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Interview: Meryl Ain, Author of ‘The Living Memories Project’

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Meryl AinMeryl Ain wrote her first poem in the third grade and has been writing ever since. She is a blogger for Huffington Post and often writes about families, parenting, children, and education. After she lost both her father and mother within a year-and-a-half, she decided to research how others keep alive the memories of their loved ones. She enlisted her husband, Stewart, and her brother, Arthur Fischman, to join her in researching and writing The Living Memories Project. Meryl earned a BA  from Queens College, a MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and an Ed.D. fromHofstra University. She began her career in education as a social studies teacher before she became an administrator. She and her husband Stewart live on Long Island and have three sons, three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.

Welcome to Blogcritics, Meryl! Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

The greatest challenge was finding people who were willing to share their stories of how they kept the memory of their loved ones alive. We approached many people, and we are truly grateful to those who so generously shared their stories with us. They inspired and comforted us and we hope they will do the same for our readers. 

What was your inspiration for The Living Memories Project?

I began thinking about the book following the death of my mother after a brief illness. My mother was my best friend, and I was bereft when I lost her. She had always told me when I was sad or bored to “get a project.” The book was my project to try and find inspiration from the examples of others who had transformed their grief into meaningful action and memorials. It 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 and some are small ones. All of our interviewees were tremendously inspiring to me and, by sharing their stories, became a tremendous motivator toward completing this book and sharing it with a wider audience. 

Who is your target audience?

There’s something in our book for everybody. If you live long enough, you will suffer the loss of someone dear to you, so we believe that our book has the potential to change lives on a nearly universal scale.  Through the voices of the individuals in the book you will see life and death in a different way.  This book is designed to help anyone incorporate memories into one’s daily life as a healthy, positive way to move beyond the pain of loss.  This can consist of starting a foundation or a scholarship, producing a creative work, using a family recipe, embarking on a The Living Memories Project 7career, etc.  It does not require belief in a particular religion, philosophy or phenomenon.  Of course not everyone can start a foundation, but it doesn’t take much money or time to look at photos or write a poem or follow a recipe or wear a particular item of clothing or a particular color at a family event.  There are many little things we can do that preserve memory.  As long as these reflect the kind of person the deceased really was, they are just as effective in helping us recover from loss as the more expensive, time-consuming ones.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

There is no such thing as closure. We believe that since our loved ones will always be with us, why not incorporate that person’s values, spirit and personality in a positive way? Remembering the values and zest for life of a loved one can be as easy as hanging up their picture, playing their favorite song or wearing their favorite scarf. Loved ones die only if you let them. As Malachy McCourt puts it so memorably in Chapter One of our book, death is not fatal.  A person’s values and goals don’t have to end when he or she dies. The loved ones they leave behind are here to build upon and carry on their work. 

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

We simply let our interviewees tell their stories in their own voices.  For example, Nick Clooney tells how he keeps his sisters’ (singers Rosemary and Betty) 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 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.  Each narrative is compelling in its own way.

What was your publishing process like?

It was slow going for quite a while but we were prepared for it to be.  A book such as this – which some publishers saw as a book on grief, others as a self-help book and still others as some hybrid of these or other genres – was not easy to sell.  In the end, a publisher chose us. She empathized with our loss and understood our project since her mother was dying while she read our manuscript. She decided immediately to publish it.  

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

Readers are invited to check out our website

My blogs have been published on Huffington Post.

We also have a Facebook page which provides updates on the book and inspirational material to comfort and inspire those who are interested in transforming their grief into meaningful action and living legacies.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.