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Making Christmas Meaningful with Family Interviews

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

Christmas is a time to come together with loved ones and share in the joy of the season. There’s lots of food, fellowship, and conversations. While this Christmas may look a little different, why not use the conversations you do have to preserve the essence of your loved ones – the stories of their lives, the tone of their voices, and their beloved quirks of habit? Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. With family interviews, you can learn things you never knew before, share a few laughs, and record your family’s one-of-a-kind stories for future generations.

If the idea appeals to you, sit down with or video call your living loved ones this Christmas for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? It’s pretty simple, really. Schedule time with someone, ask questions, and record their answers. That’s it!

Why Should I Do This?

First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?

People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved ones even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.

Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know who your loved one was and what their life was like? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.

Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.

Who Should I Interview?

Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. There are no rules that say you can only interview family members, so go all out. Your interest in each person’s life might just make their day.

How Do I Do This?

1. Determine what questions you will ask.

The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.

2. Select a documentation medium.

The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:

  • Handwrite everything in a special journal
  • Type everything on a computer
  • Use an audio recording app or other equipment
  • Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
  • A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you

3. Spend quality time with your loved one.

Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Christmas Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person, over the phone, or on a video call. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take your time and have fun!

Yes, Christmas is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to spread a little cheer to your loved ones than to show an interest and intentionally get to know more about their lives?

Reducing Your Christmas Stress During Times of Grief

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

Grief can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Christmas, even though it’s often a joyful and festive season, has its share of stresses, especially during times of grief when it’s a battle to do the normal everyday tasks. So, what can you do this season to reduce your Christmas stress while you process your grief?

Before we move into a few tips, remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal. You’ve lost someone you love, and it’s hard. You may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, shock, denial, guilt, anger, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these emotional responses are normal and natural. All you need to focus on is taking care of yourself through the holiday season so that you have the energy you need to process what you feel and begin the journey toward healing.

Tips for Reducing Your Christmas Stress

Your feelings may tell you to skip Christmas altogether this year, but before you make any big decisions, take some time to evaluate what changes you can make to keep things simple while also taking your loved ones’ needs into account.

For example, you may decide not to attend your work party, but instead, you go out to lunch with your closest office friends. Or, instead of getting individual gifts for everyone, you get gift cards instead. There are little changes you can make that will make your life easier while also ensuring that your family and friends still get to enjoy your presence during the holidays.

Here are a few tips for reducing your holiday stress:

Keep Things Simple

You may normally go all out for Christmas, but this year, give yourself permission to take it easy. With a few adjustments, you can take a task or event from stressful to simple.

  • If the stores are too crowded and holiday shopping is stressing you out, do your shopping online or cut back on the number of gifts this year. Or, after talking to your family, consider skipping gifts altogether this year and picking up next year.
  • If signing and sending holiday cards is too much, skip it this year. People will understand.
  • While putting up all the Christmas decorations usually brings a sense of joy, the thought may be stressful this year. Consider minimizing (or even skipping) the decorations if it seems like too much.

Don’t Overcommit

The Christmas season is often filled to the brim with events, parties, get-togethers, recitals, concerts, family gatherings, and more. You may not have the energy to go to everything, and that’s okay. Choose the most important events and pass on the rest.

As you prioritize events, make sure to talk to your family about your plans so they know when to expect you and when not to. This way, they can let you know what’s important for them – maybe a child’s recital – and you can plan ahead for the events you will attend. Plus, communicating your plans to family and taking their requests into account will help soothe any ruffled feathers and keep things relaxed.

Accept Help

If you’re like many of us, you learned early that it’s good to be independent and self-reliant. And while these two things are not inherently bad, we can sometimes take them a little too far, refusing help when we actually need it. So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid to accept a little help. Let people support you through this time of grief. Accept casseroles, offers to run errands, and assistance with household chores. It will only make things less stressful and easier for you.

Practice Self-Care

Grief takes a toll on us, and it’s important to find ways to take care of ourselves. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, pampering yourself every so often, and not overdoing it. At Christmas, self-care may be splurging on a gift for yourself, going to the golf range or the day spa, or simply spending quiet time alone to journal, meditate, listen to music, or take long walks. No matter what it is that helps you relax and feel cared for, take time to do that this holiday season.

Express Your Feelings

You may be tempted to push down your feelings and power through the holidays but try to resist the temptation. Instead, build opportunities for reflection into your holiday season. Make time to express yourself. This could mean journaling, painting, talking with friends or family, or attending a grief support group. There will be times when your grief shows up unexpectedly, and that’s okay. People will understand if you’re teary. But by intentionally taking time to address your emotions, you can better confront and reflect on what you feel on your own time and on your own terms.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory

This year, you’re missing someone special. Rather than ignoring their absence, consider finding a special way to honor their memory. Avoiding the elephant in the room – your grief and loss – may lead to feelings of stress. By openly honoring a loved one, you will have the freedom to include your loved one’s memory in the festivities without reservation.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Save a seat for them at the table
  • Create a remembrance item
  • Serve their favorite dish
  • Play their favorite Christmas tunes
  • Pull out the family photos and reminisce
  • Visit the graveside and leave a wreath, poinsettia, or memento
  • Continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor

While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Let this Year be Different

If you’re someone who wants everything just-so, one big way to reduce your holiday stress is to let things be different this year. Let go of the need for a perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and the perfectly prepared meal. Give yourself a little grace and some room to breathe. Christmas is different this year; it’s harder. Do what you can to keep things simple.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge that no two people are alike. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and some won’t. That’s just fine. If having the perfectly trimmed Christmas tree helps you relax, then go all out. If shopping provides a release of tension, do it. You know yourself best, so implement the ideas that work best for who you are.

Just remember – it’s okay to let yourself feel however you feel this Christmas. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful, and you don’t have to stop yourself from feeling happy if you enjoy the season. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or miss the person who is gone; it means that you are human. We are complex beings, and our lives are filled with moments of joy mixed with moments of grief, sometimes both at once! Take time this Christmas season to step back, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love the most. If you do, you will create sweet memories to cherish in the years to come.

Kid-Friendly Holiday Remembrance Ideas

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

After losing a loved one, the holidays can be very difficult for both kids and adults. You and your family may not feel up to all of the Christmas cheer and seasonal festivities, and that’s okay. You need to figure out what’s right for you this year and do that. But no matter what you decide to do, if you have kids who are grieving, consider how you can help them remember the person they love this season through remembrance activities and express what they may be feeling.

Just like you, kids need to be able to express what they feel, and oftentimes, they need a little help. Because they are still developing, they may not always be able to name their feelings as precisely as an adult. That’s why it’s so helpful to provide them with activities and exercises that will help them express what’s on the inside. And who knows? Something you begin this year may become a beloved holiday tradition for years to come.

Here are a few kid-friendly holiday remembrance ideas to get you started:

Put out a Memory Stocking

With a memory stocking or box, the whole family can write down memories or thoughts, share words of love and remembrance, or draw pictures of a favorite memory and then place them in the stocking/box. Then, at some point during the holidays, you can all sit down together and read the notes and spend time honoring your loved one’s memory. Whether you hang an extra stocking, place a memory box in a special place, or dedicate a miniature Christmas tree to notes and photos, the kids can get involved and express what they are thinking, feeling, and missing about the person who has died.

Light a Candle

Candles have long been used to as a symbol for remembrance. Keeping the light burning signifies that the memory of a loved one still shines bright. This Christmas season, consider lighting a candle in honor of the person you’ve lost. You can place the candle in a special place and take turns lighting the candle through the season. This way, everyone has a chance to actively remember the person who has died.

Visit the Graveside

Permanent memorials – like grave markers and plaques – give mourners a place to go to feel close to a loved one who has died. Consider whether a trip to the grave might be appropriate for your family. You can bring a wreath, a poinsettia, notes, drawings, or another meaningful item to leave behind as a token of your love.

If your loved one selected cremation and they were not buried, visit the place where their ashes were released or a place that is particularly meaningful to you. It doesn’t really matter where you go, so long as it’s a place where you feel a sense of closeness and kinship to the person who has died.

Release a Balloon

For this simple idea, all you need are biodegradable balloons and a sharpie. Blow up the balloons, have each person write a special message on their balloon, and then, release them to the sky. This practice is actually more meaningful than you might think, and it’s an easy way to get everyone involved. But remember – get biodegradable balloons that are friendly to the environment.

Enjoy Your Loved One’s Holiday Favorites

Whether it’s watching their favorite Christmas movie, making their signature dish, listening to their Christmas tunes, or driving around to see the best Christmas lights, take time to enjoy some of your loved one’s favorite traditions. Depending on where you are in the grief journey, this may be difficult, so consider what’s best for your family right now.

Just remember – not everyone grieves the same way. While watching that favorite movie might be painful for you, it could be just what your child needs to feel close to the person you’ve lost. Sit down with your kids and decide together which holiday favorites to keep and which to pass on this year.

Create a Holiday Memorial Keepsake

Another option is to sit down with your kids and create a holiday memorial keepsake together. This could be an ornament that they can pull out each year. Or a holiday throw pillow made from your loved one’s clothing. Or a scrapbook filled with holiday memories from years past. No matter what makes sense for your family, you can create a keepsake to bring out every year as a remembrance token. Over time, it will become a sweet piece of your holiday tradition and remind you of the person you love.

Look at Photos Together

Human beings are often very visual beings, and we associate memories with images and items. Sometime this Christmas season, take time to sit down with your little ones and go through family photos. Tell them the stories behind the photos.

Through this activity, you express your own feelings and memories while also helping your children build a more complete picture of the person who has died. Because a child may not have had time to develop a long-term, deep relationship with the person who has died, they will rely on your memories (to a degree) to help them process their own feelings.

Make a Memory Chain

For this activity, cut long, narrow strips of paper in your favorite holiday colors. Then, sit down with your kids to write on the paper. You could write so many things:

  • Favorite holiday memories
  • What you feel right now
  • Things you miss about your lost loved one
  • How you felt about your loved one

Then, you can create an interlinking chain to put on the tree, in a doorway, or across the fireplace mantel.

You can do all or none of these remembrance ideas. These are simply suggestions to get you started. No matter what you decide is right for you and your family this year, look for ways to strike the balance between the joy of the season and your feelings of grief. This year isn’t going to look like all the others – that’s for certain – but it can still be sweet and memorable. Don’t pretend that nothing has changed. It has. Instead, find ways to acknowledge that life is different while still allowing your family to find a little joy in the Christmas season.

Leaving a Legacy: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

As we mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, we cannot help but reflect on her life and the legacy she leaves behind. Her life was characterized by drive, passion, perseverance, and tenacity. As only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg lived a life of service and commitment to the United States of America.

Biography

Born on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg was the second daughter of working-class parents in Brooklyn, New York. Though her parents did not attend college, they encouraged Ginsberg in her studies. She eventually graduated from Cornell University with her bachelor’s degree and Columbia Law School with her law degree.

She married Martin Ginsburg in 1954, and after supporting him through a cancer diagnosis in 1956, Ginsburg completed law school and moved into employment, where she encountered gender discrimination. It was this early experience that led her to champion women’s rights and work to achieve gender equality.

After teaching at Rutgers University Law School and Columbia Law School, she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Carter. Then, in 1993, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years. In 2010, her husband of 56 years, “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain,” died of cancer. Despite her grief, she finished out the 2010 term at the Supreme Court.

She continued to serve as a Supreme Court Justice until her death from pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020.

Major Career Accomplishments

  • First female tenured professor at Columbia Law School
  • Co-founded the first law journal devoted to gender inequality
  • Director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Appointed to U.S. Court of Appeals as a judge
  • Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Presented as a lawyer and/or ruled as a Supreme Court Justice on a number of landmark cases

The Importance of a Legacy

As we look back at Ginsburg’s life, none of us can deny that she leaves a legacy. But a legacy is not only for prominent people. Every single one of us leaves a legacy of some kind. It’s up to us whether that legacy is good, bad, or somewhere in between.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder

Look at your own life and determine what kind of legacy you want to leave. And then, ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the legacy I want it to?” If it doesn’t, start thinking about big and small things you can change in your life to build the legacy you want.

Reflect on those who left a legacy for you

Every person is affected by the generations that came before, whether they want to be or not. It’s apparent in Ginsburg’s life that her parents, especially her mother, left a lasting legacy. So, think about your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, schoolteachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, and even people throughout history or in public service who have had an impact on the way you view yourself and the world. Each of these people left a legacy with you – some good, some bad. Now, think about the legacy you’ve built so far with those around you. Are you happy with it? Or are there some things you’d like to change?

Realize that leaving a legacy is not a choice

Whether you want to or not, you will leave a legacy because the people around you will remember you a certain way, depending on how you handled yourself and treated others. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. While Ginsburg may or may not have initially set out to create a legacy, she did nonetheless. There’s nothing you can do to prevent people from forming an opinion of you, but you can contribute to whether that opinion – your legacy with that person – teaches them how to live well and love others or not.

 Remember that quality time spent with others is the most important

When you involve yourself in the lives of others, you have an impact on their lives. Just as Ginsburg had a profound impact on her children and countless others, so can you. As the saying goes, when we near the end of our lives, we don’t wish we had worked more, we wish we had lived more. That includes spending time with the most important people. As you seek to leave a legacy:

  • Looks for opportunities to know others and be known by them
  • Model and teach what’s most important
  • Compliment, encourage, and build up our family, children, and grandchildren
  • Share the wisdom that you have gained in your life and pass along the knowledge

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do and say affects the lives of others and has the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. Most of us are not prominent people whose names are known by thousands, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s be intentional about the impact we have on others and create legacies worth remembering.

To learn more about how to build a legacy, make sure to read Building a Legacy.

Ideas for Honoring Your Loved One’s Memory This Thanksgiving

By Exclude from Top Posts, Memorial, Seasonal

Missing a loved one during the holidays is hard. The traditions that used to bring you joy may feel a little hollow this year. You may feel an internal (or external) pressure to keep things the same as always. It could be that Thanksgiving was your loved one’s favorite holiday, which only makes everything more difficult.

No matter what level of grief this Thanksgiving brings out in you, there are ways to add meaningful moments that will soothe your heart and help your family remember and honor a much-loved missing member. While the holiday won’t be the same as years before, it can be sweet, poignant, and just what your grieving heart needs.

Ideas for Honoring Your Loved One’s Memory This Thanksgiving

These ideas are intended to spur your own thoughts. Some of these may resonate with you; others may not. That’s okay. Consider incorporating the ones that make sense to you or come up with your own ideas. You could even make it a family exercise and bounce ideas off each other for how to best honor your loved one’s memory.

Share Cherished Memories

Whether it’s over the dinner table, on family walks, during the football game or movie, or as you sit around the living room enjoying each other’s company, take time to share cherished memories. You could talk about memories from Thanksgivings past. Or, you can simply reminisce over the ones that easily come to mind. Bring out the photos and listen as different family members share varied accounts of that family moment. Not only will this be a sweet time to remember your family moments, it will also allow you to talk about your loved one, which is often what we need most after a loss.

Include a Memorial Opportunity at Home

By creating a memorial opportunity, you allow yourself and others to actively engage in a remembrance activity. What this looks like will vary greatly from family to family, but here are a few ideas for creating a memorial opportunity. Set up a small memory tree and encourage everyone to write a note about your loved one and place it on the tree. Create a memory board or table, adding photos and mementos. Make sure to invite your family to bring something to add. Or, you can create a memory capsule, where everyone brings an item to include (photo, souvenir, note, etc.) and then several Thanksgivings down the road, you open it together.

Bring Their Memory to the Table

If it’s best for you and your family, you can make your loved one’s memory a more prominent feature of the day’s festivities. For instance, you can create a centerpiece to grace the table that features loved ones whose memories you want to honor. Give a Thanksgiving toast or prayer. Go around the table and each share something you are grateful for about the person who has died. Leave an open seat at the table in their memory. Pull out your loved one’s recipes and serve the dishes that everyone remembers and loves. Or, place a different photo of your loved one on each place setting and invite everyone to share memories.

Take Action to Honor Their Memory

If you are a person of action, there are things you can physically do on Thanksgiving to honor your loved one’s memory. You could sign up for a Turkey Trot and walk/run in their memory. Or you could watch one of their favorite movies. Attend a remembrance service. Write a message on a biodegradable balloon and then release it to the sky, your message of love floating towards the heavens. Visit their grave or a place that was special to your loved one. Donate food or money in their name, possibly supplying a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need.

Give a Memorial Gift

A final idea to consider is giving a memorial gift. Perhaps you could give each person a photo of your loved one. Make Christmas ornaments from their clothing and place one at each place setting. Then, when Christmas comes the following month, each person has a memorial ornament to place on the tree. If you have the time, you could create a short tribute video with photos and video or audio clips. Then, you can give a copy to each family member. Or, write your loved one’s favorite recipe on cards and give one to each household so they can enjoy the dish in their own homes.

No matter what you decide to do, make sure to take care of yourself amidst it all. Grief is hard and often very tiring. Journal what you are thinking and feeling because there will be moments when the feelings come strongly. If you aren’t a writer, talk to someone or draw or go for a walk or run. Whatever you need to do to work through your feelings. Get plenty of sleep and give yourself permission to experience moments of joy.

This Thanksgiving will be different. That’s for certain. But you can find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy. Choose a way to honor your loved one’s memory in a meaningful way and let yourself enjoy time and new memories with the people you love, here and now.

Balancing Grief and Joy During the Holidays

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

No matter what time of the year it is, grief is hard. It involves so many emotions, like sadness, anger, guilt, or relief. The Christmas holiday adds its own complexity to an already full emotional plate. It may feel like you are so filled with grief that you have no room for joy. So, how do you find the balance between grieving a loss and finding joy in the here and now?

Grief is a continual ebb and flow, intense one moment and gentle the next. It’s becoming increasingly understood that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it takes time to process loss. At Christmas, there will be many reminders of your loss, and you may feel them keenly. That’s okay. That’s normal. While society may tell us that we should always be happy, it’s an unrealistic way to view life and the human heart. Instead of focusing on how to “be happy” this holiday season, let’s instead look at a few tips that may help you find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy.

Find a special way to honor your loved one

This year, though you may be missing the physical presence of someone dearly loved, you can still bring their spirit to life by finding a special way to honor their memory. You might set a seat of honor for them at the table or create a remembrance item. You could make their favorite dish, bring out a collage of favorite photos, or reminisce about some of your most cherished memories. If Christmas was your loved one’s favorite season, continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor. While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Don’t ignore what you feel

Because we don’t want to cause others distress, especially at Christmas, many of us may be tempted to ignore our own feelings. While there may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, it’s always best to let yourself feel what you feel. Take time to journal, paint, talk, or somehow express what’s going on inside. According to nationally recognized grief author, educator, and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, it’s best to “Find a place to be quiet and alone with your thoughts and feelings. In these moments of solitude, learn to check in with yourself about the death. Look your grief in the face and say hello to it.” Only by allowing ourselves to face the pain can we begin to move forward.

Don’t be afraid to say no

At Christmas, it can be easy to fill up the calendar with events. There are family get-togethers, school events, church events, community events, and so much more that may pull at your time and attention. Pay attention to how you feel, and don’t be afraid to say no. Do the things that will bring you the most joy or satisfaction and let everything else slide this year. By carefully planning how you will spend your time, you can ensure that your days are a healthy mix of activities. There’s no need to do everything, but do make sure that you participate in a few things that will bring you delight.

Take care of yourself

Take time this Christmas season to look after yourself. That may mean going to a spa for the day, getting a pedicure, taking a hike, or simply sitting down to read or watch a TV show. Grief is exhausting, and with all the extra demands on our time during the holiday season, it’s important to take time to rest and relax. Prioritize what’s most important to you and your family, and make those specific things happen. If shopping is stressful, give gift cards this year. If you can’t bring yourself to send the annual Christmas cards, don’t be afraid to skip a year. As you take care of yourself, you will find the strength you need to find joy in the sweet moments.

Accept that things are going to be different

When grieving a loss, some may drop all traditions as pointless and painful. Others may try to make sure nothing changes at all. No matter what your inclination, look for middle ground. Things will be different this year, and while it’s not a difference you wanted, there is joy to be found in making new memories and establishing new traditions. Focusing on the flaws of the season will only make you unhappy. If we try to force everything to be the same, we will be inevitably be disappointed. Instead, accept that things are going to be different and make the best of it.

Connect with those you love

The holidays are about spending time with people you love. In the midst of sorrow, we need time to both laugh and cry. It’s not healthy to maintain a constant attitude of grief. While it may feel disloyal at first, experiencing moments of joy while walking through grief is natural and normal. There’s no need to feel guilty. By connecting with those we love, and who love us, we have the opportunity to laugh and cry. We can share our dearest memories, cry over the pain we feel, and then find joy in the fact that we are still surrounded by people who love us.

Look for joy

This holiday season, don’t be afraid to feel joy. Feeling moments of happiness or delight doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your loved one. They simply mean that you are human. You are made to feel a multitude of emotions at the same time. Laughter and tears. Joy and sorrow. We are complex beings, and our grief is strong some moments and subtle the next. By allowing yourself to feel both emotions, you can find the balance and truly grasp what it means to live well even in the middle of your grief journey. Life is full of irretrievable moments – don’t miss out on one this holiday season. Embrace it, cherish it, and find the balance.

8 Ways to Honor a Loved One’s Life on Halloween

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s the Halloween season, and people all over are decorating their homes, buying candy, and making costumes. But for you, this year might be different. Grief may be taking a toll on you emotionally, physically, and mentally. The holiday may be especially difficult for those whose lost loved one truly enjoyed Halloween and called it their favorite holiday.

Rather than hiding for the holiday and wishing it away, why not give it a meaningful twist and take time to honor and remember your loved one’s life, especially if they valued the Halloween holiday? You can fill the holiday with meaningful and positive actions that will help you make it through the day (and possibly bring some joy to others). Think about what your loved one enjoyed most about Halloween – it can be a small yet meaningful aspect – and focus in on that idea, inviting others to join you in making the most of the day and honoring your loved one.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” One way you can begin to work through your grief is by allowing yourself to feel the pain and expressing your emotions through purposeful, meaningful, and positive symbolic actions.

If you aren’t sure where to get started, take a look at these 8 ideas for honoring a loved one on Halloween. If none of these work for you, that’s okay. You can brainstorm your own ideas that are more fitting for your loved one’s life and memory.

1. Make a Costume

Costumes are a big part of Halloween. If your loved one enjoyed the holiday, you might consider creating a costume that would make them smile. For instance, if they loved Disney princesses, make a costume based on their favorite one. No matter what they loved – Marvel movies, John Wayne, the color red, or cats – think of a way to incorporate it into a costume in their honor.

2. Visit Your Loved One’s Grave

If Halloween was special to your loved one, you might consider taking time to visit their final resting place. Depending on the cemetery’s regulations, you could leave flowers, candy, or even a few seasonal decorations. While there, you can tell your loved one how much you miss them and share your holiday plans.

3. Plan a Halloween Gathering

If the person you are grieving loved a good Halloween party, you might put on a fun celebration or attend a costume party in his or her honor. You could ask some friends over – new ones and old ones – and have an unforgettable Halloween bash. Put together some of your loved one’s favorite treats and add a few of your own. Then, simply enjoy the time of friendship and fun. Afterward, you can write a letter to your loved one or visit a place where you feel close to them and tell them all about it.

4. Participate in a Halloween-Themed Run

If your loved one enjoyed Halloween and also loved participating in runs from 5k’s to marathons, then taking part in a Halloween-themed run might be the perfect fit. You can dress up as your loved one’s favorite character or wear an armband or t-shirt that says, “In Memory Of” and join in the Halloween festivities.

5. Take Part in a Traditional Halloween Activity

Depending on what your loved one liked about Halloween, you might join in on some of the traditional fun to honor their memory. For instance, you may take the family out to go for a hayride, wander through a corn maze, carve a pumpkin, or enter the scary depths of a haunted house. Or, you could stay close to home and give candy to trick-or-treaters. Alternatively, you could take part in a fall festival in your community. Sometimes, choosing to honor a loved one means carrying on old traditions in their memory, even as you enjoy the things they did and make new memories along the way.

6. Bake a Favorite Fall Recipe

If your loved one was a baker, you can honor their memory by whipping up the family’s favorite fall recipe. Whether it’s moist pumpkin bread, ginger snap cookies, pumpkin pie, or candied apples, you and your family can enjoy a tasty fall treat and remember the good times that you had with your loved one.

7. Watch a Scary Movie

Some people love a good scary movie and make a tradition out of watching their favorite flicks every Halloween season. If that was your loved one, grab some popcorn and treats, invite your friends over, and relive all the nail-biting moments that you and your loved one enjoyed together. This is a great time to share memories about your loved one. It also allows you to continue a tradition that he or she really enjoyed.

8. Volunteer at a Halloween-Themed Event

If your loved one was someone who loved Halloween and/or the fall season and also loved helping others, you might choose to volunteer at a children’s Halloween event, pumpkin patch, or fall festival in your community. Getting involved is a great way to honor a loved one’s memory, meet new people, and grow through new experiences.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel good about what you did to remember your loved one. Just because they are gone doesn’t mean you can’t still love and celebrate them for years to come.

However, if Halloween is a more difficult holiday for you and you would like to learn about a few ways you can grieve well during the Halloween season, click here to read Grieving Well During the Halloween Season.

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin

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The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – Benjamin Franklin

(Photo: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706. He was one of 17 children born to a man who made soap and candles. He had very little formal education, and at the age of 12, he apprenticed to his brother, who introduced Franklin to the printer’s trade. During his apprenticeship, he read voraciously and taught himself to write. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for the written word.

In 1730, Franklin married Deborah Read, and they eventually had two children together, Francis and Sarah. Still in the printing business, Franklin soon began to print currency for Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and Poor Richard’s Almanack (which he also wrote). With his printing business and his investments, he was one of the wealthiest colonists in North America by the 1740s.

Starting in 1736, he began to involve himself in political office, beginning as a clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. By 1748, he was wealthy enough that he retired, though he remained a silent partner in his business. He turned his attention to other pursuits, both scientific and political.

(Photo: Site of Franklin Museum in Philadelphia, PA)

In the following years, Franklin played a larger role in politics, even spending 18 years in London representing the Pennsylvania Assembly. In 1762, he returned to Philadelphia with the intention of returning to England. But with the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 and subsequent events, he stayed in North America and sought to bridge the growing gulf between Great Britain and the colonies.

In 1775, he was elected to the Second Continental Congress. The following year, in July 1776, he helped to draft the Declaration of Independence and signed it along with many others. In October 1776, he went to France to petition for military aid. His efforts to secure military and diplomatic ties with France were successful in 1778. The French played a key role in the colonies’ winning of the Revolutionary War.

He lived in France until 1785 when he returned to the United States of America. He died in April 1790.

Franklin’s Legacy

(Photo: Declaration of Independence, which Franklin helped create)

As we look back at Benjamin Franklin’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. Though he lived most of his life caught between worlds, he had a significant impact on the founding of our nation. In his lifetime, he was one of the most famous figures of the Western world. He was a printer, an inventor, a statesman, a diplomat, and a writer. His scientific discoveries included fundamental discoveries about electricity, the invention of bifocals, the odometer, and the glass harmonica. As a public servant, he had a hand in writing the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and his diplomatic efforts in France played a key role in winning the war.

At the time of his death, he was in disfavor with his friends and family in the United States. This was mainly due to his having lived so much outside of the United States. But nonetheless, an estimated 20,000 mourners gathered for his funeral in Philadelphia.

In June 1790, the Frenchman Count Mirabeau suggested to the French National Assembly that they, too, should wear mourning to honor Franklin. He said:

Would it not become us, gentlemen, to join in this religious act, to bear a part in this homage, rendered, in the face of the world, both to the rights of man and to the philosopher who has most contributed to extend their sway over the whole earth? Europe, enlightened and free, owes at least a token of remembrance and regret to one of the greatest men who have ever been engaged in the service of philosophy and liberty. I propose that it be decreed that the National Assembly, [over] three days, shall wear mourning for Benjamin Franklin.”

Franklin Remembered

Even now, we don’t have to look far to see the many ways that Franklin has been remembered and memorialized. Many schools, counties, towns, universities, and parks have been named for him. Fittingly, as he once printed currency, his face is on the $100 bill. And now, a museum stands where his home and print shop once did, and his written works are remembered and quoted. Ever heard “A friend in need is a friend indeed” or “A penny saved is a penny earned”? Those are Benjamin Franklin’s words, and they continue to live on.

(Photo: Statue of Benjamin Franklin)

It is through permanent memorials, like schools, museums, and statues, that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on Benjamin Franklin’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? If you look at Franklin’s life, his legacy was peppered with both good and bad. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: Statue of Benjamin Franklin outside the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C.)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What Benjamin Franklin did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from Benjamin Franklin’s successes and mistakes and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: James Madison

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The happy union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.” – James Madison

(Photo: Portrait of James Madison)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, James Madison: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

James Madison was born in 1751 in Orange County, Virginia, to a successful planter. He was the oldest of 12. In 1771, Madison graduated from what is now called Princeton University. He returned home to Virginia in 1772, and in 1775, he became a militia colonel.

In 1776, he attended the Virginia Convention, and around that time, he met Thomas Jefferson. The two would enjoy a lifelong friendship. In 1780, he served as one of Virginia’s delegates to the Continental Congress. However, in 1787, he began work on a document that would fundamentally change the fledgling nation – the U.S. Constitution.

When the Constitutional Convention met in May 1787, they intended to amend the United States’ current governmental document, the Articles of Confederation. However, they created a new document – the Constitution – and Madison was the chief recorder of information and played a key role in the Constitution’s creation. At first, the Constitution faced opposition from several states. Madison, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote a series of persuasive letters (the Federalist Papers) in an effort to get the Constitution ratified. It worked.

(Photo: Grounds at Montpelier, Madison’s estate)

Just two years later, in 1789, Madison won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and was an instrumental force behind the Bill of Rights, which was adopted in 1791. In 1795, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, and tired of the political battles, he retired to his family home, Montpelier.

However, he returned to politics in 1801 to serve as President Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state. After Jefferson’s two terms, Madison became the fourth president of the United States in 1808. It was during his presidency that the United States fought against Britain in the War of 1812.

After leaving office, Madison returned to Montpelier with Dolley. There, he ran the plantation and helped create the University of Virginia (along with Thomas Jefferson). He assumed leadership of the school in 1826. He served as college chancellor until his death on June 28, 1836.

Madison’s Legacy

(Photo: U.S. Constitution)

As we look back at James Madison’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. He is often called the “Father of the Constitution” and was a driving force behind the Bill of Rights. If nothing else, it is due to James Madison that Americans today have the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, and the exercise of religion. He was an intellectual, a patriot, our fourth president, and a man whose ideas shaped a nation and established the rights we enjoy today.

Following his death in June 1836, former president John Quincy Adams (sixth president) was asked to deliver a eulogy in Madison’s honor. He said:

Let us look back then for consolation from the thought of the shortness of human life, as urged upon us by the recent decease of James Madison, one of the pillars and ornaments of his country and of his age. His time on earth was short, yet he died full of years and of glory – less, far less than one hundred years have elapsed since the day of his birth – yet has he fulfilled, nobly fulfilled, his destinies as a man and a Christian. He has improved his own condition by improving that of his country….”

Madison Remembered

Even now, we don’t have to look far to see the many ways that Madison has been remembered and memorialized. Buildings, counties, towns, military vessels, parks, and statues have been named for him. Any time children learn about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the early days of our nation, James Madison will always be mentioned.

(Photo: Capital Building in Madison, WI, which was named after James Madison)

It is through permanent memorials, like schools, museums, and statues, that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on James Madison’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? If you look at Madison’s life, his legacy was peppered with both good and bad. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: Bill of Rights)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What James Madison did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from James Madison’s successes and mistakes and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: John Jay

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America belongs to ‘We the People.’”  – John Jay

(Photo: John Jay in his chief justice robes)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, John Jay: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

Born on December 12, 1745, in New York, John Jay was born to a wealthy merchant family. He later graduated from King’s College (Columbia University) in 1764 and began his career as a lawyer. He quickly became known in New York political circles and was elected to represent New York at the first Continental Congress in 1774. During this meeting, representatives discussed colonial resistance to Britain’s oppressive laws.

Also, in 1774, John Jay married Sarah Livingstone. They would have six children together, one of which was William Jay, who would later become one of America’s most important abolitionists and friend to Frederick Douglass.

(Photo: Columbia University, where Jay attended)

At the beginning of the conflict with Great Britain, John Jay desired a peaceful resolution with Great Britain but fully supported the Revolution. He served as president of the Continental Congress in 1778 before traveling to Spain, seeking support for the colonial cause. Though his efforts in Spain did not produce the desired results, in 1782, he went to France and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, the document that ended the Revolutionary War.

After the treaty was signed, the Articles of Confederation became the first constitution of the United States. However, in 1787, it became apparent that a new constitution was needed. James Madison was a driving force behind the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights we still use today. However, the document wasn’t supported by the states in the beginning. Therefore, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison banded together to write The Federalist Papers, which argued in support of the new Constitution. Soon thereafter, the Constitution was ratified and went into effect.

In 1789, George Washington appointed Jay as the Supreme Court’s first chief justice, a position he held until 1795. He resigned his position as chief justice to serve as governor of New York. In 1801, Jay retired to his family farm, and he died on May 17, 1829.

Jay’s Legacy

(Photo: Gavel in a courtroom)

As we look back at John Jay’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. He drafted New York’s first state constitution, served as a key negotiator at the Treaty of Paris, served as New York’s second governor, and became our very first Supreme Court chief justice. He was a writer, a patriot, and a bastion of support for the U.S. Constitution.

Though he is the most forgotten of the founding fathers, he still had a significant impact. Walter Stahr wrote a book about John Jay, and in it, he says: “Unlike John Adams, who spent a lot of time defending his place in history, Jay does not spend a lot of time on that. He answers letters as they arrive but doesn’t seek out writing engagements. The War of 1812 (between the U.S. and Britain) is very worrisome because he devoted a lot of his time to avoiding that. And he worried about the emerging tensions between North and South. In the end, he’s more worried about America than he is about John Jay.”

Known as a quiet man who never lost his cool or his dignity, Jay, along with the other founding fathers, played a key role in creating the nation we live in today.

Jay Remembered

Even though Jay is not as famous as his counterparts, he is still remembered and memorialized. Many towns and counties in New York are named after him as well as a number of schools. Also, James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, used Jay’s childhood home as inspiration in one of his written works. When children learn about the founding of our nation, John Jay will always be mentioned.

(Photo: Supreme Court building)

It is through permanent memorials, like schools, museums, and statues, that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on John Jay’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? If you look at Jay’s life, his legacy was peppered with both good and bad. However, it’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: American flag flying in Washington, D.C.)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What John Jay did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from John Jay’s successes and mistakes and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.