Eterneva and Baylor University Grief Research: The Importance of Objects as Memorials

People used to believe that a continued connection to a deceased loved one was unhealthy. They saw keeping an urn with ashes or creating some other type of memorial as a sign that a person wasn’t dealing with their grief. But research funded by Eterneva from Baylor University has suggested the opposite to be true: that memorialization can help a person in their grief.

25 years ago, a study by leading grief experts found that “continued connection to those we have lost isn’t only healthy but perhaps [also] necessary for continuing on with our lives and adapting to what those lives look like without our loved ones physically present.” Those researchers coined the phrase “continuing bonds theory” to describe the results of their research. 

At the time, they were focused on cremation urns and larger memorials. However, in the present day, smaller keepsake memorials have become increasingly popular, including cremation jewelry and memorial diamonds. 

More recent research supports the 1996 “continuing bonds theory” and suggests “that memorial objects as ‘anchors’ of continuing bonds affirm their therapeutic value during the grieving process.”

Benefits of Cremation Jewelry

Small memorials, including cremation jewelry, offer several advantages over traditional memorials and gravesites. Some of these include:

1. Mobility. 

While family and friends traditionally visited gravesites on special days to pay respects to their deceased loved ones, it has its limitations. As families spread and move across the country, far away from where their family members are buried, this tradition has become increasingly difficult. 

Also, more than half of Americans today are opting for cremation over traditional burial, so there may not be a gravesite to visit. Cremation allows for more portable memorials and, in the case of jewelry, allow a person to carry their loved one close to the heart as they go about their daily life.

2. More palatable than urns. 

While urns with the deceased’s ashes placed on a mantel can give a survivor a healing sense of being close to the deceased, such urns may be off putting to visitors and guests. Also, for those who want to keep their grief private and personal, having a visible urn can spark conversations that survivors may not be ready to have. 

A good alternative to urns is a piece of memorial jewelry or a memorial diamond, which involves a stone being created from the ashes of the deceased.

3. No storage problem

Urns stored at home tend to move to less prominent places over time. Researchers attribute this to the fact that cremated remains are simply a marker of death and serve no other purpose. As the pain of grief dulls, these urns often move to a closet or other storage, away from your sight.

In a home with an extended family, there may be no room for multiple urns as parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles pass away. Memorial jewelry and other small memorials help solve that problem. You can remember all of your loved ones and celebrate their lives, as you are reminded of them daily.

4. Focus on life and the present rather than death and the past. 

By creating a piece of jewelry from a loved one’s ashes, the survivor has a beautiful stone that can be worn in a ring, necklace, bracelet, or other piece of jewelry that can be worn in the survivor’s daily life. This helps make the jewelry and the deceased a part of the survivor’s present life and future, as well as their past. 

According to Meike Heessels in her 2012 book, “Bringing Home the Dead: Ritualizing Cremation in the Netherlands,” a “memorial diamond is an active participant in the life of the living. It touches, it accompanies, it listens, and its presence affects the growth and development of the living, thus rendering it a kind of agency.”

Types of Memorial Jewelry

Small memorials can take many forms. Some of the most common include:

1. Cremation jewelry. 

Cremation jewelry is a broad term that includes rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and other forms of jewelry that include a stone made from a person’s cremated remains. 

The stone is made using crystal resin or glass and can be made in any shape and a variety of colors. Cremation jewelry can be engraved with the deceased’s name, another phrase, or even an etched picture of the deceased.

2. Memorial diamonds. 

Memorial diamonds differ from other types of cremation jewelry in that these are synthetic “diamonds” created using carbon from the deceased’s ashes. Creating a memorial diamond involves using high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) processes, and belt and cubic presses. Memorial diamonds take 7 to 11 months to create, depending on the size and color of the stone desired. This waiting period can be healthy because it may parallel the grief journey, from acute grief to integrated grief, as the survivor finds a healthy place for their grief and returns to previous responsibilities and activities. 

Memorial diamonds are naturally a blue-ish color due to trace amounts of boron in the remains. However, they can be dyed to create almost any hue. 10 labs around the world, including Eterneva in Austin, Texas, offer memorial diamonds. Your local funeral home can make the arrangements for you.

3. Keepsake cremation lockets. 

Unlike cremation jewelry and memorial diamonds, this type of memorial can be ready immediately. This category includes traditional lockets, a wearable urn, or even a ring with a small compartment that holds a tiny amount of the deceased’s ashes.  

Grieving is a natural, albeit challenging, part of life. Having a small memorial nearby, such as a memorial diamond or a piece of cremation jewelry, can help bridge the gap between loss in the past and hope in the future. Far from being the crutch they were once considered to be, small memorials are a healthy and healing part of the grieving process.