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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.

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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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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Gwyneth Paltrow and Lessons I’ve Learned From Her Kitchen

Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot to teach us about food and using it to keep the memory of loved ones alive, especially important I think around the holidays.

In her cookbook My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness, the Oscar-winning actress writes why cooking is so important to her: “I always feel closest to my father, who was the love of my life until his death in 2002, when I am in the kitchen,” she explains.

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Holiday Giving with Loved Ones in Mind

Maybe your shopping is finished. Chanukah, after all, is already in progress. If you’re searching for a few final things, I’d like to suggest two meaningful gift-giving ideas that will help keep the memory of your loved one alive. I’ll have more next week.

Make a Game of It

Given how much we can do with technology these days, it would be a shame to not harness its benefits for children. Personalize a deck of cards with photographs of living family members and those you’ve lost. By integrating all your loved ones, children are seamlessly taught to value every relationship in their lives.

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A Refresh and a Reveal

As holiday decorations go up and lights twinkle in every direction I have something new and sparkly to share with you as well…two somethings, actually.

I’m thrilled to unveil my new website!  It’s not radically different. In fact, I intentionally refreshed rather than tossed.  My intent is for you to get a sense of renewal (New Year’s is almost here!) while still feeling cozy in familiar surroundings.  Please take a few moments to wander around, get comfortable, and if you don’t mind the blatant request, share it with at least one friend.

My second bit of news is actually rather big — the announcement of my forthcoming book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, coming Spring 2016.

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CNN.com Travel: How to Give Back on Your Next Getaway

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is inspiring people across the country to volunteer this holiday weekend.

But if you’re itching to do more — perhaps turning your next family vacation into a series of teachable moments about the importance of giving back — there are plenty of opportunities to make that happen….Continue Reading

 

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