This book is not about sadness and grieving. These pages are about happiness and remembering. It is possible to look forward, to live a rich and joyful life, while keeping the memory of loved ones alive.
The book contains eighty-five “forget-me-nots,” specific ideas to create a memorial to your loved one. Some are as simple as planting daffodils and others will require more effort, such as building a refuge. These unique ideas are designed to help you be proactive in remembering your loved ones on a daily basis. The wide variety of forget-me-nots ensures that there is something for everyone.
Allison lost her parents twenty years ago as a young woman. After the memorial services for them, friends and family shared stories often, but gradually as they refocused on their own lives, Allison began to feel more isolated in her grief. Not to mention she was left with many decisions.
What should I do with all my parents’ belongings—my mother’s jewelry, her scarves, my father’s massive assortment of neckties? And how about the nearly endless piles of inherited clutter—the random collections of loose papers, official documents, silverware, dishes, gardening tools, photo albums, VHS tapes, film reels, and 35 mm slides? What should I keep? Where do I even start? For years, I struggled. Not only with my parents’ and other family members’ belongings, but with how to talk about them and when. Outside Thanksgiving and other set occasions, I hesitated to bring them up in conversation.
Anecdotes I told my children seemed heavy or forced, and I didn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. In some respects, because techniques for honoring and celebrating loved ones are seldom discussed, I felt lonelier at that later time than when my parents died. And now, after comparing my experience with my work with the bereaved, I realize this unspoken reality seems to hold true for many people—whether you’re missing a spouse, friend, sibling, aunt, uncle, parent, or child.
Allison gradually realized that if she wanted to keep the memories of her parents alive, it would be up to her. She needed to be proactive and so she began her journey of discovering ways to celebrate and remember not only the lives of her parents, but also her grandparents and a beloved uncle.
All of this took effort, but I noticed it was working; I felt closer to my parents, and my children were developing a stronger connection to their grandparents—even without having known them. I was also happier. The more I incorporated memories into my year round life—as opposed to sectioning them off to a particular time of year—the more I was able to embrace every part of me: the people who have passed, and all that’s good and fulfilling in my present. This realization was exciting to me, and made me feel less alone. Gradually, I began to notice similar thinking in practice everywhere, just never in the same place.
Allison began gathering ideas from others who had experienced loss. She interviewed experts on grief and counseling. She experimented with her own children and made connections with numerous artisans. The result is “Passed and Present,” a practical guide to remembering.
My mother, sister, and I made quilts from my dad’s distinctive jeans and shirts.
Every time I wrap up in my quilt, I feel closer to him and it’s the closest thing to a hug I can have.
I made copies of the scrapbook I had made for him of his childhood and gave to my children for Christmas. I also gave them a pillow made from extra quilt blocks to help them remember their grandfather. Each of these simple acts made a difference in my healing and my remembering.
I’ve often wondered what I could give to grieving friends and family members. “Passed and Present” will now be my gift. The “forget-me-nots’ can be used in many ways and at many times in life. Allison categorizes her book into four sections: Inherited objects, Technology, Monthly Guide, and Places to Go. She recognizes that not all of us are artists or good with technology, so she includes information on professionals that can create a keepsake for us. She shares many experiences from other well known individuals, so “Passed and Present” is a compendium of ideas. Many of the forget-me-nots inspired me and here is a favorite in each category.
Inherited Objects: Forget-me-not # 5 “Cultivate a shrine”
Allison turns to Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author, for explanation of this idea. In her new book, “Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life,” Gretchen describes arranging keepsakes gleaned from her grandparent’s house.
In a little-used cabinet in my kitchen, I came across the china pink flamingo that I’d taken as a keepsake from my grandparents’ house after my grandmother died. An unlikely object, but I’d admired it so much as a child that it seemed like the thing I should keep. I took it down and set it on a bookshelf alongside the glass bluebird that my other grandmother had given me.
As I looked at the two bird figurines, it struck me as poignant that my long relationship with my beloved grandparents could be embodied in a few small objects. But the power of objects doesn’t depend on their volume; in fact, my memories were better evoked by a few carefully chosen items . . . That flamingo and that bluebird brought back my grandparents . . . I didn’t need anything more.
After my dad’s passing, my mother moved to a much a smaller home. She needed to give away much of her fifty year accumulation. I came home with several boxes of keepsakes of every kind. I spent the next few days finding places in my home to display the things that held so many memories for me, like these vases that belonged to my grandmother. My grandmother started my library with the gift of a book each birthday and Christmas, so it is fitting that the vases found their way to one of my bookshelves.
Allison said it perfectly in “Passed and Present”:
You’ll notice that objects that once seemed insignificant on their own become imbued with a deep sense of meaning once they’re given a special place . . .It’s easier to let go of possessions that don’t matter if we carefully, lovingly, and artfully draw attention to those that do.
Technology: Forget-me-not #33 Be Creative with Video
I inherited this video collection a few years ago. Our family is incredibly blessed that my mother purchased a little Brownie movie camera and started taking family home movies in the 1950’s. When video cameras came along in the 1990’s my dad bought one and at every family gathering had the camera out capturing the cousins playing, interviews, and birthday parties.
We had all of the VHS tapes transferred to DVD and put musical sound tracks to everything. But, in our fast paced world, small bites of video would be much easier to share on social media and so I appreciated Allison’s take on video:
To intensify the viewing experience, don’t play home movies raw. Instead, edit them to make them shorter and more digestible
Lay down a soundtrack. Since music helps create mood, use a vocal or instrumental piece you find particularly evocative.
Add subtitles to identify people, places, and important dates. This makes watching more entertaining and underscores critical information. It also ensures details aren’t lost for future generations.
And finally, when your new social-media friendly videos are ready, launch a YouTube channel. Watching home movies is great; sharing them with friends and family just amplifies the experience.
Monthly Guide: Forget-me-not # 75 “November- Honor Their Service”
I posted last year on Veteran’s Day honoring the veterans in my life, but I realized that there is more I could do with this day of remembering.
My dad left some pictures and a little about his experiences in WWII, but I need to research more and discover a better way to give meaning to this part of his life.
On Veterans Day, use wartime memorabilia to honor loved ones who served. Pins, military papers, journals, and diaries all bolster reflection. Even if these materials have been displayed in your home for a long time, take advantage of the holiday to discuss their significance.
Places to Go: Forget-me-not # 83 “Israel – Western Wall, Jerusalem”
I visited the Western Wall in Israel in 1982 but didn’t take the opportunity to leave a note like the millions of other visitors.
Much of the comfort derived from leaving a note at the Western Wall stems from the act of committing thoughts to paper. Instead of visitors just thinking about their deepest hopes or concerns, they take action.The ability to do something, even just a small thing, contributes to a sense of satisfaction.
Allison discusses the work of Psychotherapist Robert Neimeyer, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis, Tennessee, and author of Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved. He writes of the healing properties of the written word.
Like other forms of expression writing helps us review, consolidate, and articulate our internal experiences. When we think about our loved ones, our ideas can be formless and vague. Thoughts can feel one-sided. When we write, our ideas undergo a sizeable transformation—and some of the dialogue we crave is restored.
With that in mind, Allison advocates writing a letter to our loved one. We can each have our own “Western Wall”, a place to keep our innermost thoughts and conversations.
Reading “Passed and Present” gave voice to what I had inadvertently discovered with the passing of my dad. Healing comes through remembering and creating whether it’s telling a story, repurposing a keepsake, or sharing a favorite meal. The importance comes in finding meaning through small and simple things. Allison Gilbert has given us a gift with this book. Check it out! Maybe one the eighty-five forget-me-nots is just what you’ve been looking for.
Check out Nicole’s interview with Allison Gilbert here.
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(Giveaway closed). We love Passed and Present so much that we want to give away a copy of the book to one of our readers. We know you’ll love the book as much as we do! Family historians, family memory keepers, parents, and anyone who has lost a loved one will find innovative ideas within its pages.
To enter the giveaway, comment below about how you’ve created a memorial to your loved one who passed away – or another way that you’ve remembered or honored them after their passing. We will choose a winner at random and contact you by email after the giveaway has closed. The give away closes in 7 days – on April 19th at 9:30am MST. (Giveaway closed).
I love this post. I actually teach a class called “Linking the Generations” and some of the class is about this very topic. I’m teaching it again tomorrow and so love that others share similar ideas. Helps me not feel all alone in what I’m doing.
When my grandmother passed away, I took her sport shirts (she golfed, bowled, and pitched horseshoes) and I made small lap quilts for each grandchild (9 of us). We call them Grandma’s Hug. You can read about them here: http://revealingrootsandbranches.blogspot.com/2015/06/grandmas-hug.html
My father passed away unexpectedly last year and I made Papa Bears out of his shirts for 27 of us. You can read about them here: http://revealingrootsandbranches.blogspot.com/2016/01/papa-bears.html
In my class that I teach, I talk about finding “gateway moments” in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives that allow us to pass along history (eternal keepsakes) when they are most attune to them. When a child is preparing for baptism is a perfect time to talk with them about the first person to be baptized in the family and what you know about them, etc. They are more apt to listen, because it is something they will soon be experiencing as well.
When you make your great grandma’s cookies (that you always make), do your children know where the recipe came from? Do you have a photo or quick story you can share as the cookies are baking? The children love the cookies, and the cookies are a perfect tool to teach your children about their ancestor.
So excited about this book – I didn’t know it existed.
I love these posts! What fabulous ideas and what treasures for your family. You are very generous with your time to make 9 lap quilts and 27 bears!!! I just got the schedule for the Pleasant Grove Discovery Day and saw that you’re presenting. Let’s meet up!
Thanks for sharing Amy!! I would love to come to your class sometime.
This is a great post and the book looks interesting and helpful. I have quiet a few of my parents’ possessions and a few of my grandparents’, too. Many of them are integrated into my own life. I use my mom’s old Singer sewing machine on an almost a daily basis and used it to teach my daughters to sew. My mom’s and grandmother’s recipe boxes are in the cupboard next to mine, though I admit that I’ve put several of their recipes on cards that I use more regularly, rather than using their originals. Both of my daughters have the recipes and I think they use them. We have a clock my father made sitting on our piano, and the desk he used when repair watches sits in our living room. Evidence of their lives lives throughout our home. I hope my daughters will want some of them in their homes when they’re a little more settled.
Thanks again for sharing your ideas in this post. I appreciate it.
What great examples of integrating the lives of your parents and grandparents into your home. I have my mom’s old Singer sewing machine also, amazing how they just keep on working. Thanks for sharing your ideas!
This is a beautiful post with many good ideas and the book sounds wonderful. My grandmother planted lilacs, bleeding heart and columbines among other plants. My husband’s grandfather planted mini roses and snap dragons. I have an area of my yard where I have planted these flowers and when our kids were small, I always told my kids about why I planted those plants and about our grandparents who planted them. I have some real distinctive memories involving those specific plants and now share those stories with the our grandkids. I also have some iris plants that have been divided and shared over the years and we all call them “grandpa irises” because they began with my mother’s grandfather. It’s amazing how simple things like plants can serve as a prompt for stories and a reminder of those who have gone on.
Michelle, I love the ideas of flowers as remembrances, especially your “grandpa irises.” What a neat way to keep his memory alive. Thanks for sharing!
Such a nice post, Diana. Didn’t know you were also a blogger. This really struck home for me, since my dad passed only 3 weeks ago. What a nice thing. I will have to do something similar! I haven’t done anything yet, except for the display table at the funeral that stood as a reminder of his life’s experience. But would love to see things in this book to give me some ideas. Nice job.
sonja dot nishimoto at gmail.com
Thanks, Sonja! I thought of you and your family as I read the book. There are so many forget-me-nots that would help all of you to remember your dad in meaningful ways. I’m glad you found our blog. Nicole invited me to join her in this adventure a few months ago and we’ve been having fun. Thanks for reading!
Sounds like a wonderful book with so many great ideas. I love the idea of creating shorter videos from home movies. Such a fun way to share family history. Several years ago I created a memorial video about my Dad, who passed away in 2009. I uploaded it to Youtube at https://youtu.be/TNetpySGKPA.
Thanks for sharing your video! What a beautiful tribute to your dad.
I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2016/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-15.html
Have a great weekend!
Thanks so much for the listing!
Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and entered the giveaway! The winner, who was randomly selected, is Nancy. We hope you enjoy the book!