The essential idea in anything done in regards to your altar is to imbue it with a sense of the sacred.
By 'the sacred' I mean a feeling of specialness. This is not simply another collection of items placed on a countertop. There is depth and meaning in what you are making. Bring that feeling into every aspect of how the altar is approached and engaged.
This applies to the process of locating the altar, finding things for it, and any time you step up to it. The more you can create an experience in which you feel yourself stepping out of your ordinary life and into a special space, the more your psyche responds and heightens what the intention of creating this altar can offer you emotionally and spiritually.
One way to amplify this feeling of the sacred is through the use of Ritual.
A ritual is any action that is unique to the occasion, that is only done during certain moments. By engaging these actions we are signaling to our subconscious that a threshold is being crossed into another realm, helping our psyche drop whatever emotional walls may be present that may have arisen as part of the daily rigors of life or perhaps from the pain of grief.
Allowing the grief to be released is cathartic and deeply healing. The more you can drop your guard for these feelings to be expressed, the deeper the connection you will feel in what the altar can offer and the more quickly you can move through the process of grief. I am not suggesting that the grief will go away, but it will diminish in intensity if it is allowed to be expressed.
What can the ritual consist of?
Truly it can be anything that helps you step out of your regular life and signals to your psyche that you are entering another space, the space of connecting with your lost beloved.
Some people like to say 'good morning' and 'good night' by lighting a candle or incense in the morning and then putting it out in the evening (perhaps this is an LED candle).
When adding items or when approaching the altar to have a moment of connecting, some might take several deep breaths, helping to clear the mind, and perhaps lighting a candle to signal the beginning of the interaction. Some might ring a bell or shake a rattle or some other sound cue.
It all depends on what resonates with you. What feels natural to you, what feels right when you do it? What feels appropriate when connecting to your beloved? What might they have appreciated? Try different approaches and see what brings you a feeling of the sacred.
Of course, engaging the altar does not need to be so strict- all this is in service of giving this endeavor a gravity, a weightiness, a felt sense of distinctiveness. But adding items to the altar or sitting with it can also be lighthearted or quick. It all comes down to what feels right for you. What helps you feel most connected? Honor your internal impulse.
The essential goal here is to help yourself connect to your memorial altar and the love that it is symbolizing. Your beloved is gone, but their spirit still resides within you. Help yourself tap into their spirit within you. That is the entire idea with your Spirit Altar, and it permeates every way that it is engaged.