Monday, April 21, 2014

A Conversation with Meryl Ain, co-author of 'The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last'

Meryl 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. from Hofstra 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.

Their latest book she co-authored with Steward Ain and Arthur M. Fischman is the nonfiction, The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last.

Visit their website at

About the Book:

Three years after the death of her mother, Meryl Ain was still unable to fill the hole that the loss had left in her life.  In talking to friends, Meryl discovered an insight shared by
those who had successfully overcome grief; there simply is no closure.  It was a breakthrough for her. She writes, "Our loved ones will always be with us if they are not forgotten. It is up to us to integrate them into our lives in a positive way that reflects their unique personality, values and spirituality. In that way we keep them alive in our hearts and minds always."

Meryl enlisted the help of her brother, Arthur Fischman, and her husband, Stewart Ain, and began a quest to interview people who had moved beyond mourning through meaningful action. The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last by Meryl Ain, Ed.D., Arthur M. Fischman, & Stewart Ain (March 2014, Little Miami Publishing Company, Trade Paperback, 196 pages, $18.95, ISBN:978-0-9882553-7-1) is a result of that research.
The Living Memories Project presents more than 30 interviews with both celebrities and others who share their experiences and the projects they undertook to memorialize their loved ones. The authors have sought to demonstrate that any tribute, big or small, can be a meaningful way to preserve memories of loved ones. Establishing a foundation or scholarship, using a recipe on a particular holiday or family occasion, creating artwork, embarking on a project or even an entire career – all could be traced to a specific talent, interest or value of the deceased.  Each chapter offers a rich first-person history that will engage and inspire readers of all faiths.

Among them are:
·        Linda Ruth Tosetti, who made a documentary film about her grandfather, Babe Ruth, to highlight his humanitarian side – a value she cherished and believed was often overlooked in Babe’s biography. Ruth was a German-American, who publicly denounced the Nazi persecution of the Jews in 1942.
·        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 PTSD.
·        Eileen Belmont, a quilt designer who helps others preserve their memories of deceased loved ones through the creation of memory quilts. 
·        Singer/songwriter Jen Chapin (daughter of the late folk rock icon Harry Chapin), who carries on her father’s legacy of music and feeding the hungry.
·        Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma (sister of Yo-Yo Ma), who keeps the memory of her father and music teacher /mentor alive through the Children's Orchestra Society and her poetry.
·        Robert Meeropol (son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies by the US Government in 1953), who established the Rosenberg Fund for Children to help children whose parents are imprisoned.
·        Author, actor and raconteur Malachy McCourt, who presents his unique take on how he keeps alive the memory of his brother Frank (Angela's Ashes) through the Irish tradition of song and story.

Not everyone can create a foundation, fund an orchestra or make a documentary film, but the authors' hope is that readers will find inspiration from the wide range of actions they read about. The authors are currently compiling narratives for the second volume of The Living Memories Project and welcome input from readers.

Can you tell us what your book, The Living Memories Project, is about?

The Living Memories Project is about harnessing the power of grief into meaningful action and living legacies. It describes through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that 32 individuals – celebrities and others -- incorporate the presence of their loved ones in their lives. Some who have shared their stories describe encounters or occurrences in which they strongly felt the loved one’s presence, while others have drawn upon rituals or recipes or created a tangible memorial. 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 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. Additionally, singer/songwriter Jen Chapin (daughter of the late folk rock icon Harry Chapin) talks about how she carries on her father’s legacy of music and feeding the hungry. And author, actor and raconteur Malachy McCourt presents his unique take on how he keeps alive the memory of his brother Frank (Angela's Ashes) through the Irish tradition of song and story.

Why did you write your book?

My mother was my best friend and confidante. When she died after a brief illness, I was bereft and wondered how I could go on living without the everyday presence of my mom in my life. I looked for an optimistic book about going beyond mourning but couldn’t find one. I discussed this subject with friends and acquaintances who had also had losses, and found that there were a myriad of proactive ways others had embraced to keep the memories of their loved ones alive after they were gone. My mother was a big proponent of always having a project, so I decided to make this my project – discovering how to go beyond that wrenching, painful heartache to a happy and productive life. I convinced my brother (Arthur Fischman) and my husband (Stewart Ain) to join me in exploring this phenomenon in a book project. Thus, The Living Memories Project was conceived.

What kind of message is your book trying to tell your readers?

The message is that even though our loved ones have passed, we can keep them alive by honoring their memory. We do not believe that there is such a thing as closure.  In fact, Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a family therapist who hosts a radio show on NPR, dismissed the notion of closure when we interviewed him for the book. He says it is a “misinterpretation of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,” the famed psychiatrist who wrote the classic book, Death and Dying, in which she identified the five stages of grief. Gottlieb said: “It’s not what she meant. You have issues in your life. You have memories. You have longings and aches. Nothing goes away.”  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?

Is it hard to publish a nonfiction book?

It is extremely difficult if you are not a celebrity or have not been previously published. We were told that our book was a great idea,  that it was well-written, and inspirational, but we just weren’t famous enough to get a book deal.  We tried for two years with two different agents who strongly believed in the book --  with no success.  Finally, through our own connections, we found an independent publisher, Little Miami, in Milford, Ohio, who got the idea of the book immediately. Call it fate or coincidence, the publisher read our proposal while she was sitting at her mother’s deathbed. – and decided to publish immediately!

Can you tell us about your family?

My husband, Stewart, and I have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren – two granddaughters and a grandson. My brother, Arthur, who is a coauthor of The Living Memories Project, has quipped that in our family, “Writing is a competitive sport.” In addition to the three of us, our daughter-in-law, Beth Ain is a children’s book author of the Scholastic series, Starring Jules. Our son, Michael “Morty” Ain is a writer for ESPN The Magazine. Our daughter-in-law, Alana Joblin Ain, is a poet. Our son, Rabbi Dan Ain, writes on spiritual matters, particularly the intersection of technology and religion.  Our son, Jonathan Ain and our daughter-in-law Halie Geller, are lawyers.

What do you like the most about being an author?

I love the feedback I get from people. Many have shared their own stories of how they remember their loved ones, and we encourage them to post these on our website: Both the stories in our book and the new stories people are sharing with us, are so inspirational. We hope to write a sequel based on the new stories. What’s most meaningful about being an author is that The Living Memories Project has been healing and cathartic for me; and it has enabled me to honor my mom’s memory in a way that is very appropriate, During World War II she was a WAC and was a writer on the staff of The Belvoir Castle, the newspaper of Fort Belvoir in Virginia. She also wrote two manuscripts that were never published, and I know she would be so thrilled that our book – dedicated to her -- `is now a reality. Most of all, I 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.

What kind of advice would you give other non-fiction authors? 

Choose a topic that you are passionate about. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Keep on researching, writing, and revising, until you are sure it reflects your voice and your mission, and you are proud of what you have written. Don’t be discouraged if you keep on getting rejections. All you need is one acceptance!

Twitter: @LivMemoriesProj

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