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, http://thelivingmemoriesproject.com/. 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 www.thelivingmemoriesproject.com.
Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life! Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process. Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning? Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?
When my mother died after a brief illness in 2006, I was bereft. Although I was happily married with a family, I confess I didn’t know how I was going to go on without my mom. I was in a funk, going through the motions but not really enjoying it. I was told it would get better after a year and that I needed closure. I began speaking with my friends about how to achieve it and came to the conclusion that there is no closure with those we love deeply. They are in our lives and in our hearts forever, although they are not physically present. Some keep alive their memories through small acts, such as looking at photos and making recipes. Others do big things to carry on the legacies and values of their loved ones, such as establishing foundations.
My mother was essentially a cheerful, optimistic person. When I was bored, sad, or depressed, she would say: “Get yourself a project.” So I decided my project would be to interview people about how they keep alive the memories of their loved ones. I was hoping to get ideas from them, and to heal myself. I enlisted the support of my husband, Stewart, and my brother, Arthur, and together we captured the stories of more than 30 individuals who created tributes – big and small – as living memorials. The project was therapeutic and cathartic for us; not only did it give us wonderful material, but it turned into an inspiring book and an amazing tribute to my mom.
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?
The most challenging part of the book was gathering the narratives of others. We included people who had inspiring stores – some famous, some not. Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst that can happen is that you will get a no. But if you ask many people, you will be successful. Some of the individuals shared stories, which were incredibly ambitious, some as simple as looking at photographs or following a recipe. We approached people who we believed had an interesting story to tell. We are so grateful to all who participated. And we learned some interesting things! For example, Yankee great Babe Ruth was a humanitarian who signed a full-page ad that appeared in the New York Times in December 1942 criticizing Nazi Germany for its persecution of Jews. We also learned that George Clooney’s human rights work had its genesis in the lessons about social responsibility taught to him by his grandfather. And, that Lynda Johnson Robb gave her mother’s (Lady Bird Johnson’s) scarves to her mother’s favorite friends to share her memory.
We were fortunate that the three of us have different strengths and we played off each other, and this made for a great team. I don’t think I could have executed the book by myself, so if you can find the right collaborators, it can make the process easier.
Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?
Our publisher is Little Miami Publishing Company, a small independent publisher. My brother-in-law, Howard Ain, who is a TV reporter in Cincinnati, introduced us to the publisher, Barbara Gargiulo. Her mother was dying, and she said the book resonated with her.
Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?
It is very difficult and time consuming process to find a publisher if you are not a celebrity.
Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?
We have asked people to share with us on our website their own stories of keeping alive the memories of their loved ones. We are hoping this will lead to a sequel.
Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?
I like Facebook. We have thousands of likes on The Living Memories Project Facebook page, and our friends and followers are very supportive. It’s easy to get a message out quickly and you get instant feedback! And of course, we have our book website.
Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with 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.
Q: Thank you again for this interview! Do you have any final words?
There’s something in our book for everybody. 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.