Psychology of Memorialization
Famous People Memorialized
Small Town Memorials
The Last Wish
Memorializing a Veteran
Famous Memorial Buildings
How to Cope with the Death of a Pet
Psychology of Memorialization
Understanding the Phenomena
Those with an interest in psychology may be curious about the role memorialization plays in that science. It is an interesting phenomenon that, even in the case of Internet memorials which can easily be updated and amended - most memorials are permanently fixed. Once set, they typically change relatively little over time. There are a few exceptions, of course. The famous Washington D.C. memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, has taken on a few additions since it was built (namely, advocates for America’s handicapped pushed to include a statue of FDR sitting in his famous wheel chair). But the vast majority of memorials, once built, stay that way with only non-transforming maintenance happening for the rest of the structure’s life.
For some intriguing insight into the psychology behind these phenomena, we can turn to a surprising source, the Muskingum Valley Ohio Education Service Center. In a message to its member schools about how school personnel should respond to crisis, the service center says, “School memorials send a clear message that it is time to move forward with regular school activities.” This is a, probably unintended, commentary on the psychology of memorialization.
As with funerals and other rituals related to death, memorialization is not, psychologically speaking, for the dead – as it may have been thousands of years ago when tombs were elaborately decorated and then permanently closed for the ages.
No, memorialization is, clearly, from a psychological perspective, intended mostly for the living today. Building a memorial, and then assuring that it always stays the same, is a way to, as the educators in Ohio say, “move forward” psychologically. Such a practice assures the living that a life will never be forgotten and that’s an important thought for a person to come by when coping with the loss of a loved one. Death has a discomforting air of finality to it, and, coping with that idea can be very difficult. Establishing a memorial, with is focus on accomplishments made while living, can diminish the finality and keep it gone forever. This is because knowing that the lost individuals memory is in a way captured, can greatly help those grieving because it assures them that the individual will be remembered.
It is ironic, yes, but, with each change of a memorial, new notions of finality arise psychologically. And that can be difficult for the living to cope with. So the best psychological use for memorialization today is as a reminder that a life once lived will always be. Armed with that comforting thought to take with them for the ages, a person grieving over the loss for a beloved friend, family member or hero, can begin to, as the Ohio educators urge, move forward. In centuries past, the psychological needs of survivors were focused on assuring the deceased that his or her life was well-lived and useful. Today, the psychology of memorialization is gear toward reminding the living of that same idea about the deceased. With that peace of mind in place, the living can transition into their daily routine more easily.