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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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How Lee Woodruff’s “Ambiguous Loss” Became a Mission to Help Others

Lee Woodruff and I got know each other through several shared passions – giving voice to the complexity of grief, building resilience in the face of adversity, and supporting veterans and their families in whatever way we can.

For me, I became interested after the loss of my parents. Lee’s attention was sparked in 2006 when her husband Bob Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury. The celebrated journalist was in Iraq covering the war for ABC News when his armored vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. He was placed in a medically-induced coma for 36 days. During Bob’s recovery, Lee met many families of service members and learned even more about brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, and depression. The entire experience inspired the couple to create the Bob Woodruff Foundation, supporting America’s sick and injured service members and their families.

I am honored to share the details of Lee’s extraordinary journey in my latest Q&A.

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Author KJ Dell’Antonia Opens Up About Her Struggles with Loss and How She’s Learned to Savor the “Dumb Ordinary Good Stuff”

I’ve had a girl crush on author KJ Dell’Antonia for a few years now. The first time I came across her work was when she wrote and edited the New York Times Motherlode blog. After that, I read her book How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute and then began listening to #AmWriting, the insightful podcast she hosts with fellow author Jessica Lahey.

So it was a really fun night recently when KJ joined four other writers and me for a literary salon in Westchester, New York. She also generously agreed to participate in my Q&A series on grief and resilience. And I was floored by her candor. I’m thrilled to bring you our conversation below.

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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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Author Susan Orlean on Giving Herself Permission to Repurpose Her Mother’s Jewelry

Author Susan Orlean is popping up everywhere these days: the New York Times Book Review has featured her latest work, The Library Book, and she was Pamela Paul’s guest on The Book Review podcast. She was also given a well-deserved spotlight in The Washington Post, USA TODAY, and The National Book Review. And of course, she remains a staff writer at The New Yorker, a role she’s held since 1992. Because of her hectic schedule, I was especially thrilled she agreed to do this Q&A with me.

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Kathryn Harrison on the Loss of Her Grandparents and How a Figurine and Louis Vuitton Luggage Keep Their Memory Alive

New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Harrison was raised by her maternal grandparents. The tragic relationship she endured with her parents was heartbreakingly chronicled in her memoir, The Kiss (about her father’s sexual abuse), and her collection of essays, Seeking Rapture: Scenes From a Woman’s Life (various stories, including recollections of her mother’s anger and absence).

Kathryn’s grandparents died decades ago, and in her latest book, On Sunset: A Memoir, she recalls her unusual childhood living in her grandparents’ mansion above Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, surrounded by mementos of their far-flung travels. Our Q&A includes private aspects of Kathryn’s life she’s never revealed before (quite a feat after writing four memoirs!), such as how gardening has taken on special meaning since her grandfather died.

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Making Meaning and Purpose Out of Tragedy

On 9/11, I was a television news producer for NBC New York. Dispatched to the World Trade Center, I was covered by debris when the second tower collapsed and taken to Bellevue Hospital. ER doctors cut off my clothes to assess my injuries and tubes were put down my throat to help me breathe. I thought I was pregnant. (To round out the week, my father died of cancer that Friday, September 14, 2001.)

Yet I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

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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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