Memorials such as the famous ones for President’s Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson that grace our nation’s capital – are an important part any culture’s history and traditions. Without such memorials, the amazing contributions of legendary historical figures might loose much of their deserved luster over the years. But large-scale memorials assure that great deeds and great people will never be forgotten.
But memorials have others important roles too. Today, in particular, memorials are not just reserved for the most famous and powerful people of a society. Rather, memorials serve as a great equalizer that gives even the modest and meek the hope of, like the world’s great leaders, being remembered for the ages. Most everyone today can expect to be remembered for years to come with memorials designed to take their memory to the future.
Memorials, of course, need to be designed to last the ages, and the sturdy construction of headstones assures just that. The long lasting granite or bronze headstones that are most common today assure that memorials will remain intact long after the elements have destroyed paper records or technology has made electronic records obsolete.
The design of permanent memorials has changed substantially over the years. For many years, permanent memorials were usually marked by headstones that were large, up-right pieces of sculpted stone and contained written information about the people whose graves they marked. While these types of memorials are still are used today, they now usually mark groups of graves (such as an entire family). Meanwhile, memorials for individuals typically consist of smaller, plaque-like headstones. In most memorials today, these individual headstones are made of bronze, granite, or a combination of the two, and displayed directly on the ground at the head of a grave. These memorials typically preserve the memory of one individual or a couple and they work in tandem with the larger, up-right headstones to create beautiful memorials for entire families. .
Aside from helping assure a place in history for just about every person alive, memorials can be great for helping families cope with the loss of a loved-one. By establishing permanent memorials, such as headstones, when loved-ones die; families can practice the sound advice that psychologists typically give to those going through the grieving process. Memorials are important, experts say, even for people whose bodies have been cremated (a tradition whose popularity is increasing dramatically). No matter how the ashes are disbursed, cremated loved-ones are often given memorials, complete with headstones installed, in today’s cemeteries.
Many people arrange for memorials “pre-need,” that is before a person has died. Headstones for pre-need memorials have the name (or, in the case of companion memorial headstones, names) inscribed at the time of purchase, and then the death dates are added later. Many people choose this option for memorials because they want the peace of mind that comes from choosing the design and style of their own headstones.
In today’s society, in which selflessness is a prized virtue, it may seem troubling to suggest that memorials are for the living, not the dead. But authorities in fields ranging from anthropology to philosophy to psychology would say it’s true, nonetheless. Mankind honors its dead with memorials, of all types, not necessarily because of a belief that memorials are somehow helpful to the dead but, rather, to help the living cope with the thought of death.
Memorials such as cemetery grave markers and statues are often designed well in advance of a death by the honoree himself. And no one would suggest, for even a moment, that a person who does such a thing is committing a selfish act; quite the contrarily, in fact. A pre-planned (and even pre-paid) memorial is rightly considered an act of love for one’s family members, so that they may have the benefit of eternal memories of their loved one, long after the family member has passed. The planner well knows that he or she will derive no value, or even pleasure, from the memorial, but that, we see, is not the point of the memorial. Memorials, in this case, are clearly designed and built as a gift, in fact, from the dead to the living.
One might argue that famous memorials such as the great pyramids built to honor and entomb the world’s kings, are a sign of memorials benefiting the dead more than the living. But the better part of that argument would acknowledge that, by seeing the great affection paid to the people honored by great memorials, the living can be inspired to similar greatness. That, it would seem would be the true reason that mankind would devote such resources to an honor of the dead. Such tributes to the great leaders of the past turn out to be, in fact, statements of a society’s great hope and faith that such greatness will be handed down through future generations.
About the closest that memorials come to being more for the dead than the living is a new trend in memorial industry in which a person’s cremation ashes are worked into a piece of art such as a painting or a glass sculpture called cremation art with ashes. If it is the deceased himself who, before his death, commissions this work done, it may be argued that he is selfishly thrusting himself into a work of art for the sake of spending an eternity among the piece’s beauty. But, as with the grave marker planner we discuss above, we see that a more optimistic view of this act is to assume that the planner wishes to lessen the pain that his death will cause for the living by being part of an inspirational work.
So, we see, that, while it’s often popular to assume that the living put together a memorial in order to bring joy and comfort, if only metaphysically, to the dead. It is, in fact, the dead who often help bring comfort to the living through the miracle of memorials.