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How Orange is the New Black’s Alysia Reiner Uses Her Star Power to Honor Her Father’s Memory

What a thrill for me to feature actress Alysia Reiner in this Q & A! You no doubt know Alysia from her role as “Fig” in Orange is the New Black. She also stars in the movie Egg, alongside her husband David Alan Basche (The Blacklist, NCIS), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), and Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect).

During our talk, Alysia revealed that her decision to sign on as one of the film’s producers was prompted, at least in part, by the death of her father. Our conversation is especially meaningful to me because not only have Alysia and I both lost our dads, but we also went to high school together.

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Making Meaning and Purpose Out of Tragedy

On 9/11, I was a television news producer for NBC New York. Dispatched to the World Trade Center, I was covered by debris when the second tower collapsed and taken to Bellevue Hospital. ER doctors cut off my clothes to assess my injuries and tubes were put down my throat to help me breathe. I thought I was pregnant. (To round out the week, my father died of cancer that Friday, September 14, 2001.)

Yet I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

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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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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

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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Jon Stewart on Grief, Resilience, and Supporting Those Who Serve Others

Jon Stewart’s father passed away several years ago. But the former The Daily Show host’s personal experience with loss is not what prompted our discussion for my grief & resilience blog. Jon and I were in Arlington, Virginia to join Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and founder of TAPS, Bonnie Carroll, for the launch of the TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing. Also with us were authors Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith, and Rebecca Soffer. Read more about this pioneering organization and its new Institute here.

Jon is a staunch supporter of service members, veterans, and military families. He is also a tireless advocate for first responders and is credited with being a driving force behind getting Congress to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The Zadroga Act provides health care and financial support for 9/11 first responders. These men and women breathed in toxic dust and smoke during the massive cleanup at Ground Zero. According to John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, more than 7,000 first responders have developed cancer (as certified by the government) and nearly 2,000 have died.

Jon has spoken at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and USO events and he’s visited with troops overseas. Most impressively, he’s used his singular platform to hold America accountable for the care of those who have served and suffered.

Our conversation was intimate and far-reaching. He also spoke with WTOP radio and Connecting Vets about the significance of the new Institute. Below is an edited compilation of the most important portions of these discussions.

Allison: Why have you chosen to talk so openly about grief and resilience?
Jon: Grief and illness are really isolating when they occur. Unfortunately, when people go through tough times many choose not to reach out for help or don’t know what to do. There’s so much confusion. Individuals may even wonder if they’re grieving the “right” way. [Note: there is no “right” way to grieve that works for everyone.] And while everybody experiences loss, too few know how to grieve so they can hold tight to their loved one’s memory while making the best of the time they still have in front of them. (You can learn 85 strategies for honoring and remembering family and friends by reading my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.) Sadly, this is one of those fields where TAPS has an incredible wealth of experience and compassion.

Allison: What inspired you to lend your voice to the launch of TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing?
Jon: I’ve done a bunch of work with the USO and military families at Walter Reed and Fisher House. I’d become aware of TAPS through that. Yet even amongst injured or ill veterans, there is a separate area for Gold Star families or other military families who have experienced loss. There’s a divide, even within communities that have each other’s backs in an enormous way – and there’s no community better than the veterans’ community with each other. But man, grief is still this really strange area, this taboo that I think is really tough for people to think about. And Bonnie, to her great credit, used her loss as a springboard to be there for others who are in that same situation. It’s incredible what she’s been able to build.

Allison: I’m sure you get asked to lend your voice to many charities. Why first responders and the military?
Jon: I’m drawn to supporting people who give of themselves so selflessly. It’s an unusual individual who, when you hear the sounds of trouble, actually moves towards it, rather than away from it. I’m generally in the “I just have to be faster than the least fastest person’ category.

I’m also struck by the stoicism within these communities. Members of the military and their families don’t often reach out for help when they need it. And I think too often we depend on them, and yet when the time comes for them to depend on us, we’re not there for them. So I try to help push along the idea that the least we can do for them is repay their service and selflessness with support.

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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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