What We Kept: A New Project to Remember Lost Loved Ones

Join us for our new project called “What We Kept.”

The concept is simple. Snap a photo of an item you’ve kept to remember a lost loved one. Include the story and meaning behind it. We’ll collect them and publish them. Submit work here.

Telling our stories is cathartic and healing. Reading other people’s stories helps us to understand and grow our empathy for one another.

Let’s create something meaningful.

Much love,
Trauma to Art

New Traditions! The Honor Wall + The Candle Alter

At this year’s 3rd Annual Day of the Dead Celebration guests enthusiastically embraced their inner creative by designing a leaf to symbolize our individual unique experience. Thanks to the friendly, warm and receptive environment our Day of the Dead artists felt comfortable to express themselves. Below is the how-to from the event. Scroll further down to see the beautiful collaborative final piece. You can’t help but feel inspired.


The Candle Alter

Guests also participated in our Candle Alter inspired by the ancient Hawaiian tradition of Ho’oponopono.


{ Click to see the full photo album! }

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Mending Boston at the MIT Museum Thanks to Clara Wainwright

Friday, September 13, the MIT Museum invited guests to see Clara Wainwright’s completed Mending Boston quilt, a creative work showcasing the community response to the Boston Marathon Bombing. Clara started the project soon after the Marathon bombing. She brought the quilt throughout Boston from the Back Bay to Dorchester and over to Watertown. Hundreds participated to create…

At the debut of the quilt, Clara worked alongside an intimate group of participants eager to contribute to the quilt’s follow-up piece, a collaborative collage to be completed in April and displayed at the MIT Museum. Clothe, thread and glue was given out for everyone to design their own square.

Example square! The finished piece will be displayed in April at the MIT Museum located at 265 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, Mass.

Click here to read the WBUR piece about Clara & Mending Boston.>

15th Annual Lantern Festival at Forest Hills Cemetery

From the 2013 Lantern Festival

For 15 years the Forest Hills Cemetery, located in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston, has been hosting their own Lantern Festival, an event to honor and remember lost loved ones. This community activity inspired by the Obon, or just Bon, a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of ancestors, has grown from an intimate gathering of 100 to over 2,000 participants.

Locals donate $10 for a lantern. Japanese symbols of your choice are hand painted on and you decorate the rest — drawing pictures, writing names of loved ones or whatever strikes you.

This year’s festival featured traditional Japanese dances from students of Showa Boston, Irish music from guitar and fiddle duo the Whiskey Boys, gospel music from Ron Murphy and Grand Master Tsuji’s Taiko drummers.

People gathered around Lake Hibiscus with picnics of wine, beer, pies, cakes, chips, you name it. Passing through the crowd it was easy to pick up on its meaning. Some were emotional, others were celebratory. You would hear comments like, “My parents died and now I love knowing I have this day every year to honor them.”

At sunset everyone lit their candle and sent their lantern floating out onto the lake creating a luminous, even magical, scene. As the chatter quieted participants watched their lanterns take on life forming clusters, traveling together, and sometimes circling back to their owners.

Background The Forest Hills Lantern Festival was inspired by a Buddhist-Confucion custom now celebrated in Japan as a family reunion holiday. It’s not a marked holiday but many are given days off so they may return to their ancestral family places, visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. At this time spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit household altars. The traditional festival, which has been celebrated for over 500 years, lasts for three days but its start date varies by region, as does the music and Bon Odori, simply meaning Bon Dance.

How the Bon Odori Came To Be Maha Maudgalyayana, one of Buddha’s disciples, used his powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she fell into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. He went to the Buddha and asked how to release his mother. Buddha told him to make offerings to many Buddhist monks who had recently completed their summer retreat. He did, and his mother was released. In the process he saw the true nature of his mother’s past unselfishness and the many sacrifices she made for him. In a swirl of happiness over his mother’s release and gratitude for her kindness, he danced with joy. Thus, the Bon Dance became a time to remember and appreciate ancestors’ sacrifices.

The End The celebration, which traditionally includes a huge carnival with rides and games, ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then float down rivers symbolizing the ancestral spirits’ returning to the world of the dead. Finally the ceremony culminates with a fireworks display.

Why Establishing Rituals Is So Important Rituals give us a framework to play off of while giving us stability — we know we can count on this annual tradition, but we also know we have the freedom to make it our own. Having rituals, in the case of lost loved ones, gives us peace of mind that we will never forget to honor their memory and all the joy they brought to us and the world. Aside: At a conference hosted by the National Center for Death Education this summer, speaker and American grief specialist Dale Larson actually said, “I LOVE when my clients are Jewish!” Weird? No. The Jewish faith offers many established rituals such as sitting Shiva and the Kaddish Prayer for mourners as an act of loving kindness for the departed soul.

Everyone’s experience is unique but having rituals to guide us and bring us together as a community can have a huge impact.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! We love when people visit us. Please donate to keep our project alive! (You know what they say about giving. It comes back multiplied!)

Our mission is to guide people to grief resources, establish American rituals around commemorating lost loved ones, and develop a resource of artistic expression created in response to grief.