May 18, 2023
From creating a heart-shaped meadow in memory of a loved one to building a monument in the middle of the Sahara desert, these moving tributes demonstrate how beauty, hope and inspiration can grow from grief.
Somber and hopeful. The two faces of death every funeral director has seen multiple times. In our culture, it is usually the somber that takes center stage. However, many who work in the funeral profession witness just as many uplifting moments, bittersweet glimmers of beauty and even an occasional miracle. A family discovers a heartfelt letter from a late relative when looking for a photo to use for an obituary. A daughter finally finds peace after her mother’s passing when she sees her laid out in a favorite dress. These moments are not entirely happy or entirely sad—they are a combination of both emotions that can never be fully defined.
We have had the opportunity to read so many poignant stories about everyday people coping with the realities of death in inspiring ways. These stories demonstrate how grief can produce something remarkable. Loved ones are driven to do something extraordinary in memory of another, whether to work through their loss or to show the world how special the person was to them.
Here are 12 Touching Tributes We Won’t Ever Forget:
Backpacks With School Supplies Line Aisle at Teacher’s Funeral
Tammy Waddell‘s funeral service gained widespread attention in 2018 and became special due to a unique request she made before her passing. Tammy Waddell, a beloved teacher from Forsyth County, Georgia, asked that instead of flowers, mourners bring backpacks filled with school supplies to her funeral. At the funeral, hundreds of people honored her wish and showed up with backpacks filled with donated school supplies.
The sight of the church filled with backpacks served as a powerful symbol of her dedication to education and passion for helping students succeed. The donated supplies were subsequently distributed among schools in the area, providing essential resources for many children. Tammy Waddell’s selfless act and the community’s response exemplified the impact she had on her students and the admiration she garnered from those who knew her. (Full story).
A Funeral Served with Ice Cream
For 40 years, Harry Ewell brought joy and sweetness to those in Rockland, Mass as the local ice cream truck driver. After his passing in 2003, his loved ones wanted to honor his memory and celebrate his life in a unique way. The family and funeral home decided it would be fitting for the funeral procession to be lead by Harry’s ice cream truck with the familiar music playing for mourners. The directors at Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home were more than happy to accommodate the request. After the funeral, all attendees were given a free popsicles as a final treat from Harry. (Full Story).
In another beautiful example, the funeral directors at Kevin M Lyons Funeral Service in Glenolden, PA recently held a funeral service and noticed there were a lot of children in attendance. With permission from the family, they flagged down the Mr. Softee ice cream truck and asked the driver if he could park in their lot during the service so the kids could come out and enjoy a frozen treat. Below is a photo that was captured during the service.
Woman’s Anniversary Sky Dive a Tribute to Deceased Husband
When Jen Green jumped out of an airplane on her 70th birthday, her leap of faith was about more than just a thrill ride. Jen wanted to recreate her first sky-jumping trip with her husband, Tom Phillips, a skydiving instructor who died 44 years earlier when his parachute failed to open. Jen’s anniversary jump was a reenactment of their first jump together from a California airport and was a fitting tribute for a man who won national championships for linked formations in the sky. Phillips loved skydiving so much, his final wishes were for his ashes to be scattered by friends while sky-diving over the Pacific Ocean. The couple recorded 69 jumps during their relationship.
Family Celebrates Grandma’s Quilting Legacy at Funeral Service
In 2017, beloved grandmother, Margaret Hubl passed away and her family wanted to pay tribute to her memory in a touching way. Margaret, an avid quilter, had spent years creating beautiful handmade quilts. In a heartfelt gesture to honor her memory, her family decided to display her quilts at her funeral service. As guests entered the venue, they were greeted by a stunning array of Margaret’s quilts adorning the space. The vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and meticulous stitching showcased Margaret’s love and talent for quilting. The display served not only as a visual celebration of Margaret’s life but also as a way for family and friends to connect with her through her artistry. (Full Story)
Photo courtesy of Christina Tollman
Aaron’s Last Wish
Family members often take steps after a passing to ensure their loved one’s final wishes are carried out. For Seth Collins, honoring the final wishes of his brother, Aaron, who took his own life in 2012, was about more than just completing a simple task. It was about creating a lasting movement of goodwill. The family found a will on Aaron’s computer asking that family “Leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25 percent. I mean $500 on a pizza) for a waiter or waitress.” After Seth gave his first tip in Aaron’s memory to a waitress in Kentucky, he realized he wanted to keep the gesture going in remembrance of his brother. He posted a video online which lead to a flood of donations from across the country and the beginning of the Aaron’s Last Wish road trip project. Seth and other family members spent several years traveling to all 50 states to give out $500 tips to waiters and waitresses across the country in memory of his brother.
Mourners Remember Biker by Dressing as Favorite Characters
Batman, Mario, Fred Flintstone and a gang of stormtroopers were all in attendance to honor the memory of Gary Pattision, a popular biker known for his sweetness and enduring wit. Gary was killed in a motorbike accident and his last request was that mourners dress as favorite characters for his funeral. More than 250 of his friends and family did not disappoint, dressing up as everything from superheroes to snack foods. The one-of-a-kind service also included a fire breather and 1930s jazz musician making for an incredibly memorable funeral for a man many will never forget. (Full Story).
Gary wrote a speech for his own funeral which said: ‘In the words of Warner Brothers, “That’s all folks! Enjoy and do me proud!”
Airplane Victims’ Families Create Lasting Memorial in the Middle of Sahara Desert
In 1989, an airplane bound for Paris exploded over the Sahara desert killing all 170 passengers on board. Nearly 20 years after the crash, the victims’ families reunited at the crash site in the middle of the desert to create a lasting memorial for their loved ones. There were still pieces of the wreckage because of the remoteness of the region, so families used these pieces along with dark stones that were trucked in from over 70 kilometers away to create a unique and powerful commemoration for the victims of UTA Flight 772. The monument includes 170 broken mirrors representing each victim and is anchored by the starboard wing of the aircraft. It took two months for loved ones to build the haunting memorial which looks like an airplane icon from the sky and can be viewed on Google Maps. (Full Story)
Typing coordinates 16°51’53″N, 11°57’13″E into Google Maps reveals the UTA Flight 772 Memorial.
Man who Loved to Run Honored with a ‘Final Run’ to Cemetery
It didn’t seem fitting to have a vehicle procession for a man who loved running more than anything else in the world. That’s what a funeral director thought when he asked friends and family members of Jim Kelly, a marathon runner who passed away unexpectedly, if they would like to honor his memory by jogging behind the hearse on the way to the cemetery. Jason Andersen, a friend who was a pallbearer at the service, captured the touching procession in prose describing the funeral as “exactly the way [Jim] would have wanted it.” The writer went on to say, “As runners, we can carry on not just the love Jim had for running, but the spirit in which he did it.” (Full Story)
Man Creates Heart-Shaped Meadow as a Tribute to his Late Wife
One of the most beautiful and heartwarming tributes ever created might have remained a sweet secret for years had it not caught the eye of a hot air balloon traveler. After Winston Howes lost his wife in 1995, he wanted to create a lasting memorial to her where he could sit and reflect on their years together. Winston planted 6,000 young oak trees on a six-acre field, but left a perfect heart shape in the middle. The heart-shaped meadow can only be accessed from a trail leading to the tip of the heart which is pointed towards his wife’s childhood home. The meadow cannot be seen from the road and was only discovered this year after a hot air balloonist flew overhead and captured a photograph. Winston’s incredible labor of love allows him to feel closer to his wife and remain inside her heart even after her death. (Full Story)
Winston and a gardener spent weeks planning and setting out each oak for Janet’s memorial meadow.
Police Dog Pays Last Respects at Funeral For Fallen Partner
It was a photo that broke millions of hearts. When Police Officer, Jason Ellis, was laid to rest, his canine sidekick, Figo, approached the casket to say a final goodbye to his fallen partner. Jason was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Bardstown, KY and during his emotional graveside service, friends and family were invited to say a final goodbye at the casket. Just before Ellis was lowered to the ground, Figo walked up to the casket and placed a single paw on it. The moving image of Figo at the casket which has appeared in countless publications and websites is proof of the amazing bond between police dogs and their partners. (Full Story)
Man Buried in Casket Made From Beloved Tree
“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy” – So begins the tale of The Giving Tree, a book many of us remember from our childhood about a tree that devotes its life to the happiness of a boy, but did you know that there once was a man who devoted his life to a tree? Frank Knight of Yarmouth, ME spent more than 50 years protecting a majestic, 207-year-old elm tree from succumbing to Dutch elm disease which was killing trees in the area by the hundreds. Frank kept New England’s tallest elm alive through 14 rounds of the disease.
Over time, Frank began affectionately referring to the elm as “Herbie” and as Yarmouth’s Tree Warden, would educate children about the tree’s significance. Over time, the tree became a tourist attraction drawing crowds from all over the world to take photos beneath its shade. When the 110-ft-tall tree finally had to be cut down in 2012, Frank was 101 years old. In death, the tree was given new life by 50 artisans, most from Maine, who used the wood to make a variety of items. Unbeknowst to Frank, part of the wood from Herbie was set aside to create a casket Frank was buried in after he passed the following year. How fitting that the tre that Frank revered so much in life would provide for him this last final gift. (Full Story)
“I thank the good Lord every day that we had him in his glory and beauty for so long,” Frank said after Herbie was cut down.
Man Wins Song Writing Contest with a Powerful Ode to his Late Wife
Music is one of the most subjective things in life. One person’s anthem is another person’s elevator music, but back in 2013, one song came out that had everyone in the country wiping their eyes at the same time. The tender ode, ‘Oh Sweet Lorraine’, went viral after a widower submitted the lyrics of his song, a tribute to his late wife Lorraine, to a songwriting competition. (Sample lyric: “The memories always linger on. Oh sweet Lorraine. No I don’t wanna move on.”)
When Fred Stobaugh saw an advertisement in his local paper for a songwriting contest, he sent in a hand-written love note he wrote for his wife of 73 years. The contest required all songs be submitted in digital format, but the studio running the competition was so deeply touched by Fred’s words that they decided to produce the song anyway. Fred never expected to hear back about the song much less win the competition, but his beautiful and heartfelt ode has now touched millions. (Full Story)
Fred Stobaugh reacting to hearing the melodic version of his song for the first time
Are there any inspiring tributes or memorials we missed? Leave us a comment and let us know. We never tire of reading these moving stories!
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com