Interested in learning new and creative ways to remember your loved one? Sign up for my newsletter.  

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.

[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…]

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.

[Read more…]