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Rachel Thomas, President of LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org, Discusses Sheryl Sandberg, Helping Grieving Friends During the Holidays, and #OptionBThere

What an honor it is for me to feature this conversation with Rachel Thomas, President of LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org. Rachel works side by side with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on these two groundbreaking, sweeping initiatives. Ever since I heard about OptionB (the online community) and Option B (the book, co-written by Sandberg with bestselling author and psychologist Adam Grant), I’ve been awestruck by Sandberg’s indefatigable commitment to empower and lift individuals up. In particular, I’m deeply moved by her readiness to harness personal loss (her husband died suddenly while they were on vacation in 2015) into a global movement helping those who are grieving and suffering other forms of life-altering adversity. I’m proud to have written this piece for the launch of OptionB, as well as this post on my blog.

OptionB.org has just launched a new initiative, #OptionBThere. The program is the first of its kind. The goal of #OptionBThere is to help individuals be there for friends and family facing setbacks of any kind this holiday season. Rachel says the program has helped her personally.

“I’ve often worried about offering support in the wrong way,” she admits. “Getting this campaign off the ground has been a real eye opener for me. Even if my words are clumsy, I realize now I don’t have to be perfect. I feel freer to offer support because I don’t worry about getting it wrong. I just have to acknowledge what would otherwise be the elephant in the room.”

I’m so thrilled Rachel joined me for this Q & A on my grief & resilience blog. Oh, and did I mention we went to Georgetown University together?!

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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.

5 Meaningful Gifts for $100 or Less

This post was created in partnership with NFDA.

Giving gifts to help friends remember loved ones is especially thoughtful. Far from being an unwelcome reminder of loss (during the holidays it’s likely to be top of mind anyway), offering presents that acknowledges their grief demonstrates incredible kindness and compassion. It shows you recognize the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be especially difficult.

So what kinds of gifts are most meaningful? Here are five ideas, all $100 or less:

1. Create a Memory Garden

Help your friend start a Memory Garden in honor of their loved one. First, buy packets of seeds. Flowers, plants, and herbs all work. Second, place the envelopes inside a wicker basket, adding several “Love Rocks” to make the presentation even more special.

“Love Rocks” are easy and inexpensive to make. All you have to do is take a piece of fabric and cut it into the shape of a heart. Next, glue the fabric heart onto a smooth stone with craft adhesive. If the stones are likely to be used outdoors, make sure to use acrylic sealer. Make the entire project even more poignant by using cloth that once belonged to their loved one – strips of fabric taken from a favorite shirt, pair of jeans, even a necktie. For more ideas on using flowers to strengthen memories of loved ones, please read these posts. I also write about the concept in, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

2. Preserve Their Handwriting 

Forget Me Not 31

Locate a handwritten recipe or letter written by your friend’s loved one. Get it framed or transfer the image onto a piece of pottery. You can find lovely options at Prairie Hills Pottery. The accompanying photograph is the plate Prairie Hills made for me by using my grandmother’s “famous” coffee cake recipe. I adore it!

Preserving handwriting is a nod to a loved one’s enduring legacy. The additional upside of designing a decorative piece is that it doubles as a great conversation starter. Whenever company visits, your friend will have the opportunity to talk about his or her loved one and say their name out loud.

3. Embrace the Present

We honor loved ones by talking about them. We also pay tribute by celebrating the loving relationships that remain.

One great way to embrace family and friends after a significant loss is to use the National Funeral Directors Association and Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards. There are 50 cards to a deck and each one is printed with a different question. Questions like: Who has been the most influential person in your life? For what are you most grateful? The cards facilitate meaningful discussions and create unrivaled opportunities for sharing stories.

The best part?! Thanks to the Funeral Service Foundation, the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards are FREE. The deck makes a perfect stocking stuffer or small holiday gift. Request your free deck of cards here.

4. Preserve & Share Memories

Loss can be overwhelming… so is deciding what to do with all those VHS tapes, slides, film reels, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Help your friend remember and celebrate their loved one by preserving and sharing their memories.

Legacy Republic has created several Memory Makeover Kits to make digitizing media as simple as possible. The “Shoebox Kit” is $100 and holds up to four items, including videotapes, film reels, slides, photos, and negatives. All your friend has to do is put the items in one of Legacy Republic’s packing boxes and ship it off to one of its Memory Factories. In just a few weeks, your friend will be able to access their memories on a secure online account and order beautiful, decorative keepsakes for their home.

For more on Legacy Republic and how photographs fuel happiness and healing, read these blogs.

5. Make Sculptures from Meaningful Objects

If your friend’s loved one adored painting, gardening, or cooking, take one of their old paintbrushes, gardening tools, or kitchen gadgets and transform it into a permanent sculpture. The design process is straightforward: an artist drills a hole into the bottom of the object and then a steel rod with an attached base is screwed into place. One sculpture works well. A cluster makes a statement.

Create a custom gift by visiting 106 Vintage Co. on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/106vintageco.

Make gift-giving this holiday season an opportunity to support friends and family members who are grieving. Acknowledge their losses. Invite them to share their memories. They will feel loved, understood, and validated. And of all the gifts you can give them, that may be the greatest one of all.

Julia Scheeres on the Loss of Her Brother and the Healing Power of One Very Special Stuffed Animal

November 18 marks the anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.  In 1978, Jim Jones orchestrated the deaths of more than 900 people, all Americans.  The individuals who built Jonestown, the Peoples Temple settlement in Guyana, went to South America in search of a better life. But over time they were held against their will as Jones urged them to commit “revolutionary suicide.” He denied them access to the outside world and eventually, food, sleep, and any dream of escape.

The tragedy was first considered a mass suicide.  But author Julia Scheeres, in her gripping book, A Thousand Lives, reports that the children living in Jonestown were given no choice and that many adults felt pressured to take their own lives and didn’t do so voluntarily.

Julia came to this book from a rather unique vantage point. When she and her adopted brother, David, were teenagers, they were sent to a Christian boarding school. In Jesus Land, her memoir about the experience, Julia recounts the abuse they suffered in the name of religion.

A few years after Julia and her brother were released from the school, David was killed in a car accident. Her journey finding resilience after this unimaginable loss is illuminating and inspiring. I’m so honored Julia joined me for this Q &A on my grief and resilience blog. [Read more…]

Making and Sharing Halloween Memories

Yup, that’s me. A little devil. This photo brings back joyful memories of Halloweens past. I’ve tried to make October 31 equally special for my kids. Part of this effort was taking them to a jaw-dropping event when they were small (they’re teenagers now and generally prep themselves for the big day). Recently, my best friend from high school visited me with her two young sons. Their stay was the perfect excuse to revisit this enormous, one-of-a-kind Halloween extravaganza.

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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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Dani Shapiro on Loss, Religion, and Honoring Her Father Through Writing

As I sit down to write this blog, it’s odd for me to admit that I don’t remember when I met Dani Shapiro. I just know I’ve admired her work for a very long time. Her writing is provocative and elegant. There are few authors I admire more.

Dani is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion. She’s been a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. Her most recent book, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, has received significant attention and praise. Cheryl Strayed has said she was “absorbed by Hourglass and consoled by it too.” I’m honored Dani joined me for this discussion on my grief and resilience blog.

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How to Help A Friend Who’s Lost a Loved One

A few years ago, a writer I’ve long admired published a book I recommend every chance I get. How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, an important and relatable work by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, explores this essential yet often overlooked landscape with tenderness and humor. It reads like a guidebook, providing a helpful roadmap whenever individuals are called upon to lend support to a friend in crisis.

I wrote Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive to enhance the capacity of readers to remember and celebrate the family and friends they never want to forget. But men and women across the globe have told me the book also makes a great gift – they give it to friends who are helping their friends navigate the pain of loss.

Like Pogrebin, I recognize most friends want to be useful when needed but frequently find it difficult to know what to say or how to act.

Here are two opportunities for helping a friend who’s lost someone he or she dearly loved. You can find 85 creative and inspiring ideas in Passed and Present.

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How Tapping Into Creativity Boosts Happiness

This post was created in partnership with Jean Mellano, author of Slipped Away.

Jean Mellano wrote Slipped Away after the love of her life, Steve Tarpinian, took his own life. Together for 33 years, Jean’s memoir reads less like a book about suicide and more like a private love letter.

The most remarkable part of the book, at least to me, is that she includes remembrances from other people who also adored Steve — his colleagues, students, and members of his beloved triathlon community. And then she published it. Without an agent. Without a book deal. A self-published endeavor that keeps Steve’s memory alive.

Harnessing creativity (of all kinds, not just with writing) is an uplifting and empowering path to finding resilience after loss. I explore 85 inspiring opportunities for remembering and celebrating loved ones in Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. Self-publishing is just one outstanding idea. So is making a film. Read on for more strategies. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to pursue your own passion project in celebration of your loved one.

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Robin Romm Discusses the Loss of Her Mother and How Writing and Having a Baby Keeps Her Memory Alive

I’ve had a writer’s crush on Robin Romm ever since I read her scorching memoir, The Mercy Papers. The book is about the last three weeks of her mother’s life. It is unsentimental and raw, ricocheting furiously between anger, sadness, love, and humor. I’m always asked to recommend books on mother loss. The Mercy Papers continually tops my list.

Robin has just published another work and it’s altogether different. It’s called Double Bind: Women on Ambition. Featuring essays written by writers, actors, professors, and CEOs, the anthology explores the complicated relationship women have with professional striving.

In our conversation about grief and resilience, Robin returns to the subject of loss and reveals the most satisfying and empowering way she keeps her mother’s memory alive.

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