The Living Memories Project: Keeping Memories Alive

by Meryl Ain

Meryl Ain
Meryl Ain

My mother would have turned 93 this year. When she died after a brief illness in November 2006, although I knew she had lived a long life, I was bereft. There is never enough time with a loved one.

My mom was my best friend, a reliable loving, comforting, and wise presence in my life.  I spoke to my mother several times a day. When there was a lull at work, she was the one I called. When something wonderful happened, I called her. When something challenging happened, I called her. When I needed advice, she was the one I trusted. I could always count on her to be a calm and intelligent sounding board.

She looked at least 10 years younger than she was, and even when the freak cancer attacked her, her mind and heart were still intact. Although I was in my 50’s, I was now officially an “orphan,” my father having died after a long illness a year and a half before.

I was in a funk, going through the motions but not really enjoying it.  I was told it would get better after a year and that I needed closure. I began speaking with my friends about how to achieve it and came to the conclusion that there is no closure with those we love deeply. They are in our lives and in our hearts forever, although they are not physically present. Some keep alive their memories through small acts, such as looking at photos and making recipes.  Others do big things to carry on the legacies and values of their loved ones, such as establishing foundations. 

My mother was essentially a cheerful, optimistic person.  When I was bored, sad, or depressed, she would say: “Get yourself a project.” A project could be anything from cleaning out a closet to writing a book.

So I decided my project would be to interview people about how they keep alive the memories of their loved ones. I was The-Book-v3hoping to get ideas from them, and to heal myself. And that is how our book, The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last was born. I enlisted the support of my husband, Stewart, and my brother, Arthur, and together we captured the stories of more than 30 individuals who created tributes – big and small – as living memorials. 

For example, singer/songwriter Jen Chapin, the daughter of the late folk rock icon Harry Chapin shares how she keeps her father’s memory alive through his music and his commitment to social justice.

In another chapter, Nick Clooney tells how he keeps his sisters’ (singers Rosemary and Betty Clooney) memory alive through a museum, foundation, and special events. In addition, he talks about how he carries on his grandfather’s values of social responsibility through his work on behalf of Darfur with his son, actor George Clooney. 

Another example is the work of Liz and Steve Alderman, who established the Peter C. Alderman Foundation to honor the memory of their 25-year-old son, who was killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. The foundation trains doctors and establishes mental health clinics on four continents to treat victims of PTSD.  A simpler tribute is the story of a woman who makes her mother’s special recipes on holidays.

The project was therapeutic and cathartic for us; not only did it give us wonderful material, but it turned into an inspiring book and an amazing tribute to my mom. An unintended gift has been that we have had the opportunity to travel, meet new people, speak to groups and individuals about the book, participate in panel discussions about loss and healing, and appear on TV and radio. We are so gratified that the book’s optimistic and upbeat message of resilience is providing comfort and inspiration to our readers.

It is our hope that those who read The Living Memories Project will find comfort and meaning through honoring the never-ending influence of those who are no longer here.

Here are some ways our interviewees have kept alive the memories of their loved ones:

  • By telling stories and anecdotes about the deceased
  • By making memory books, and looking at photographs
  • By remembering and sharing advice, and following it
  • By preparing recipes for holidays and other special occasions
  • By writing prose or poetry
  • By making a memory quilt
  • By listening to or composing music
  • By acts of kindness and/or charity to honor a loved one
  • By endowing a scholarship in the name of the deceased
  • By establishing a foundation to carry on the values of the loved one.

About the Author: Meryl Ain embarked on The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last (Little Miami Publishing Co., 2014) after she lost both her father and mother within a year-and-a-half. Her articles about loss, families, education, and parenting have appeared in Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com, Newsday, the New York Jewish Week and The New York Times. She began her career in education as a social studies teacher before she became an administrator. She holds a BA from Queens College, a MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and an Ed.D. from Hofstra University. She and her husband, Stewart, live on Long Island and have three sons, three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren. She and her coauthors invite readers to join their Facebook community and to share their own stories on The Living Memories Project website. Meryl’s book, The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last is available on Amazon. Twitter: @livmemoriesproj | @drmerylain