THIS POST may be helpful.
Before exploring a project that memorializes loss, it is very important to give student's an "out" so if they are not ready to deal with the topic, they have an alternative exploration that is safe to explore and won't single them out. Art should always be a "safe place."
I have done this kind of project in 3 different ways; as a painting/drawing, sculpture, and a clay project. In all cases we do some pre-writing about the person, fond memories, their quirks, things we had in common or connected us, and maybe event things we found challenging about the person. (nobody's perfect, right?)
As a painting, I tell students to create symbols for the people and the events to artistically code the information. So in this sample, the lions are the parents, and the butterfly between them, a child that was lost at birth. The colors and shapes have emotional values tied to the poster at the end of this post.
I find that writing on the back of the work or another paper is very healing too, allowing time to reflect on the process and continue healing.
The all white clay seems to visually work with the idea of a memorial. I tell students that they can ring the bell to remember that person. For the bell alternate, I have had students create a bell that represents a goal they hope to achieve, and ring it when they reach that goal. This too requires some writing about goals they hope to achieve in the next 5, 10 and 20 years as well as symbols for those goals.
The resource I recommend for this is the book, "The Emotional Color Wheel." It helps students code their feelings and experiences into colors and shapes. HERE are some specifics on how I use the lesson, and below is a free low-res poster that I created to help students understand these color and shape connections. (You can download it below the image).
The links to the right of this post can take you to where I have this poster on Zazzle as well as a few others that may be helpful.