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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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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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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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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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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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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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