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Keeping Memories Alive Through Candid Conversation

02/28/2014 09:06 am 09:06:35 | Updated Apr 30, 2014

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Anderson Cooper and Liam Neeson courageously engaged in a conversation on 60 Minutes that we rarely see on prime time TV. Cooper interviewed Neeson about the loss of his wife, Natasha Richardson, five years after she died in a skiing accident. The community of grief is a group that no one wants to join, but we are all members at some point in our lives. Yet discussion about loss is noticeably absent from our airwaves. After the obituaries, accolades, and the funeral, we rarely talk about the long-term impact of grief on those who are left behind.

In her TED talk, Ash Beckham talks about how she came out of the closet as a lesbian. She says that all human beings are hiding something, and need the courage to come out of their own closet. "A closet is a hard conversation," Beckham explains.

"I wanted very much to have a conversation with Liam about grief," said Cooper in an expanded interview on 60 Minutes Overtime. To see the complete interview, click here.

Coming out of my closet enabled me to honestly share my grief journey with others and to gain inspiration from their experiences. -- Meryl Ain

"People don't really talk about grief and loss enough in this country, I think, and for those of us who have suffered losses in our lives, it's something we think about all the time. Not talking about it feels almost artificial."

Neeson said in the interview that it helps him to talk about his wife. He told Cooper that he feels that his wife is still present in their home in upstate New York -- that he feels "a vibe." He plants roses and daffodils at her grave. And his wife's donated organs are "keeping three people alive," he said. "She would be very thrilled and pleased."

He added that he has experienced consolation in the community of those who joined together to comfort him.

"Dealing with grief, dealing with loss- there is power in hearing how other people have dealt with it and power in hearing how other people have faced it and live with it," said Cooper.

I could not agree with him more. I thank Anderson Cooper and Liam Neeson for participating in this important dialogue. It is particularly meaningful for me since it coincides with the upcoming publication of the book that I wrote with my husband, Stewart, and my brother, Arthur Fischman, about how people have transformed the power of grief into meaningful action and living legacies.

Beckham says in her TED talk: "The only story that matters is the one you want to write. You may feel alone, but you're not." Once I started researching and writing the story that I wanted to write, I realized that I was not alone. Coming out of my closet enabled me to honestly share my grief journey with others and to gain inspiration from their experiences. And I gained a new perspective on life and death.

The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last was a project that I began thinking about following the death of my mother after a brief illness. I was bereft and grieving, but I was told that I needed to move on and have closure. I felt very much alone until I started talking with friends, family, and colleagues. I learned from them that there is no closure with those we love deeply; they are in our lives and in our hearts forever.

The book is an effort to provide inspiration from others who have harnessed their grief. The Living Memories Project describes through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that 32 individuals - celebrities and others - keep alive the memories of loved ones. Some are huge projects; some are small ones.

For example, 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 research and writing of The Living Memories Project has been healing and cathartic for me and for my coauthors. We hope that it will help others by showing readers how to find comfort and meaning through honoring the memory, values, and legacy of their loved ones. Let us continue the candid conversation exemplified by Anderson Cooper and Liam Neeson. As Ash Beckham says: "Let's find the courage to open up."

The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last, by Meryl Ain, Arthur M. Fischman and Stewart Ain, will be published on March 28 by Little Miami Publishing Company.

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