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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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How to Make Sense of Life’s Highs and Lows

The last several days have been a whirlwind of emotion for my family. My beloved father-in-law passed away within the same week my son was heading out to prom and graduating from high school.

The juxtaposition of such highs and lows was remarkable but hardly unusual. Perhaps you’ve had to navigate such emotionally complicated terrain, too. My husband and I decided the only way to move through this time was to address each experience completely yet separately, giving ourselves permission to be wholly invested in each one. This allowed us to be fully present at my father-in-law’s funeral, keeping thoughts of Jake’s end-of-year celebrations at bay. And the next day, switching gears, we were able to rejoice in Jake’s big moment, while keeping our sadness – and Jake’s too — in check. …Continue Reading

Meaningful Ways to Remember Loved Ones on Graduation Day

In 2014, I shared on Facebook how my parents would have been so proud of my son when he graduated from 8th grade and was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. In the photo I posted back then, he’s shaking hands with the principal and assistant principal of his middle school.

Fast forward nearly four years and Jake will be graduating high school in just a few weeks. My parents would have been overjoyed now, too. Perhaps even more so.

While I wish my mom and dad could be part of this special occasion, I recognize there are opportunities for seamlessly incorporating their memory into our special day.

Consider the below ideas for your upcoming celebrations.

Meaningful Opportunities for Remembering Loved Ones on Graduation Day

  • Consider engraving a new or existing piece of jewelry with their loved one’s handwriting. Simply take a note or letter with their loved one’s signature and bring it to a jeweler. Jewelers can etch names and shapes (smiley faces and hearts they may have drawn) into virtually anything — charms, cuff links, and bracelets. I discuss this idea and other great strategies in my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

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Memorial Day: Make This Year Really Count

I’ll be celebrating Memorial Day in Washington, D.C. this year. In honor of our nation’s fallen heroes, I’ve been asked to speak at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar. There is no greater honor than helping more than 2,000 military family members remember their loved ones — the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters left behind. I’ll be including new creative and uplifting strategies I’ve discovered since writing Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. I can think of no place I’d rather be.

If you’re looking for meaningful ways to commemorate Memorial Day, the following idea is one of my favorites.

This picture is of an army jacket refashioned into a duffle bag. There are dozens of upcycling projects you can do, either by yourself (if you’re handy with needle and thread!), or with the help of a local tailor. I’ve had great success finding creative partners online.

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On Mother’s Day: Celebrating Moms Gone Too Soon

I’ve learned a critical lesson in the 20 years since my mother died: the more proactive I am about remembering her, the happier I tend to be. This is because keeping a loved one’s memory alive is absolutely essential for healing. (Read more in The Reflection Effect, my essay for O, the Oprah Magazine, here.) And because of this, Mother’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate what your mom still means to you. Below are some of my favorite ways to honor moms no longer with us.

Plant Daffodils

The idea is to plant one bulb for every year your mother lived. Daffodils are perennials, so they’ll come back spring after spring — and they’re virtually indestructible. In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, I discuss how this is a great social activity and can involve family, friends, and neighbors. Not only will you benefit from the extra hands, you’ll be able to use the time to invite conversation and share stories about your mom.

 

Buy Meaningful Gifts

As many readers and friends know, I’m super proud to be Executive Family & Memories Editor at Legacy Republic. The charm shown here features a photograph of my Aunt Ronnie, who died a few years ago of breast cancer. The necklace is by far one of my favorite Legacy Republic keepsakes. I gave it to my cousin in remembrance and in celebration of her mother. My hope is that it prompts her two young children to ask questions about their grandmother, an incredible woman they never got to know. If you want to get a meaningful keepsake for yourself or a friend, Mother’s Day deadlines are approaching fast. See more gift ideas here.

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The Best Earth Day Ideas for Remembering Loved Ones

It hasn’t seemed much like spring in New York, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Earth Day on April 22. I love the opportunity warmer weather provides for reflection. It’s an unparalleled time for taking advantage of the outdoors and finding creative ways to remember loved ones. Below are a few of my favorite ideas for using Earth Day as an occasion to celebrate the family and friends you never want to forget.

1. Create a Memory Garden

Grow your loved one’s prized flowers, treasured plants, or favorite herbs. Or simply pick combinations of these that feature his or her favorite colors. Choose a prime location for your Memory Garden so you can see and enjoy it often.  If you live in an apartment, this project can also be done with terra cotta pots. For more ideas on using flowers to strengthen memories of loved ones, please read these posts.

 

 

 

2. Fortify the Earth 

Plant a memorial tree in recognition of loved ones on Earth Day. Explore ways to do so by using websites like nationalforests.org (benefitting the National Forest Foundation) or www.worldlandtrust.org (protecting wildlife habitats worldwide). For a more hands-on experience, saplings can be planted locally. Towns across the country host ceremonies for Arbor Day (held in April, too). You can also plant a tree in your Memory Garden.

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Spring Cleaning Increases Resilience After Loss: Here’s Why

When a loved one dies, there are almost always objects and heirlooms to sort through – and then decisions to make about what to do with them. After my parents died, I felt a responsibility to keep many of their belongings – my father’s neckties, my mother’s scarves, their books, home videos, photographs, and more. And for a while, these possessions made me feel closer to my mom and dad. Surprisingly though, so did repurposing them and not keeping them at all.

Purging objects and upcyling others drives resilience after loss. Deciding what to do with belongings, instead of unceremoniously packing them away in a closet, attic, or basement, sparks a sense of control. Death makes us feel unmoored; taking ownership of what comes next makes us feel empowered. Being proactive also increases the likelihood the belongings we choose to keep will be truly meaningful to us and won’t weigh us down.

Below are five opportunities for using spring cleaning to build resilience after loss. I explore many more creative strategies for remembering and celebrating family and friends in my bookPassed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

Frame Their Handwriting — Frame a handwritten recipe or locate your loved one’s signature on a letter, car title, or passport. Doing so not only gives you the chance to sort through these items, it provides new opportunities to talk about your loved one when family and friends come to visit.

Upcycle Clothing — Reimagine your loved one’s favorite sweater, shirt, or pair of jeans. Gather a few pieces and transform them into teddy bears, throw pillows, or bean bags. Pieces of fabric can also be used to create one-of-a-kind quilts. Read my post on upcycling and how I created a quilt with my dad’s neckties.

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This Is Us and the Importance of Preserving Family Memories

If you’re a This Is Us fan like me, it will likely come as no surprise I’m still thinking about the episode that aired after the Super Bowl. Quick recap: viewers learned exactly how Milo Ventimiglia’s character, Jack, died.

The episode shows how the Pearson family remembers Jack’s death on Super Bowl Sunday 20 years before. The characters reminisce in various ways: Randall celebrates his father’s memory by having a party and making a big deal of the day (Jack loved the Super Bowl), Rebecca, Jack’s wife, prepares his favorite lasagna, while Kate, his daughter, watches a home movie of her and her father.

What struck me most, however, was the near catastrophe that happened when Kate’s VCR made a terrifying whirring sound while she viewed the tape. She’d been enjoying the video when the machine sputtered and stopped playing. Her husband attempts to fix it, but the VHS tape seems beyond repair. Kate starts crying at the possibility these images are gone forever. That video is her only copy. The couple rush to get the tape fixed, and luckily, it’s salvaged and uploaded to the Cloud.

The Great VHS Scare is a reminder that our most important memories are just one crisis away from being eternally lost. After my father died (my second parent to pass away), I started digitizing our family’s 35mm slides, 8mm film reels, and yes, VHS tapes. I began slowly at first. After several years of starting and stopping, proceeding and then being distracted by work, my children, life!, I’ve now uploaded most of these images and feel secure they’re safeguarded for my children and future generations.

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The Most Important New Year’s Resolution You Can Make

One New Year’s resolution often overlooked is making the commitment to keep our loved one’s memory alive. Being proactive is critical. Taking steps to remember builds our capacity for happiness. Loss is out of our control. Knowing we have the ability to ensure our family and friends won’t be forgotten restores some of the power we need for joy and healing.

To start 2018, here are three easy, no-cost ideas from my book, Passed and Present, to help you remember, connect, share, and embrace memories of your loved one:

1. Say Their Name Out Loud – How we talk about loved ones plays a critical role in the way we and others remember them. The more we share our memories, the more our recollections have the capacity to bring us joy. Preparing simple foods that prompt conversation is a great way to begin. A sentimental cookie recipe works just fine! The point is to lower the bar and embrace even the smallest tidbits of opportunity.

2. Celebrate Their Words – Buy a small notebook, one you can carry with you wherever you go. Jot down your loved one’s funny or poignant sayings as soon as they come to you. Consider ways you can make some of these words or phrases an indelible part of your home. Paint a little sign using those words and display it on a bookshelf. Stencil a word or saying directly on a wall.

3. Keep Doing It – What activities did you and your loved one do together? Did you enjoy hiking, cooking, skating, or visiting museums? Don’t also grieve the hobbies you and your loved one shared. Keep doing them. Try to feel your loved one with you.

And there’s always the opportunity to perpetuate your loved one’s passions. Was there a cause that brought meaning to his or her life? Volunteering is a powerful way to bring you closer to the family and friends you never want to forget.

Illustration by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Caroline Leavitt on Loss and a New Sense of Purpose

Caroline Leavitt has always occupied a special place in my heart. This incredible author has written 11 books and happens to live in the same town where I got my feet wet being a new mom, Hoboken, New Jersey, a fabulous city outside New York City. I asked Caroline to participate in my Q & A series on grief and resilience because she understands rebounding from adversity from two distinct vantage points – the death of her fiancé and the slow loss of her mother to dementia.

Caroline’s newest book, Cruel Beautiful World, has been praised by NPR Weekend Edition, New York Newsday, Marie Claire, and more.  It’s also been named an Indie Next Pick.

Now, let’s dig in. Nostalgia, the sentimental longing for the past, boosts resilience and makes us happier. This essential realization (that finding ways to stay connected to friends and family makes us stronger) is at the heart of my book, Passed and Present, Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. So, it wasn’t surprising to me that an inexpensive figurine Caroline’s fiancé gave her as a present (a Bullwinkle Moose!) doesn’t bring her down; It lifts Caroline up. …Continue Reading