Life Matters Media
Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

Passed And Present: Keeping Memories Alive

Making Mourning the Most Active of Verbs with Author Allison Gilbert 


GLENVIEW, Ill. – After the death of a loved one, many bottle-up their emotions.

But that’s not healthy, according to noted author Allison Gilbert, who spoke about loss and “living in the present” this month at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Gilbert shared insights with hundreds of care providers during NorthShore University Health System’s Hospice and Palliative Care Symposium.

Allison Gilbert’s latest book, ‘Past and Present.’

She hopes that those in attendance learn to better care for people facing serious illnesses – and support their loved ones after death.

“It’s not about relegating your loved one to the past,” said Gilbert, author of Passed and Present, a new book devoted to keeping memories alive. “It is 100 percent about celebrating what they still mean to you.”

Remembering is different from mourning, Gilbert said, because “mourning is passive.” Gilbert was inspired to tackle the subject after the deaths of her parents from cancer.

“People who we love still mean something to us. Just because they have died the relationship shifts, of course, but you can still honor, recognize and celebrate what they still mean to you. My parents are still my parents, despite both of them having passed away when I was young,” Gilbert said.

Living with nostalgia – affection for the past or a deceased loved one – increases happiness, optimism, self-esteem, engagement and “connections to the present.” It also, according to Gilbert, decreases loneliness.

“My joy is making my parents still relevant in my life,” Gilbert said. “Not just for me, but for their grandchildren who never got to know them.”

To foster nostalgia, Gilbert shared easy, cost-sensitive ideas:

Allison Gilbert shows off a quilt made of her father’s ties.

– Repurpose with purpose: transform objects and heirlooms into remembrance tools.

“Recipes, tastes and smells are very evocative of our loved ones,” Gilbert said. “Take your husbands sweater that smells like him that you do not want to throw away or donate. What can you do with that sweater besides having it sit in your closet?”

A wife mourning the death of her husband could turn portions of his favorite sweater into a quilt for their child. 

– Use technology: use computers, scanners, printers, apps, mobile devices and websites to help keep memories alive. It’s the “low-hanging fruit.”

“We all live on technology, on our phones using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,” Gilbert said.

To reach young people, Gilbert suggests starting a hashtag honoring the deceased to share among young family members and friends. 

Photo albums with old photographs can be scanned and uploaded to Facebook or Dropbox for easy sharing. Family recipes on notecards can be uploaded digitally to Google Drive for safekeeping. 

– Not just holidays: honor your loved ones any time of year, “whenever you feel that pull.”

“Holidays are tricky,” Gilbert said. “We anticipate them, and in the beginning, we may fear them.”

Gilbert suggests baking a loved one’s favorite dessert and then talking about him or her while enjoying it.

– Monthly guide: incorporate deceased relatives’ favorite meals or rituals into daily festivities.

“There are Thursday nights in October when I want to remember my parents,” Gilbert said. “It’s not just holidays.”

A loved one can be honored anytime. Sometimes it’s as simple as eating your loved ones favorite ice cream before bed.

– Places to go: travel to places around the world where reflecting and honoring loved ones is a communal activity. 

“Other cultures – Japan, Israel, Thailand, Jamaica – there are a lot of places where remembering loves ones is the activity.”

Other cultures are less reluctant to talk about death, Gilbert said, so take time to save and plan a trip.