April 13, 2023

What Should I Do With My Loved One’s Keepsakes After They’ve Passed Away?

by Lanna Britt

A keepsake is an item belonging to a loved one that has sentimental value. Keepsakes could range from a beloved jacket to a piece of jewelry to a diary. No matter what type of keepsakes you are considering keeping, it’s important to choose items that will help you remember your loved one who has passed away.

1. Sorting Keepsakes

After a loved one passes away, it can feel like there is a mountain ahead of you as you navigate burial decisions, funeral arrangements and sorting the deceased belongings. If possible, ask a relative or friend to help you donate family possessions you no longer need. But as for keepsakes, those special items that have sentimental meaning, it may take a bit longer to sort through. In the beginning, it may feel impossible to think you could part with any of the beloved keepsakes but as time passes, it does get easier. You realize the memories you have with the person are most important. Collect all keepsakes in one place so you have a better idea of what you have to go through. Next, sort items into categories like clothing, jewelry, letters, photographs etc. Then, you can decide what to keep, donate, or discard. My wonderful step dad passed away from cancer in 2017 and left a hole in his community which was impossible to fill. My mom asked friends of his to come and go through his clothes and told them they could take anything they wanted. She said seeing his beloved friends wearing his favorite shirt or a pair of his boots actually helped her grieving process and still brings her joy to this day. 

Consider letting friends and family choose to keep items you would otherwise donate. Here, a best friend wears my stepfather’s favorite vest months after the funeral. My mom enjoyed seeing Gary’s clothing being loved by others as a sort of living tribute to him. 

2. Take High-Quality Photos of Items

You can have a professional photographer take photos of the keepsakes or take a few yourself. Think about how a wedding photographer photographs the rings, dress and shoes and other meaningful items. The same could be done for your keepsakes. Pay for high-quality physical copies of the photos and display those around your home if you choose to give away the physical items. Photos, both physical and digital, take up less space and can be a great way to keep the memory of keepsakes without holding on to everything.

3. Displaying Keepsakes

Consider displaying items in a special place like a personalized memory box, a shelf or even a wall display. Choose items that are most meaningful to display and also be creative. Maybe your father always wore his “Vietnam Veteran” hat. Display a photo of him wearing the hat and then instead of keeping the hat itself, cut off a piece of it or a patch and display that next to the photo. My maternal grandmother loved to paint and watercolor. We have a few of her pieces of art displayed around our house and that reminds me of her each time I look at them. Also, think about ways to incorporate items into daily life. That could mean wearing a piece of their jewelry, sipping out of their favorite mug, or wearing a beloved sweater. I saved some glassware my paternal grandmother always loved and now each time I grab a “Grammy glass” to sip from, I remember her. A shadow box with the keepsake and the story that goes with it could be a special way to honor their memory.

Be creative in how you display your loved one’s items. Here a shadow box in a child’s room holds great grandfathers’ presidential pins collected over the years.

4. Repurposing Keepsakes

You may want to repurpose certain items into something new and useful. Turn all of her shirts supporting her favorite team into a quilt you can bring out for each big game. Buttons from his favorite coat could decorate a picture frame of your loved one wearing that item. Be creative in finding new uses for items that hold special meaning. 

Discover new uses for old items that belonged to a late relative or friend. Here, family china finds a new home displayed on a wall, rather than stacked in a cabinet.

5. Sharing Keepsakes

Sharing is caring! Definitely share keepsake gifts with family members and friends who also knew the loved one. If they live far away, send pictures of the items you are willing to part with and see what they might like to be sent to them. If you have specific items you want to stay in the family, don’t forget to share the story behind the item to keep memories alive. As a child, I groaned every time I heard one of my grandmothers share a family story, but now as an adult, I wish I had recorded those stories! Consider using this death to motivate you to record family history that can be passed down to future generations that would be much more lasting than a favorite piece of clothing or beloved book. No matter how you choose to use and save keepsakes, remember they are still just “things.” The lasting treasure is in the memories you have with your loved one. 

Lanna Britt

Lanna Britt was a national news producer in Washington DC for nearly a decade covering politics, breaking news and current events.  She now lives with her husband and three children in Richmond VA. She has two sweet babies she’ll meet again in heaven.