by seeing a memorial, for another it may simply cause more distress.

It is also important to consider the feelings of others who may have been bereaved in a similar manner, or at the same location, and avoid the risk of re-traumatising them.

Memorials at, or near, the location where a person has taken their own life can have a significant impact on vulnerable people. Marking the place where someone has died by suicide could impact other people who may be considering taking their own lives and could lead to increased suicidal behaviour.

Memorials at the site of a suicide

As an immediate response to the death of a loved one or friend, individuals may create spontaneous memorials by placing tokens of remembrance at, or near, the location where the person took their own life.

It is important to let those close to that person have an opportunity to express their feelings by creating memorials, however, there is growing concern about doing so at the site of a suicide. There is a possibility that it increases awareness of the site as a possible means or opportunity for suicide.

Things to consider

  • Appointing a named individual to liaise with the family throughout the process to ensure they are consulted and kept informed.
  • The removal or relocation of the temporary/spontaneous memorials in consultation with the person’s immediate family.
  • An agreement with the person’s immediate family on what will be done with the tributes after they are removed and/or relocated.
  • How the communication of the public safety concern will be achieved with the wider community.
  • What alternative activity can be provided for individuals who need to continue to express their grief. Some common forms of remembrance include memorial walks, fundraising events, sports events or books of remembrance.

One idea to consider (if authorised by the family) is to allow the tributes to remain for a short period of time and until a date agreed on by the family. If the family do not agree to tributes, they should be removed immediately to respect the family's wishes.

With the agreement of the family, a note should be placed on the spot that states appreciation of the tributes and gestures, confirms the date of removal and what will happen to the items on removal.

For example, 'We appreciate your gestures of remembrance for [name of the individual]. These will remain here until [date]. They will then be collected and given to their family, whom we know will appreciate your kindness and compassion.'

You could also consider signposting to sources of support along with the public notice.

After removal, items can be given to the family who can then decide what should be done with them.

Permanent memorials

If the family wishes to have a permanent memorial, they should discuss where these will be placed. For example, some local areas now have benches in public parks or allow tree planting.

Owing to the potential impact on vulnerable individuals who may be at higher risk of suicide, we would not recommend creating long-term or permanent memorials, such as plaques, benches, murals or tree planting, at or near the location where the death took place.

Personal memorial sites raise public awareness of the location as a place where suicide or probable suicide has occurred. It can also highlight to vulnerable individuals that this is a location that offers access to means or opportunity for suicide.

Annual memorial events

Some local areas organise annual memorial events. These events can provide an opportunity for people to share their experiences of loss and to provide support to those who need it.

It is suggested that local areas consider establishing annual memorial events to provide further opportunities for families and relevant others to remember the life of the individual who has died.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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