Active Remembering

Author: Allison Gilbert

If you’re fortunate, 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.

bench, daffodils

Simply put, transitioning from passive mourning to active remembering is key to building resilience after loss. I got used to support just being there. In those first few awful days and weeks after my parents died, I didn’t have to work hard to find a friend to talk with about my mom or dad. But consider the vacuum that happens later. Five years later, 10, 15 – those conversations often didn’t occur without effort. That silence was one of the hardest and unexpected post-loss blows. I also felt paralyzed and choked by my parents’ belongings. What should I do with my father’s collection of neckties and my mother’s colorful assortment of scarves? A mountain of bric-a-brac moved with me from home to home, following me around like Pig-Pen’s dirt cloud. At times, my sadness and isolation seemed inescapable until I figured out what I needed to do: I had to approach remembering my loved ones the same way I’d pursue finding a new job or buying a car. It was up to me to take control. I needed to shift from being passive to being proactive.

So, I brought my parents up in conversation. Over dinner with my children, I’d nonchalantly, but very much intentionally, recall an anecdote about Grandma or Grandpa that seemed germane to whatever we were discussing. I also began to cook a few reminiscent foods, frame unusual objects like passports and business cards to spark even more discussion, and plan a small number of outings to the neighborhoods where my parents grew up and the offices they worked. I ditched, donated and gifted many of their possessions and transformed others so they could bring me joy. I got help turning my father’s neckties into a quilt and my mother’s scarves into a chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy, under which I got married. Yes, these activities required some planning. But they made me stronger and happier.

For a long time, I couldn’t articulate why I’d struggled so deeply years after my parents died and I couldn’t find words for what helped me heal. It turns out, I failed to take ownership of keeping their memory alive. Grief experts like J. William Worden and Therese Rando have long argued that sustaining connections with loved ones is essential for moving forward. I had to crack these opportunities open. It was up to me to help my children appreciate the maternal grandparents they never got to know.

Recognizing and accepting the task of proactive remembering is critical for driving our capacity to rebound from adversity, especially the deaths of family and friends we miss most. If I had learned this lesson earlier, I would have leapfrogged years of heartache.

Gilbert’s “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive” is the first book to reveal 85 imaginative ways to celebrate and honor the family and friends we never want to forget. She calls her ideas Forget Me Nots. Some involve planning and patience; others require hardly any effort at all. A few entail spending money; most cost nothing. Gilbert’s hope is that every Forget Me Not gently stretches how you think about loss—that absence and presence can coexist and that moving forward doesn’t have to mean leaving your loved one behind.

Here, Gilbert offers a few more Forget Me Nots to the TAPS family:

Host a Memory Bash™

A Memory Bash™ is an excuse to get together as a group — eating, drinking and having a good time — while celebrating loved ones who have passed away in the company of others drawn to do the same. While Gilbert hosts Memory Bash™ events all over the country at community centers, houses of worship, hospices and funeral homes, you can easily design your own celebration. Families learn how to preserve a loved one’s handwriting, favorite words and most reminiscent recipes. They’ll share stories about their loved ones and what made them so special. Family members can even write a note of remembrance to be included in an international commemorative project.  

Learn more at You can also email Gilbert at to receive a FREE copy of her “How to Host a Memory Bash” guide.

Get the White Glove Treatment

This is another great opportunity to make remembering an uplifting, social experience. First, go to to find a Legacy Maker, a representative who comes to your home to make one-stop shopping out of digitizing film, video, photos, slides, even entire scrapbooks and albums. Second, invite neighbors over, encouraging them to bring their cherished photos and videos. Guests nibble on snacks and hang out while the consultant peels them off one by one to discuss their individual needs and place their orders. Legacy Republic provides each participant with a link to a private online account where all their information is stored. Video can be easily uploaded to Facebook.

Find a Legacy Maker by visiting

Put the “Social” in Social Media

Post a picture of your loved one, but don’t stop there. Ask your friends and family to share their photos and remembrances, too. This digital back and forth accomplishes two distinct goals. First, it enables you to read stories about your loved one you may never have heard before.  And second, it keeps the person you miss most forever contemporary and present in your life.

Plant Daffodil Bulbs

Plant one daffodil bulb for every year your loved one lived. Daffodils are the perfect flower for such a happiness-inducing project: as perennials, they’ll come back spring after spring—and they’re virtually indestructible. This is a great activity to involve friends and family. Not only will you benefit from the extra hands, you’ll be able to use the time to invite conversation and share stories about your loved one as well.

By Allison Gilbert: Allison is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on grief and resilience. The author of numerous books including the groundbreaking, “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive,” her stirring work exposes the secret and essential factor for harnessing loss to drive happiness and rebound from adversity.