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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:

Use Photos Intentionally, Amplify Their Power

Loss brings a flurry of emotions and oftentimes an avalanche of papers, books, jewelry, clothing, and photo albums. Rearranging objects and taking them out of their original context can be a game changer in how remembering makes us feel. Bit by bit, remembering can and should feel good.

This is why a few days I ago I felt compelled to do something I’d never done before: I uploaded photographs to Legacy Republic and created a photo cube with snapshots of my family, making sure to include images of living family members and those who’ve died. The most visible picture (shown above) is of my father and me at the pool. There’s also a great shot of Mom and me at the beach. I included both my parents because my kids never got to know them. My mother died before they were born and my father passed away when my son, my oldest, was just 18-months old. By integrating all my loved ones, I’m teaching my children an essential lesson — that absence and presence can coexist. Recognizing this tends to decrease pain associated with loss and boost feelings of gratitude and joy.

Take a Photography Class, Focus on Grief

The act of taking photos can also be enormously healing. What’s Your Grief offers a six-week online photography course for individuals coping with loss. Instructors Eleanor Haley and Litsa Williams, founders of the pioneering platform, believe photography helps participants express emotion. They also believe that taking pictures of poignant symbols (or objects found at home or in nature) helps keep memories of loved ones alive. It’s that renewed sense of connection, they say, that fuels post-loss happiness.

Hire a Photographer, Create Commemorative Art

Eyeglasses, 2017, Mindy Stricke

If you’re less of a Do It Yourselfer, then consider working with photographer Mindy Stricke. As part of her extraordinary Memory Landscapes series, Mindy creates bold, highly imaginative photographs of sentimental objects. Items are shot in extreme close-up so they become abstract shocks of color, virtually unrecognizable. Items have included a bathrobe, eyeglasses, baseball, and wrench.

Each photograph is informed by an in-depth conversation between Mindy and her client. “Instead of asking questions about the person’s grief, I’m asking questions about their happiest memories,” Mindy tells me. “The image that is produced is less a reflection of their grief and more a reflection of their important and enduring  relationship.”

Mindy works with personal mementos as well as carefuly chosen objects that reflect an individual’s interestes and passions.

Father’s Day Musings: Thoughts On Remembering Dads Gone Too Soon and One Exceptional Idea for Celebrating Fathers Still With Us

This post was created in partnership with NFDA.

Ten years ago on The Huffington Post, I shared the eulogy I gave at my father’s funeral. The speech was unusual – a Top 10 List of our most unusual father-daughter relationship quirks. I was moved to share my reflections because I hoped they’d stir future conversations with my children. When my dad died, just three days after September 11, my son was 18-months-old. My daughter wasn’t born.

In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, I reveal 85 ideas for remembering and celebrating the family and friends we never want to forget. Writing stories down (and making sure to share them, too) is just one powerful tool. My son and daughter, now teenagers, have read my reflections and have a better sense of their grandfather as a result. Other strategies include Building a Refuge and Turning My Father’s Ties Into a Quilt.

With Father’s Day upon us, here are a few more creative and uplifting opportunities for remembering and honoring our dads.

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My Next Move: Surging Forward By Looking Back

After I graduated college, and for the next twenty years, I worked as a television news producer in New York. Never would I have imagined a career transition into writing full-time, yet the early deaths of my parents (my mother died when she was 56, my father passed away when he was 63) pushed me into unanticipated terrain.

My sorrow drove me to write. And giving myself time to investigate subjects that were increasingly important to me (cancer prevention and preventative surgery because both my parents died of cancer) made me happier. It also propelled me into writing books about grief and the unobvious ways embracing the past helps individuals and families thrive.

Grief experts have long argued that sustaining connections to loved ones is essential for moving forward. This concrete roadmap for healing is what gave me the idea for Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, and it’s why I’m relishing my decision to become Executive Family & Memories Editor for a company I really adore. It’s called Legacy Republic.

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Sheryl Sandberg on Losing Her Husband, Embracing Option B, and the Importance of Finding Support and Community

Sheryl Sandberg was married to Dave Goldberg for 11 years when she found him lying by an elliptical machine in a small pool of blood. They were on vacation in Mexico celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday when Goldberg went to the resort’s gym to workout. His heart failed. When Sandberg found him, his face was already faintly blue. [Read more…]

Why Writing About Grief Is An Uplifting Experience

You might assume I’d be the last person you’d want to meet at a cocktail party. And, really, who’d blame you? I’ve written four books about grief and loss, and yet I’ve been told, quite lovingly, I’m really fun to be around. My husband has often said that if he had to sum me up in one word he’d choose, “passionate.” I really like that description. You might even call me bubbly.

Each book I’ve written is the result of successfully pushing through an unwanted experience and using that moment for something more powerful than anger and self-pity. [Read more…]

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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Preparing Your Best Holiday Playlist Ever, and a Secret About My Family

Now is the perfect time to create your best holiday playlist ever, songs to accompany all your upcoming dinners and celebrations. “Music is one of the strongest tethers we have to the past,” Kenneth Bilby, a former director at the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago in Chicago, tells me. “It’s a critically important carrier of memory.” It’s with this notion in mind that I’m revealing a story about my family I’ve never shared. I hope you find it helpful as you plan your holiday playlist.

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Making Meaningful Halloween Decorations

After my grandfather died, my grandmother took a ceramics class.  She got out of it exactly what she needed — distraction, friendship, and a sense that she could be happy and engaged once again.  Grandma made more than a dozen pieces, and not too long ago, I did something I thought I’d never do:  I gave them a creepy Halloween makeover.

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Surprising Fall Opportunity

One of the most uplifting gifts I’ve ever heard of giving someone in a time of loss is a wicker basket full of daffodil bulbs. The idea is for the recipient to plant one bulb for every year the loved one lived. Daffodils are the perfect flower for such a happiness-inducing project: as perennials, they’ll come back spring after spring—and they’re virtually indestructible. And, the best time of year to plant daffodils is the fall!

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The Healing Power of Retracing Your Steps

Have you ever heard “These Foolish Things”? The song recounts a long list of sights, sounds, and objects that conjure up memories of loved ones. Take a listen here.  With a nod to this popular standard, go back to that restaurant you enjoyed together. Return to the hotel. And if, for you, this idea involves getting into nature, consider the enormous emotional benefits I write about in Passed and Present that stem from being outdoors (Forget Me Not #85).

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