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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…]

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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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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Benilde Little on Her Mother’s Death, How Gladys Knight Helps Her Remember, and Why Cooking One Specific Recipe Makes Her So Happy

Benilde Little and I met years ago in Montclair, New Jersey. We belonged to a local writers’ group and our friendship grew from many shared relationships and interests. Our sons also brought us together. They’re about the same age and both play a lot of baseball. I’m also a huge fan of her work.

Benilde is the bestselling author of the novels Good Hair, The Itch, Acting Out, and Who Does She Think She Is? Most recently, she published her fearless memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown. This stirring book reveals the death of Benilde’s mother and the agonizing, nearly paralyzing, depression it caused her. Benilde’s writing ultimately explores how she dug her way through this heartbreaking time to become a better wife, mother, and friend. Her transformation is an outstanding example of the many ways adversity helps us bounce forward, as Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant tell us in Option B. I’m thrilled Benilde agreed to be part of my grief and resilience blog.

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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. [Read more…]

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Losing His Mother, the Heirloom He Adores Most, and How Staying Connected to Loved Ones and Ancestors Makes Us Stronger

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an American treasure.  The first time we met was when I interviewed him for “The Reflection Effect,” an essay I wrote for O, the Oprah Magazine about the power of nostalgia to drive happiness and build resilience after loss.  As host of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Professor Gates steadfastly believes embracing the past has the life-altering capacity to bring enormous joy.
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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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Emily Rapp Black on Losing Her Son and How Grief Fuels Her Creative, Writing Life

Emily Rapp Black lost her son when he was nearly 3 years old. Ronan died of Tay-Sachs disease, a rare genetic disorder that slowly and irreversibly destroyed his nervous system. Emily wrote her New York Times bestselling memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, as a means to grapple with her unimaginable grief.

I first met Emily when she responded to a guest blog post I wrote about my book Parentless Parents.  Emily’s son had been diagnosed with this always-fatal illness when she told me she’d already discovered an unexpected and extraordinary lesson. “As a writer,” she reflected, “I was shocked to discover that the experience of horrible grief actually galvanized me to write in a way I had not in years.” Emily, without warning, had hit on an essential truth about grief and resilience: our deepest sorrow can spark tremendous creativity and fuel our capacity to rebound and move forward.

Emily is now an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at UC-Riverside and her latest book, Casa Azul Cripple, is coming out in 2018. The book explores the intersection of pain, art, and disability through the life and work of Frida Kahlo.

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Christina Baker Kline on Losing Her Mom, Leaning on Her Sisters, and Why Talking About Complicated Relationships Helps

This month’s Q&A on grief and resilience is very special to me. I got to speak with #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline. Her latest book, A Piece of the World, is out right now. Go get a copy! This fantastic story is about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World.

Christina and I have been friends for more than a decade. We worked together on my second book, Always Too Soon, and it’s her name alongside mine on the cover. Ever since that exciting time, I’ve been in awe of Christina’s writing (she’s also the author of The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines) and thrilled to be part of her life.

In our conversation, Christina talks about the loss of her mother and how traveling, purchasing art, and eating cornbread and grits keeps her memory alive. These themes echo the essential lesson in Passed and Present: that being proactive about remembering loved ones drives resilience, sparks creativity, and brings remarkable joy.

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Caroline Leavitt on Loss and a New Sense of Purpose

Caroline Leavitt has always occupied a special place in my heart. This incredible author has written 11 books and happens to live in the same town where I got my feet wet being a new mom, Hoboken, New Jersey, a fabulous city outside New York City. I asked Caroline to participate in my Q & A series on grief and resilience because she understands rebounding from adversity from two distinct vantage points – the death of her fiancé and the slow loss of her mother to dementia.

Caroline’s newest book, Cruel Beautiful World, has been praised by NPR Weekend Edition, New York Newsday, Marie Claire, and more.  It’s also been named an Indie Next Pick.

Now, let’s dig in. Nostalgia, the sentimental longing for the past, boosts resilience and makes us happier. This essential realization (that finding ways to stay connected to friends and family makes us stronger) is at the heart of my book, Passed and Present, Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. So, it wasn’t surprising to me that an inexpensive figurine Caroline’s fiancé gave her as a present (a Bullwinkle Moose!) doesn’t bring her down; It lifts Caroline up. [Read more…]