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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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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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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…]

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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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…]

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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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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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…]