Is Our Memorials to the Dead Doing More Harm Than Good?


By: Aliker David Martin

Saturday November 12th, 2016 Kenneth Akena Watmon, 33, a   Kasese Child Protection Specialist, was shot in the stomach and died at Norvik Hospital on Sunday morning.

Next week will mark two years since Akena died and a number of memorial activities like a Pool Tournament, Public Lecture and Prayers have been organized in his memory under the organization Akena Foundation.

For those who lost a loved one and those who lived through it, such a day will forever be ingrained in their memories.

An online poster was sent out inviting the community for the car wash to fundraise to support the activities of Akena Foundation.

A good friend then argued that, “In my opinion, I think friends should allow Akena’s family to forget about the painful death of their son. This kind of Memorial event will keep on reminding the old parents and the wounds in their hearts may not heal.” My friend’s opinion seems unwise but raises fundamental questions on the transition while morning.

Mourning marks a dramatic transition beginning with the trauma of loss and concluding with acceptance of, control over, and separation from a loss (Volkan, 1981; Volkan & Zitl, 1993).

A person can separate from a loss by internalizing the loss to memory and remembering positive aspects of the loss (e.g., fond memories of a dead parent, feelings of self-reliance).

To do this, the person openly admits the loss by repeatedly disclosing his or her thoughts to trusted individuals (Janet, 1925; Lifton, 1973)

Through their designs, memorials represent and commemorate losses (Wolschke-Bulmahn, 2001). In doing so, memorials can help individuals make sense of and recover from losses (Rowlands, 1999).

Being that memorials are public activity, they help entire communities mourn a loss by providing settings for communal ceremonies and rituals (Wasserman, 1998).

So how does memorials facilitate a healing processes?

While memorials may in itself rekindle hatred and anger, more often than not memorials support the healing process in the following ways:

An essential part of healing rests on the ability to tell one’s story to have someone listen and acknowledge pain and suffering.

Stories help people make sense of their experience. Stories can provide a release of emotions and help one connect to others when learning to live with loss.

Studies show that if one is surrounded, for example, by people who refuse to acknowledge some one’s loss, it will be a more traumatic experience than being in a culture that recognizes the loss.

Providing Public Bonds. Research shows that many people develop continuing bonds with individuals who have died.

Often people want to keep a deceased loved one’s memory in their lives. Remembrance events can present opportunities and rituals to help in sustaining those connections.

A person establishes private bonds with the deceased, through internal conversations, private rituals, or holding on to symbolic objects.

Documenting history through Stories. Storytelling does not just benefit victims’ families. Individual stories can help the victim’s community to understand and come to terms with the magnitude of such tragedy to a family or its community. For instance, Articles in the popular press and photograph books claim war memorials like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) in Washington, D.C., are highly therapeutic for veterans (Grunwald, 1992; Meyer, 1993)

Inspiring healing movements. Stories can also help inspire healing movements for other tragedies. For instance, as a healing process, Akena’s family has establish The Akena Foundation to keep his memory alive.

This simple gesture could inspire others dealing with the loss of a loved one to establish any other healing movements in the community of those dealing with the loss of their loved one.

In conclusion, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. ― Richard Puz, The Carolinian. From an Irish headstone. “It’s high time, all bereaved are allowed to mourn as they seek justice with love. The pain of death should not make us lose our loving nature because this is who we are.


Published by La’Gulu

Aliker is the author of My Mayor (The Political Story of a Poor Elite and Rich Illitrate). Aliker is well spoken, a Blogger, Social Media Geek and an Alumni of Makerere University, Uganda Management Institute, Gulu University and University of San Diego-USA respectively.

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1 Comment

  1. All of your views are from western mindsets… tell us about how Acoli and othe Ugandan groups consider ‘memorials’ … certainly in our traditional culture there is no commemoration of the dead as they are considered to always be a part of the whole …

    Liked by 1 person

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