Making a memory box

If you’ve been told that you will not recover from your cancer, you may worry that, in the future, your children might forget how much you loved them. You could think about making them a memory box.

A memory box is a container that holds special things belonging to you. It might include photos, some favourite music, letters or a recorded message. These objects and messages can help remind your children or loved ones of happy times you spent together and offer them some comfort. It can be a useful way to pass on memories and could be made with any loved one in mind, not just your children.

Creating a memory box can be an emotional experience. You may feel sad or overwhelmed at times, but you might also find it satisfying to reflect on your own memories. You may find it helpful to have a relative or friend support you through the process.

Passing on memories

This information is for people who have been told they will not recover from their cancer. In this situation, many people find themselves thinking about the future and grieving about a time when they may no longer be there. This can be particularly difficult if there are children in the family. It’s often upsetting to think that as time goes by, they could forget how much you loved and cared for them.

It can be difficult for young children to hold on to memories. A memory box can be a useful way of passing on memories of treasured times to your children.

The suggestions here can be adapted to help you create a memory box for any loved one. For example, a memory box for your children to help them remember your partner who has died.


What is a memory box?

A memory box is a container that holds special things belonging to you. The things in the box can help your child hold on to memories of you and build new ones as they get older. It can help them remember how much you loved and cared for them, and can be a comfort. Depending on their age, children can be involved in building their own memory box to remember you.

A memory box can be as simple or elaborate as you like. You could make it using a shoebox, biscuit tin or gift box, for example. Your memory box doesn’t have to be physical. You could also store memories digitally, using a USB memory stick, a hard drive or online storage.

If you need any help and advice to get you started, ask your nurse or GP. There may be someone at your local hospice, such as a specialist nurse or an occupational or art therapist, who has a particular interest in memory boxes.

Some organisations, such as Winston’s Wish or Child Bereavement UK, sell specially made boxes with pockets to hold objects in place.


What goes into a memory box?

Before you decide what you want to put in your memory box, you may find it helpful to think about different types of memories. These may include:

  • a special time you and your child shared together
  • something you enjoyed or laughed about together
  • a memory that offers you or your child some comfort
  • something you especially love about your child, or about your relationship with them.

What you put in your memory box is a personal choice. Anything that’s important to you or your child, or that helps to remind your child of a specific memory, can go into the memory box.

It’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. Here are some suggestions of things other people have done with their boxes:

  • You can stick a photo of you with your child on the lid. This provides a visual reminder of the connection between you and can lead the way into the box.
  • It could be a coloured box, in either your or your child’s favourite colour. Or the box could be covered in a fabric with significance, such as material printed with a favourite nursery rhyme or cartoon character.
  • A bottle of aftershave or perfume that you use can trigger memories. The child can be encouraged to spray it on a favourite soft toy or on themselves. Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful ways to stimulate memories.
  • It can be nice to include a letter to your child, or some short stories about things you’ve done together.
  • A video recording could include a message from you or recordings of things you and your child have done together. Most smartphones have a video camera, or you could use a camcorder. You may want to create a collection of short videos using your phone’s editing tools or a programme on your computer. Your child could help you edit them. This may make it a joint project for you both and can be a memory-creating process in itself. Videos can be saved to a USB memory stick or DVD that can easily be put into your memory box.
  • Sound recordings, such as messages or your favourite music, can be transferred onto a CD or saved to a USB memory stick. Your specialist nurse or local hospice may be able to help you, or you could ask for help from a local electronics or computing store.
  • Small cards with messages on them could include details of your favourite things. Examples include: ‘I love you because...’, ‘Thank you for…’, ‘When we’re not together, what I miss most about you is…’, or ‘Remember when…’.
  • Anything that has a personal story attached to it can be added to the box. This might include jewellery, cards, toys or tickets from places you visited together that hold special memories. It can help to attach a small note to the object as a reminder for your child. Luggage labels are a practical way of doing this.
  • You may want to include things in the box that are important to you, so that your child can begin to learn more about you. For example, you could include:

o a piece of music that you really love

o your favourite book

o an article of clothing in your favourite colour, such as a scarf or t-shirt

o photos of key moments in your life.

You could add a note with each item to explain why they are important to you.


How is it used?

Finding ways to remember the person who has died, and to take their memory forward, can be a helpful part of the grieving process.

Whatever you choose to put into a memory box can be used to tell your child stories of your life. These can be repeated again and again. This will help even very young children build up a store of memories that they may otherwise be too young to hold on to.

Depending on the age of your child, they may want to look through the memory box alone and remember times when you were together. Or they may want to have a parent or relative with them to share the memories.

You may want to choose family members or close friends to be ‘memory-holders’ for your child as they grow up. It may be helpful for them to know what you are putting into your memory box yourself. They can then add to the memories as your child grows up and answer any questions they might have about you.

Some of the memories may make your child laugh or cry. This is all part of the process of remembering the person who has died. So it’s important that other people who are involved in caring for your child are available to give them support.


Your feelings and support

Creating a memory box can be a sad thing to do. But it can also be satisfying to do something that will help your child to connect with memories of you and the times you shared. It also gives you a chance to reflect on your own memories, and may make you laugh as well as cry.

Starting to make a memory box can feel overwhelming. You may find it helpful to have a member of your family or a close friend to support you. They can also help you gather the objects you want to put in your memory box.


Who can help?

Everyone has their own way of coping with difficult situations. Some people find it helpful to talk about their feelings with their partner, their family or a close friend. Or you may want to talk over your feelings with a specialist nurse, such as a palliative care nurse. Some people also find it helpful to talk about their feelings with a counsellor. The important thing is to do what feels right for you, when it feels right.

You can talk to your specialist doctor or GP about a referral to a specialist nurse if you don’t already have one, or to find out where you can get counselling. Our cancer support specialists can also give you more information about help that’s available.

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