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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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New York Times Bestselling Author Peggy Orenstein on Whether Grief Ever Goes Away

Peggy Orenstein is out with her latest book, Boys & Sex, an analysis of young men and their views on relationships, porn, love, and consent. The book is a follow-up to her New York Times best seller Girls & Sex. And because Orenstein is still on tour promoting her book, I was thrilled she agreed to sit down with me to reveal her thoughts about a much different, equally intimate topic: the death of her mother.

During our conversation, Orenstein struck me when she admitted to feeling a special connection to individuals who find themselves in similar positions. “I feel I have an ongoing relationship with people who’ve also suffered the loss of a parent because I’ve survived. Because I didn’t die.” I’m especially grateful to bring you our Q&A.

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Remembering Loved Ones Through Their Handwriting

This photo highlights such an innovative idea – using a loved one’s handwriting to decorate a kitchen wall. In this picture, a cherished recipe takes center stage. What do you think?

Handwriting is such a personal and intimate tether to our loved ones. Whenever I see notes written by my mother or father I feel an extra surge of connection. Here are a few additional ideas for keeping family and friends close by harnessing the power of their own words:

Jewelry
Engrave a piece of jewelry. Create a one-of-a-kind charm, pendant, even a pair of cufflinks. Simply take your loved one’s signature to your local jeweler and he or she will do the rest!

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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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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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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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MariaShriver.com: 5 Ways Spring Cleaning Can Help You Build Resilience After Loss

After my parents died, I felt a responsibility to hang on to nearly all their belongings – my father’s neckties, my mother’s scarves, their mortgage records, car titles, passports, books, home videos, photographs, and more. For a while, keeping these possessions made me feel closer to my mom and dad. But years later, doing so became a burden and certainly didn’t bring me pleasure. Over time, I figured out that repurposing objects, or simply parting with them, made me feel happier and more connected.

Purging objects (and upcyling others) enhances our connection to loved ones and drives our sense of resilience…Continue Reading

My 5 Favorite Ways to Remember Loved Ones

I’ve discovered fantastic opportunities for remembering and celebrating my loved ones. And I want you to know them, too. My search for fun and practical ideas started because my mom and dad died pretty young, and then my aunt and uncle passed away a few years later. The strategies I’ve found take advantage of every sense — concepts that harness the power of what I taste, see, smell, touch, and hear.

Whether it was last year or decades ago that you lost someone close to your heart, there are numerous concrete ways to celebrate what they still mean to you. In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, I reveal 85 fun and innovative strategies for remembering and honoring those we never want to forget. I call these uplifting concepts Forget Me Nots. Here are five of my favorites.

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