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my favorite poem

After my mother died, I found this typewritten poem stashed in a book that had belonged to her. Reading it, so deep in my grief, I felt equal blows of tough-love and compassion. My mother’s parenting style was steeped in that dichotomy: She loved me so fiercely, so unconditionally, she’d sooner let me fail than rescue me. I’d learn best, she might have said, if I understood life as a case study in cause and effect. Reading the poem that day, attributed to Elsie Robinson, it was my mother’s voice that filled my ears. And that felt welcome, needed, and healing.

But who was Elsie Robinson? I had never heard the name before and have spent much of the last 20 years finding out. In my research for my forthcoming book, the first biography of Robinson (1883-1956), I’ve learned she was once the highest paid nationally syndicated female columnist at Hearst. She was a writer who gave a voice to a generation of women and launched a movement that decades later included Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Dorothy Pitman Hughes. Researching and writing this biography has created a new, living connection to my mother, as if she’s sitting next to me as I type. 

Below is the poem I found more than 25 years ago. I’ve written it out for you, in its entirety. I hope it brings you as much comfort as it’s brought me. To learn more about Robinson and keep up to date on the book’s progress, please join my newsletter list. I promise not to bombard you; I send notes only once a month.

 

PAIN by Elsie Robinson

Why must I be hurt?
Suffering and despair,
Cowardice and cruelty,
Envy and injustice,
All of these hurt.
Grief and terror,
Loneliness and betrayal
And the agony of loss or death –
All these things hurt.
Why? Why must life hurt?
Why must those who love generously,
Live honorably, feel deeply
All that is good – and beautiful
Be so hurt,
While selfish creatures
Go unscathed?
That is why—
Because they can feel.
Hurt is the price to pay for feeling.
Pain is not accident,
Nor punishment, nor mockery
By some savage god.
Pain is part of growth.
The more we grow
The more we feel –
The more we feel – the more we suffer,
For if we are able to feel beauty,
We must also feel the lack of it –
Those who glimpse heaven
Are bound to sight hell.
To have felt deeply is worth
Anything it cost.
To have felt Love and Honor,
Courage and Ecstasy
Is worth – any price.
And so – since hurt is the price
Of Larger living, I will not
Hate pain, nor try to escape it.
Instead I will try to meet it
Bravely, bear it proudly:
Not as a cross, or a misfortune, but an
Opportunity, a privilege, a challenge – to the God that
gropes within me.

2020 Gift List for Grievers

Facing the holidays without your loved one is hard. Covid-19 makes it harder. Our inability to gather with friends and family, to receive hugs and kisses, is leaving too many of us feeling unmoored and alone. 

So, here’s what I’ve done:

I’ve created a holiday gift list for grievers and those who love them. What will you find below? Presents that demonstrate you understand this holiday season is unlike any other. And because self-care following loss is so important, I encourage you to put yourself on your holiday gift list, too. Please know I’ve personally curated the ten unique gift ideas, and I hope they’ll bring a measure of joy and meaning to your holiday season.

Here’s my 2020 Gift List for Grievers.

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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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5 Meaningful Gifts for $100 or Less

This post was created in partnership with NFDA.

Giving gifts to help friends remember loved ones is especially thoughtful. Far from being an unwelcome reminder of loss (during the holidays it’s likely to be top of mind anyway), offering presents that acknowledges their grief demonstrates incredible kindness and compassion. It shows you recognize the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be especially difficult.

So what kinds of gifts are most meaningful? Here are five ideas, all $100 or less:

1. Create a Memory Garden

Help your friend start a Memory Garden in honor of their loved one. First, buy packets of seeds. Flowers, plants, and herbs all work. Second, place the envelopes inside a wicker basket, adding several “Love Rocks” to make the presentation even more special.

“Love Rocks” are easy and inexpensive to make. All you have to do is take a piece of fabric and cut it into the shape of a heart. Next, glue the fabric heart onto a smooth stone with craft adhesive. If the stones are likely to be used outdoors, make sure to use acrylic sealer. Make the entire project even more poignant by using cloth that once belonged to their loved one – strips of fabric taken from a favorite shirt, pair of jeans, even a necktie. For more ideas on using flowers to strengthen memories of loved ones, please read these posts. I also write about the concept in, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

2. Preserve Their Handwriting 

Forget Me Not 31

Locate a handwritten recipe or letter written by your friend’s loved one. Get it framed or transfer the image onto a piece of pottery. You can find lovely options at Prairie Hills Pottery. The accompanying photograph is the plate Prairie Hills made for me by using my grandmother’s “famous” coffee cake recipe. I adore it!

Preserving handwriting is a nod to a loved one’s enduring legacy. The additional upside of designing a decorative piece is that it doubles as a great conversation starter. Whenever company visits, your friend will have the opportunity to talk about his or her loved one and say their name out loud.

3. Embrace the Present

We honor loved ones by talking about them. We also pay tribute by celebrating the loving relationships that remain.

One great way to embrace family and friends after a significant loss is to use the National Funeral Directors Association and Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards. There are 50 cards to a deck and each one is printed with a different question. Questions like: Who has been the most influential person in your life? For what are you most grateful? The cards facilitate meaningful discussions and create unrivaled opportunities for sharing stories.

The best part?! Thanks to the Funeral Service Foundation, the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards are FREE. The deck makes a perfect stocking stuffer or small holiday gift. Request your free deck of cards here.

4. Preserve & Share Memories

Loss can be overwhelming… so is deciding what to do with all those VHS tapes, slides, film reels, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Help your friend remember and celebrate their loved one by preserving and sharing their memories.

Legacy Republic has created several Memory Makeover Kits to make digitizing media as simple as possible. The “Shoebox Kit” is $100 and holds up to four items, including videotapes, film reels, slides, photos, and negatives. All your friend has to do is put the items in one of Legacy Republic’s packing boxes and ship it off to one of its Memory Factories. In just a few weeks, your friend will be able to access their memories on a secure online account and order beautiful, decorative keepsakes for their home.

For more on Legacy Republic and how photographs fuel happiness and healing, read these blogs.

5. Make Sculptures from Meaningful Objects

If your friend’s loved one adored painting, gardening, or cooking, take one of their old paintbrushes, gardening tools, or kitchen gadgets and transform it into a permanent sculpture. The design process is straightforward: an artist drills a hole into the bottom of the object and then a steel rod with an attached base is screwed into place. One sculpture works well. A cluster makes a statement.

Create a custom gift by visiting 106 Vintage Co. on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/106vintageco.

Make gift-giving this holiday season an opportunity to support friends and family members who are grieving. Acknowledge their losses. Invite them to share their memories. They will feel loved, understood, and validated. And of all the gifts you can give them, that may be the greatest one of all.

Soledad O’Brien on Her Beloved Grandfather, the Significance of a Photograph, and the Importance of Telling Stories

Soledad O’Brien and I met in the first days of MSNBC. We both left years after launch but crossed paths again at CNN where she was an anchor and I was a producer. Today, Soledad runs Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production and distribution company dedicated to exploring critical social issues such as race, class, wealth, and poverty.

I’m grateful for Soledad’s outsize support of my work. When Passed and Present was published, she welcomed me into her NYC offices and recorded four exceptional videos about why remembering loved ones is so important to do. You can watch them here. Now, Soledad is generously helping me again by lending her singular voice to my grief and resilience blog. Our conversation is below.

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Gretchen Rubin Reflects on Memories, Resilience, and Happiness

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect me to feature New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin on my blog.  After all, I focus on grief and resilience and Gretchen tackles all facets of habits and happiness.  Gretchen’s written the groundbreaking books, The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and she also hosts the popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.  Her forthcoming book, The Four Tendencies (about the personality framework she’s discovered) comes out September 12, 2017.  Mark your calendars!  But Gretchen is actually the best person to highlight this time of year!

Being proactive about remembering loved ones can make us happier.  I call this positive and transformational concept the “Reflection Effect” and I write about it in O, the Oprah Magazine, and it’s at the heart of my book, Passed and Present, Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.  So, it’s with this in mind that I turned to Gretchen to find out how she’s derived joy and meaning from life after the loss of her beloved grandparents.  As we spoke about resiliency and overcoming her personal losses, she also shared the importance of keeping a few cherished mementos and how certain smells (hot dogs!) spark comforting memories. …Continue Reading

Surprising Fall Opportunity

One of the most uplifting gifts I’ve ever heard of giving someone in a time of loss is a wicker basket full of daffodil bulbs. The idea is for the recipient to plant one bulb for every year the loved one lived. Daffodils are the perfect flower for such a happiness-inducing project: as perennials, they’ll come back spring after spring—and they’re virtually indestructible. And, the best time of year to plant daffodils is the fall!

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The Healing Power of Retracing Your Steps

Have you ever heard “These Foolish Things”? The song recounts a long list of sights, sounds, and objects that conjure up memories of loved ones. Take a listen here.  With a nod to this popular standard, go back to that restaurant you enjoyed together. Return to the hotel. And if, for you, this idea involves getting into nature, consider the enormous emotional benefits I write about in Passed and Present that stem from being outdoors (Forget Me Not #85).

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Tips for Repurposing Tablecloths, Linen Napkins, and Other Atypical Fabrics

My dad always wore neckties to work, so after he passed away, I hired The Gazebo to turn them into a quilt. The quilt brings back lots of happy memories, recollections I can now share with my children who never got to know their grandfather. You can see a picture of this beautiful quilt here. But discovering opportunities for upcycling other types of fabric is often more challenging. What to do with table linens, kitchen towels, aprons, and placemats?

In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, Forget Me Not #10 reveals several ways to repurpose fabric not usual considered for memorial projects. Nancy Roy, owner of Totes with Tales (www.toteswithtales.com), uses virtually any kind of fabric to create one-of-a-kind bags customers can use every day.

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Commemorative Travel: The Latest Trend In Vacation Planning

What do you call a trip that speaks to the desire to celebrate the memory of loved ones in the company of others who are drawn to do the same? I call it Commemorative Travel.

Previously on my blog, I revealed five destinations around the world where travelers can spend time away from home remembering and honoring the family and friends they never want to forget. Just as we build trips around caring for endangered animals, jumping out of airplanes, and building schools in developing countries, Commemorative Travel is another kind of specialized adventure. This type of vacation allows us to design itineraries to strengthen our connections to the past.

In Passed and Present, I reveal a number of Forget Me Nots that can deepen our connections to loved ones through travel. In fact, I write an entire chapter of travel ideas! Below are several destinations, and if you’d like even more, please email me at allisongilbert@allisongilbert.com.  Please write “More Travel Ideas” in the subject line. OK, let’s share some of these opportunities.

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