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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

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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Celebrating the Holidays with a Very Special Keepsake

My aunt died not too long after my mother passed away. Dying relatively young (my mother was 56; Ronnie was 60), neither woman had the chance to meet her grandchildren. It’s a loss my cousin’s children (pictured above with their dad as well) won’t fully appreciate until they’re older and begin to ask questions about their Grandma Ronnie.

This holiday I’m going to celebrate my aunt’s memory by helping my niece and nephew slowly get to know their maternal grandmother. I’ve decided to surprise my cousin with a very special and meaningful gift. (Do me a favor? Don’t send her this post!)

Legacy Republic, where I work as Executive Family & Memories Editor, has created the below keepsake for me. The charm features a picture of my aunt taken at my cousin’s wedding. I think my cousin will enjoy wearing it, keeping her mother close to her heart. But she may choose not to wear it at all. Instead, my cousin may wrap the chain and charm around the handlebars of her stroller or perhaps the base of a lamp in her living room. Any way she enjoys it, one upside is certain: the charm will spark conversations about Ronnie, and opportunities to gradually, and age-appropriately, share stories about her, too.

Legacy Republic is busy creating photo charms and other customized photo gifts for the holidays. The deadline to send along a photo to ensure on-time Christmas delivery is this Sunday, December 10th. View Legacy Republic’s many other wonderful present ideas here.

Make This Thanksgiving the Best, Most Meaningful Yet

This post was created in partnership with NFDA.

A funeral director once told me the number one regret he hears at memorial services. It wasn’t, as I expected, that individuals wished they’d spent more time with loved ones – having one more birthday dinner or going to one last baseball game. The leading cause of remorse was all the questions they never asked, the conversations they pushed off because they believed there’d always be time.

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Photographs Fuel Happiness. Here’s How.

On my grief and resilience blog, I write extensively about innovative ways photographs can be used to remember and celebrate family and friends we never want to forget. Pictures spark memories, and feelings of nostalgia can make us happier. I call this little known upside of nostalgia the Reflection Effect, and I wrote about the phenomenon for O, the Oprah Magazine. But looking at photographs isn’t the only tool for embracing the past. Another great opportunity is taking photos. Here are some fun and creative ideas for using photos to make you happier:

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Hope Edelman on Being a Motherless Daughter, Her Mother’s Cookbook, and the Surprising Way Her Daughter Stays Connected to the Grandmother She Never Knew

In March 1996, just a few weeks after my mother died, I was given a copy of Hope Edelman’s pioneering book, Motherless Daughters. How could this book exist?! I thought to myself. Hope put into words what I was unable to articulate myself. Yes, I was a daughter without a mother and that’s why I hurt so much.

Hope’s mother died of breast cancer when she was in high school. After the overwhelming success of her first book, she went on to write many other influential works, including Letters from Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers. In quick order, she became an icon to many motherless daughters, including me. She’d suffered early, and hard, and came out the other side a well-adjusted and happy wife and mother of two beautiful girls. If she could thrive after loss, so could we. …Continue Reading

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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