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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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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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Author and Poet Meghan O’Rourke on Living Life in Honor of Her Mother

Award-winning author, editor, literary critic, and poet Meghan O’Rourke‘s work has appeared in Slate, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publicationsWhile pursuing her extraordinary career, O’Rourke was faced with traveling back and forth from home to care for her mother, who died at age 55 of metastatic colorectal cancer. My mother also died young (57), and also from cancer (ovarian). And similar to Meghan, I was a journalist (working as a television news producer) while helping to care for my mom in her final days.

After Meghan’s mother passed away, she found solace writing her poetry collections, Once and Sun in Days (to be published in paperback this fall), and her gripping memoir, The Long Goodbye. She is currently working on a nonfiction book about chronic illness.

In our interview, Meghan discusses the many ways she keeps her mother’s memory alive, including safeguarding a lock of her hair. I’m thrilled Meghan joined me for this revealing Q & A.

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Joyce Maynard on Losing Her Husband and How Grief Has Made Her More Resilient

New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard lost her husband in 2016. Their love affair was rapturous. Yet shortly after their one-year wedding anniversary, Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died 19 months later.

Joyce captures this emotional upheaval in her latest book, The Best of Us, a work she dove into the night Jim died. In our interview, Joyce reveals how she celebrates and honors Jim’s memory and how grief has made her more resilient. I’m honored Joyce took the time to speak with me while on her nationwide book tour.

For more on The Best of Us (and wonderful photos of Joyce and Jim), watch this video.

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Julia Scheeres on the Loss of Her Brother and the Healing Power of One Very Special Stuffed Animal

November 18 marks the anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.  In 1978, Jim Jones orchestrated the deaths of more than 900 people, all Americans.  The individuals who built Jonestown, the Peoples Temple settlement in Guyana, went to South America in search of a better life. But over time they were held against their will as Jones urged them to commit “revolutionary suicide.” He denied them access to the outside world and eventually, food, sleep, and any dream of escape.

The tragedy was first considered a mass suicide.  But author Julia Scheeres, in her gripping book, A Thousand Lives, reports that the children living in Jonestown were given no choice and that many adults felt pressured to take their own lives and didn’t do so voluntarily.

Julia came to this book from a rather unique vantage point. When she and her adopted brother, David, were teenagers, they were sent to a Christian boarding school. In Jesus Land, her memoir about the experience, Julia recounts the abuse they suffered in the name of religion.

A few years after Julia and her brother were released from the school, David was killed in a car accident. Her journey finding resilience after this unimaginable loss is illuminating and inspiring. I’m so honored Julia joined me for this Q &A on my grief and resilience blog. …Continue Reading

Dani Shapiro on Loss, Religion, and Honoring Her Father Through Writing

As I sit down to write this blog, it’s odd for me to admit that I don’t remember when I met Dani Shapiro. I just know I’ve admired her work for a very long time. Her writing is provocative and elegant. There are few authors I admire more.

Dani is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion. She’s been a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. Her most recent book, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, has received significant attention and praise. Cheryl Strayed has said she was “absorbed by Hourglass and consoled by it too.” I’m honored Dani joined me for this discussion on my grief and resilience blog.

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Robin Romm Discusses the Loss of Her Mother and How Writing and Having a Baby Keeps Her Memory Alive

I’ve had a writer’s crush on Robin Romm ever since I read her scorching memoir, The Mercy Papers. The book is about the last three weeks of her mother’s life. It is unsentimental and raw, ricocheting furiously between anger, sadness, love, and humor. I’m always asked to recommend books on mother loss. The Mercy Papers continually tops my list.

Robin has just published another work and it’s altogether different. It’s called Double Bind: Women on Ambition. Featuring essays written by writers, actors, professors, and CEOs, the anthology explores the complicated relationship women have with professional striving.

In our conversation about grief and resilience, Robin returns to the subject of loss and reveals the most satisfying and empowering way she keeps her mother’s memory alive.

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