Sometimes, leaving a tangible reminder is just what your family needs to grieve well. Tangible items give surviving family members something to hold when they miss you. Something they can treasure when the pain of loss is sharp. If you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness or have reached a significant age, consider utilizing your time to create memory capsules that will help your family grieve in the days, months, and years to come.

By leaving close family members such a precious gift, you help them participate in a healing ritual that will play a key role in helping them grieve well and heal. Plus, it will give you a sense of relief to know that you’ve said what you need to say before your final days come.

Older man sitting at desk writing letters

What is a Memory Capsule?

Similar to a time capsule, a memory capsule is a container that holds precious mementos, photos, notes, and other memorabilia associated with a loved one. Once the capsule is complete, you put it away until a specified time. This might be a year after the loss, or even specific times, such as weddings, graduations, and other special events that you may not be able to attend.

A memory capsule could include letters to loved ones to be opened on special days, gifts, video messages, favorite photos, and cherished mementos. Then, when the date comes to open the capsule, surviving family members will feel like you are there with them in that special moment.

Cherished jewelry in a small box

Remembrance is a key part of grieving well and creating a memory capsule is one way your loved ones can remember, reminisce, and acknowledge the pain of the loss. The capsule will allow your loved ones to feel your presence when they need you most. Regardless of what you decide, when they open the box, tender memories will flood them with love and help them lovingly remember and grieve.

How to Create a Memory Capsule

With a few simple steps, you can create both a memory capsule that will bring healing and comfort to your family.

1. Determine where you’ll store the capsule or capsules.

First, you must decide where you will be storing the capsule. Whether you decide to store it indoors or outdoors will affect what kind of container you use and what types of items you place inside. So, before you can really begin, you need to determine how you plan to store your memory capsule. Also, select a person to be in charge of the capsule. This person will be responsible for storing the container and bringing it out of storage at the appropriate time.

Woman holding box on lap while sitting on couch

2. Choose your container.

Once you’ve determined where you plan to store your capsule, it’s time to select the type of container you intend to use. For indoors, you could select a box, a plastic container, a jar, or some other container that is easily storable.

However, if you plan to keep the capsule outside or you intend to bury it, there are a few things to consider. For outdoor safekeeping, find a container that is non-biodegradable, like something made of metal. Water, dirt, pressure, and critters won’t be friendly to your capsule so make sure that it’s strong, weather-proof, and watertight.

3. Decide what to include.

Next, it’s time to decorate your container (if you wish) and gather your memories. Since this activity is meant to be part of a healing ritual, you might write a letter or record a video message for your loved ones individually or as a family. This may be for a special occasion or for a later date in general.

For your message, record a favorite memory. Share funny stories. Give words of wisdom that you think they may need after you are gone. Share how proud you are of them and what they mean to you. Then, gather photos, drawings, trinkets, clothing, or other cherished items. Find the items that are meaningful to you and place them in the container.

Woman sitting at table selecting photos

If you are planning to store your capsule outdoors, consider using good paper and permanent ink. Try not to use paper clips, staples, or rubber bands because they will rust or break with age. Consider placing photos and other paper items into plastic sleeves to further protect them.

WARNING: Make sure you don’t include flammable materials or anything else that may cause damage, such as liquids, food products, matches, or lighters.

4. Set a date.

Typically, memory capsules are left closed for several years, but you can do whatever works best for your family. For example, if you are putting together a memory capsule for a loved one’s future birthday, Christmas, or wedding, they may open it within one year or it may be several years down the road. The most important thing is to select a time frame and make sure that everyone participating knows what the time frame is.

5. Seal your container and store it.

Once you have had a chance to add your letters, messages, and memorabilia to the memory capsules, all that’s left is sealing the container and storing it away until the agreed upon date. You can even write a “Do not open until” date on the outside. Enlist the help of family members so that your plans and wishes are known.

Little girl opening small memory capsule with her mom beside her

For extra protection, seal memory capsules with tape or a lock. If you are writing letters for future dates, entrust those letters to a family member. That family member can deliver the letters at the appropriate time.

Helping Your Loved Ones on Their Grief Journey

It may be difficult to think of all the special moments you may miss. The process of putting together messages and mementos can be very emotionally demanding. But in the end, it is worth it.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says this about grief: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of thousands of grieving people I have companioned over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain that is the wilderness of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes shuffling along the less strenuous side paths, sometimes plowing directly into the black center.” So, as you lovingly help your loved ones confront their emotions head on, you can help them begin to deal with your loss and find a way to move toward healing and eventually reconciliation.

Just remember, you’re not alone on the journey. If you need help creating your memory capsules, lean on your loved ones. They love you and can be a source of support through the process of saying your goodbyes.

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