with Dr. Jason Troyer

Videos & Blog

Is it Normal to Have Grief Keepsakes & Mementos?


Years ago I was a counseling intern and I was co-leading a group of bereaved college students. One of the group members – let’s call her Sara – had recently lost her younger sister in a car accident. Sara come to group one day and announced that she was wearing her sister’s belt and that it really helped her feel close to her sister. I was young, inexperienced, and at that time hadn’t experienced the death of someone that was close to me. Thankfully I didn’t say anything, but after the group was over, I asked my supervisor who was the other co-leader, “Isn’t it kind of weird that Sara’s wearing her sister’s belt?”

My supervisor showed extraordinary empathy and patience with me. He asked if I thought that she was denying her sister’s death in any way. Or was there anything that suggested that she hadn’t accepted that her sister was dead. I had to admit there weren’t any signs of atypical grief – she just really missed her sister and felt better when she wore something – a belt, her earrings, a scarf that belonged to her sister. That’s it – she felt better. This taught me one of the most important lessons in helping and learning from grieving people – if it doesn’t hurt them or someone else, it’s probably ok.

Keepsakes or mementos – sometimes people use the term “charm” or “talismans” – is any object that helps you feel connected to a loved one. Now, there is a lot of old and bad advice saying that the best way to get over grief is to get rid of any reminder of your loved one. That’s terrible advice. Absolutely awful. It’s perfectly fine and healthy to have keepsakes and mementos of our loved one. That’s completely normal. Is it possible to take that too far? Sure – but the vast majority of the time this is completely normal.

So don’t be shy about wearing an item of your loved one. Perhaps it is something you keep in your wallet or purse or pocket every day. It may be worth a lot of money or maybe it is only priceless to you. Perhaps it is something you have in your home or tucked away in that special drawer or dresser. Don’t feel guilty about having it. Be thankful that you have something that helps you stay connected to your loved one.

Jason TroyerComment