When my 17-year-old son Samuel died by suicide in September 2020, I knew I needed to have his presence around me and to keep his memory alive. It felt important and comforting to ensure he was a part of our lives going forward. It is, however, incredibly difficult to do this when a young person dies. How do you memorialise a teenage boy? He didn’t own much of traditional sentimental value. The things he loved were generally illegal or slightly outrageous!
So we took to Google! Initially, we struggled to find things that would reflect his character – a fun, chaotic, quirky and wild spirited boy with a penchant for writing and performing entertaining rap songs. Much of what we found online was delicate and twee. Not our Samuel whatsoever.
But, after a lot of digging, we did find some absolute gems that have helped us feel closer and connected to Samuel in our everyday lives. It's not easy finding some of these items so we thought it would be good to share with others. I have also included a few simple ways we developed our own unique memorial items.
Samuel owned many clothes and we knew we wanted to use them to create an everlasting memorial. But Samuel mainly wore black. Black hoodies, black joggers and black trainers. We were slightly concerned that it would make for a very dark keepsake. Fortunately we were able to mix and match with some of his more vibrant items to balance the colours.
We discovered companies that used clothes to make memorial keepsakes, such as cushions, blankets, accessories and teddies. Many showed a mother’s favourite blouse or a grandad’s cosy jumper transformed into a commemorative cushion. This didn’t quite resonate for us. He wasn’t a cuddly traditional jumper kind of boy. The teddies were also rather twee and left us questioning how we could reflect our unique boy. We wanted to capture Samuel’s love of certain brands, the clothes he wore religiously and the birthday presents we had given him in recent years.
We eventually chose Lily Grace Keepsakes and found the communication sensitive and helpful. We painstakingly went through every item of Samuel’s clothing, labelling each garment with clear instructions, anxious that each precious piece be used effectively. We wanted the cushions to feature the emblems and labels he loved so much. From the Adidas shorts that he wore to bed, the Ellesse t-shirt he wore non-stop on a family holiday in Thailand and his ‘Elevation’ hoodies from his favourite rapper Lord Apex.
The finished articles were amazing and each represented a piece of Samuel’s life. With sections made of his school shirt, the pocket from his favourite jeans and logos from treasured t-shirts. We also had some teddies made and Samuel's Marvel and Adidas socks were used to make the limbs, which wasn’t at all twee.
After using almost all of his clothes to create a collection of cushions and teddies, we were left with Samuel’s most colourful clothes: his boxer shorts! He loved the comfort of M&S Autograph boxers and later many designer brands. As these were mainly bought by me, I added vibrant colour to his otherwise black wardrobe. He even immortalised these in his rap lyrics which never fails to make me smile, ‘Calvin Klein dripping from my spine’.
I found a fabulous company on Etsy, Once Upon A Time Keepsakes who make lovely, multi-coloured fabric stars and hearts. We had a bunch made and sent them to family and friends to put on their Christmas trees. Samuel would have found that hilarious. And it brings comfort knowing he is present in the homes of all those who loved him. I also sent them to a few of his friends and did wonder how many of the girls were familiar with the garments already!
We were keen to have bespoke jewellery made using Samuel’s ashes so that we could carry him with us everyday. Again, we searched the internet but not much fitted our style. Until my daughter’s friend sent her a link to jeweller Kirstie MacLaren’s Instagram and we fell in love with the porter pendant. Porter translates as ‘to carry’.
The simple, classic style of the pendant is beautiful, with the ashes sealed inside. Me and my daughters each have one and wear it everyday. Kirstie’s communication is so compassionate, having the understanding of her own loss and she made the process of sending ashes feel personal and respectful. I couldn't recommend the pendant or Kirstie enough.
In our search for other items to help us stay connected with Samuel, we found a wonderful company called Casting Ashes, run by Noel & Jill Brennan in Cornwall. They produce a range of sculpture pieces. The ashes are sprinkled into a mould with the cement so they incorporate into the final product.
Again the communication is delightful, Jill is so sensitive and makes it such a personal service. A candle is lit during the casting and a significant song is played. We chose one of Samuel’s funeral songs, Stormzy's Blinded By Your Grace Part 2. Jill later told me that she left the album running and felt Samuel’s presence with her.
We have a range of items between us and definitely intend to order more. Tea light holders help provide a serene reflective space, plant pots represent growth and a beautiful heart on a plinth welcomes me each morning. My daughter kisses it every time she passes it when she stays. I do warn her it will fall off the shelf one day!
Our home-made items
We also came up with a couple of ideas of our own to ensure Samuel was a key part of our lives. For the first Christmas without him, just 3 months after his death, my daughter made special advent calendars. Each carefully woven pocket contained a Polaroid picture of Samuel, an inspirational quote and a chocolate. I had just returned to work and was struggling each day, working from home. The calendar got me through this awful month. I took such comfort from the gorgeous photographs, the personal quote and an energy boost from the chocolate.
We also made pressed flower pictures using flowers from Samuel’s funeral. Before we left the crematorium, at the end of Samuel's funeral, we each laid a white rose on his coffin to say our final goodbye. We had bought a big bunch of white roses and decided to press the rest of the flowers from the bunch afterwards.
We pressed them in heavy books, between baking paper sheets, over a couple of weeks and then put the delicate, dried flowers in simple glass frames alongside photographs. They are incredibly effective in their simplicity. And it feels really special that half of the roses are with Samuel, and the other half are with us.
Samuel will always be our 17-year-old vibrant, cheeky and charming boy. Each of these memorial pieces reminds us of that and help us feel the comfort of his presence in our lives as we move forward.