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How to Help A Friend Who’s Lost a Loved One

A few years ago, a writer I’ve long admired published a book I recommend every chance I get. How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, an important and relatable work by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, explores this essential yet often overlooked landscape with tenderness and humor. It reads like a guidebook, providing a helpful roadmap whenever individuals are called upon to lend support to a friend in crisis.

I wrote Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive to enhance the capacity of readers to remember and celebrate the family and friends they never want to forget. But men and women across the globe have told me the book also makes a great gift – they give it to friends who are helping their friends navigate the pain of loss.

Like Pogrebin, I recognize most friends want to be useful when needed but frequently find it difficult to know what to say or how to act.

Here are two opportunities for helping a friend who’s lost someone he or she dearly loved. You can find 85 creative and inspiring ideas in Passed and Present.

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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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Transitioning from passive mourning to active remembering is key to building resilience after loss

Option B Journalism piece by Allison GilbertIf you’re lucky, like me, soon after your loved one dies, a swarm of friends will embrace you in all sorts of meaningful ways. They’ll pack the funeral home, attend the wake or shiva, and a few may even leave homemade meals wrapped in tin foil by your front door so you won’t have to cook for a while. Rituals surrounding loss tend to kick into gear automatically and I benefitted from being the passive recipient of support when each of my parents passed away. Yet my greatest fortune ultimately caused me the most pain…Continue Reading

5 Ways Spring Cleaning Can Help You Build Resilience After Loss

After my parents died, I felt a responsibility to hang on to nearly all their belongings – my father’s neckties, my mother’s scarves, their mortgage records, car titles, passports, books, home videos, photographs, and more. For a while, keeping these possessions made me feel closer to my mom and dad. But years later, doing so became a burden and certainly didn’t bring me pleasure. Over time, I figured out that repurposing objects, or simply parting with them, made me feel happier and more connected.

Purging objects (and upcyling others) enhances our connection to loved ones and drives our sense of resilience…Continue Reading

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…]

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…]

Gretchen Rubin Reflects on Memories, Resilience, and Happiness

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect me to feature New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin on my blog.  After all, I focus on grief and resilience and Gretchen tackles all facets of habits and happiness.  Gretchen’s written the groundbreaking books, The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and she also hosts the popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.  Her forthcoming book, The Four Tendencies (about the personality framework she’s discovered) comes out September 12, 2017.  Mark your calendars!  But Gretchen is actually the best person to highlight this time of year!

Being proactive about remembering loved ones can make us happier.  I call this positive and transformational concept the “Reflection Effect” and I write about it in O, the Oprah Magazine, and it’s at the heart of my book, Passed and Present, Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.  So, it’s with this in mind that I turned to Gretchen to find out how she’s derived joy and meaning from life after the loss of her beloved grandparents.  As we spoke about resiliency and overcoming her personal losses, she also shared the importance of keeping a few cherished mementos and how certain smells (hot dogs!) spark comforting memories. [Read more…]