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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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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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Melinda Gates, Cheryl Strayed Reveal the Sentimental Objects That Bring Them Joy and Meaning

Objects take on greater meaning when a loved ones dies. It’s why my mother’s chopper has moved with me from home to home since I was 25, the age I was when she passed away from ovarian cancer. It’s the reason so many readers have shared with me over the years the ordinary items that bring them the most comfort – a set of measuring spoons, a teacup, a sweater. Our connection to unobvious heirlooms is why I devote an entire chapter in Passed and Present to finding even more solace in the valuable curios and inexpensive tchotchkes our family and friends leave behind.

For all of these reasons, I’m thrilled to share with you a book I recently discovered, What We Keep. Bill Shapiro, former editor-in-chief of LIFE, and Naomi Wax, a writer and editor based in New York, reveal the personal treasures (and the stories behind them) of some of the world’s most famous and influential people, including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the bestselling books The Beautiful StruggleWe Were Eight Years in Power, and Between The World And Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015.

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Supporting Widows and Widowers on Valentine’s Day

Not too long ago, I featured a Q & A on my blog with New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard. We discussed the death of her husband, the isolation she felt afterward, and ultimately, how she grew from the experience, feeling more joy than she ever thought possible. We never spoke about Valentine’s Day, but I’ve learned over time this holiday is particularly charged for widows and widowers, just as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often so challenging for individuals, like me, who’ve lost their parents.

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Claire Bidwell Smith Shares the Everyday Ways She Honors Her Parents

Claire Bidwell Smith is an author and grief therapist based in California. Her latest book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, is an important exploration of how grief and anxiety are so commonly intertwined. Claire approaches each chapter from a raw, intimate vantage point: her parents were each diagnosed with cancer when she was 14, and by the time she was 25, they were both gone. Along the way and later, she developed severe, life-altering panic attacks.

Claire says she felt life was wholly out of her control. An only child, she felt alone and afraid and turned to alcohol to calm her anxiety. She eventually took leave from college. For our Q & A, Claire discusses the strategies that helped her heal, including keeping her parents’ memories alive. (Spoiler Alert! There’s a section in Anxiety called, “Allison Gilbert’s Suggestions for Keeping Memories Alive.) Claire also asked me to share a personal experience with anxiety following the loss of my mother and father. (Hint: My son was a new driver and missed his curfew by a few minutes. How did I react? Not well.)

Read my far-reaching Q & A with Claire here.

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Secrets Revealed in My Father’s Handwriting

I was 31 when my father died, just beginning to know him as an adult gets to know another adult. We had a tumultuous relationship. My dad and I loved each other completely yet we got into more than our fair share of arguments. The most memorable happened in Moscow, in the middle of Red Square, when I was 17 years old. We were at the end of a peace march, during the height of the Cold War, and I wanted to go to a party. He was not going to let that happen. He roared his disapproval. I exploded. So did he. Our fight was so epic it would later become #1 in my Top 10 Memories of Dad I shared at his memorial service.

My father died of cancer when he was 63. He was always short-tempered, but I didn’t know why. I never got to know what truly made him tick because I was too young to ask the right questions, and I was his daughter, after all, not his confidant. So when an opportunity showed up a few weeks ago to get to know him a little better, nearly 20 years after his death, I was very excited and intrigued.

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