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Before Covid-19, General Martin Dempsey Remembers Soldiers Who Died

General Martin Dempsey, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, keeps a special walnut box on his desk at home. It is full of photographs of soldiers who died under his command in Iraq. General Dempsey says the box is a tangible reminder of each life that was lost, and the pictures push him to always consider what’s really important.

A few years ago, I was honored to meet General Dempsey as part of my work as an Advisory Board member for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). I am grateful he agreed to share his thoughts with me about grief and resilience, especially now as so many of us are coping with loss and needing courage and strength.

General Dempsey’s new book, No Time for Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to the West Wing, reveals his unique and wholly unexpected perspective on love, life, and loss. Every chapter is a gripping read and I really enjoyed learning about his behind the scenes relationship with President Barack Obama. I tore through his book in just a few days and truly could not put it down. I’m honored to bring you this special Q&A.

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When Grief is Overwhelming

These are truly unsettling times. While many of us feel powerless, there is healing power in doing whatever we can to regain a measure of control, no matter how small that step may seem. One strategy is to set aside a few minutes each day (or maybe just a few minutes every week) to grieve and reflect. In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, I call this strategy Give Memories 100%. It may include carving out a moment to linger over photographs or re-read old letters, emails, and birthday cards. Devoting uninterrupted time to remembering is healing. It gives emotions their due. We are able to move forward without guilt or reservation because no emotion is given short shrift.

Here are eight stay-at-home projects to consider doing right now. They offer opportunities for a real emotional boost and include links to helpful blog posts that explain each one in detail.

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New York Times Bestselling Author Peggy Orenstein on Whether Grief Ever Goes Away

Peggy Orenstein is out with her latest book, Boys & Sex, an analysis of young men and their views on relationships, porn, love, and consent. The book is a follow-up to her New York Times best seller Girls & Sex. And because Orenstein is still on tour promoting her book, I was thrilled she agreed to sit down with me to reveal her thoughts about a much different, equally intimate topic: the death of her mother.

During our conversation, Orenstein struck me when she admitted to feeling a special connection to individuals who find themselves in similar positions. “I feel I have an ongoing relationship with people who’ve also suffered the loss of a parent because I’ve survived. Because I didn’t die.” I’m especially grateful to bring you our Q&A.

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New York Times Bestselling Author Laurie Halse Anderson Reveals the Lessons Grief Teaches Us

In her memoir, Shout, New York Times bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson turns away from her career as one of America’s most acclaimed authors of historical fiction and writes about being raped when she was 13. The experience transformed her adolescence and framed her emotional life well into adulthood.

I’ve known Laurie for a while now. We both went to Georgetown University, and since we met, I’ve always been impressed by her wit and generosity. I’m absolutely thrilled she agreed to talk with me about another deeply personal part of her life — the loss of her parents. In our Q&A, Laurie shares the lessons grief has taught her about living life to the fullest.

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The BRCA Gene and Losing American Writer Elizabeth Wurtzel

Photo by Neville Elder

Elizabeth Wurtzel was a fearless writer, willing to share stark details of her own clinical depression, drug use, and sex life at an age when most of us are still crafting the narrative of who we are. Even her book titles – Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America and Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women – were forthright and unflinching. Perhaps this is why I am struggling with Wurtzel’s death at the age of 52, from a cause that she could have taken steps to prevent.

Wurtzel and I shared many characteristics: We were Jewish New Yorkers of similar age, both of us writers, and most importantly we each had inherited a genetic mutation called BRCA. According to the CDC, half of women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will get breast cancer and a third will get ovarian cancer by the time they reach 70. Compare that to women without the mutation: seven out of 100 will get breast cancer and one out of 100 will get ovarian cancer.

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Allison Gilbert’s 2019 Gift List for Grievers

Do you know anyone who could use a little extra TLC this holiday season? Of course you do. So do I. To make it easier for all of us to be the kinds of friends or relatives we most want to be, I’m launching my first Gift List for Grievers. And because self-care following loss is so important, I encourage you to put yourself on your holiday gift list, too.

Here’s my 2019 Gift List for Grievers.

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Three Ways to Boost Memories of Loved Ones This Thanksgiving

Holidays can be challenging for individuals who’ve lost loved ones, but they also offer unrivaled opportunities for keeping memories of family and friends alive. Below are three of my favorite ways to honor and celebrate the special people we never want to forget.

Make Memory Magnets
Rather than using conventional place cards at your holiday gathering, create memory magnets featuring images of your loved ones. Encourage family members to take these sentimental favors home to use on their refrigerators or washing machines. This simple project takes just a few minutes to do. Learn how by reading this.

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What You Can Do Right Now to Remember Loved Ones This Holiday Season

I know, I know. It’s only October. But with the holidays coming fast, it’s the perfect time to strategize how you’re going to honor and celebrate the family and friends you never want to forget. How? Keep reading.

Halloween
Stir recollections of Halloweens past and make new memories by attending unusual events. You can also give cherished heirlooms a creepy Halloween makeover.

Thanksgiving
Set your holiday table meaningfully and carve out time to create a special holiday playlist. Cooking also connects us to loved ones. Make a cherished dessert or frame a love-worn handwritten recipe card, using it as a sentimental centerpiece. As Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow explains in one of her cookbooks, “I always feel closest to my father…when I am in the kitchen.”

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Remembering Loved Ones Through Their Handwriting

This photo highlights such an innovative idea – using a loved one’s handwriting to decorate a kitchen wall. In this picture, a cherished recipe takes center stage. What do you think?

Handwriting is such a personal and intimate tether to our loved ones. Whenever I see notes written by my mother or father I feel an extra surge of connection. Here are a few additional ideas for keeping family and friends close by harnessing the power of their own words:

Jewelry
Engrave a piece of jewelry. Create a one-of-a-kind charm, pendant, even a pair of cufflinks. Simply take your loved one’s signature to your local jeweler and he or she will do the rest!

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Grief and Remembrance During Summer

That’s a picture of my mother and me on Fire Island, a popular car-free summer vacation spot off the coast of Long Island, New York. I’ve always cherished this photo but appreciate it even more now that I’m a mom.

Looking at it lately, I see things that were invisible to me before I gave birth: I notice my mother carrying our towels and I’m just carefree, riding my tricycle. I’ve also come to recognize the way I’m dressed reflects the outsize love my mother had for me. With red hair and pale skin, she has me absolutely covered — a straw hat to keep the sun off my face, and a long-sleeve shirt so large it goes to my knees.

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