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Excerpts from the Ether: People Never Die As Long As Someone Remembers Them

Welcome to Excerpts from the Ether. Every Saturday I’m going to be excerpting a letter from a reader (with their permission, of course) and featuring them here on my blog.

Something that has always stood out to me about grief is how lonely it is. When you’re going through the loss of a loved one, it can be a very isolating experience. No one around you quite understands what you’re feeling. My main intention behind writing and publishing The Rules of Inheritance was to put my experience out into the world so that others would feel a little less alone in their own journeys. Over the last several weeks since the book was published, I’ve received some incredible letters from readers and I’m so humbled to share some of them here.

February 4, 2012

Dear Claire,

I  just wanted to express that your book has truly touched me.  It was incredibly honest, reflective, well-written and was so strangely familiar.  Although the circumstances of my father’s death were completely different, it has been the single most defining experience of my life.  I too, am a much different person than I was so many years ago, but that loss is always just below the surface and I am sure that it always will be.  It informs my decisions as a wife, a new mother, and a friend.  It is always there…It was comforting to read that I am not the only person who feels this way.

I remember the summer just before I left for Marlboro College, I was having a particularly difficult time and came across an old note that my mother had written to herself.  It said, “People never die, as long as someone remembers them.” and was dated sometime in the mid-seventies, just after she had lost her own father to cancer.  Finding this note was remarkable to me, mostly because it was the first time I had stopped to think about my mother as a completely independent person.  It struck me that she had written down that quote, when she was not much older than I was at the time, because she had been searching for the same comfort that I desperately needed at that moment.  The sentiment was something that I kept tucked in the back of my mind in years that followed, as I struggled through my grief.  I returned to the thought today as I finished your book.  You have created a beautiful, permanent portrait of, and tribute to, both of your parents.  They will always be remembered.

–Shana, San Francisco

What Shana’s mother wrote to her all those years ago is true. No one is ever truly gone, as long as we remember them, and work to keep them in our lives, even in small ways. I still remember last summer when I received the very first bound copies of my book, and truly realized what I had created — a way to keep my parents alive in the world. The idea that people all around the world might come to know them and love them and miss them too brought, and still brings me, more peace than I can express.

I don’t think you have to write a book to feel similarly about someone you’ve lost though. Simply talking about them in conversation, writing them letters that you may never share with anyone at all, talking to them in your head, or just keeping photographs of them around your living space keeps them alive in the world.

I have Shana and her mother to thank for reminding me of this beautiful sentiment.


  1. Our daughter-in-law lost her beloved father just a year after she and our son were married. I promised on his death bed that I would “think him with us” at all future family occasions. It helped him then, and it has helped us ever since. Truly, he remains well-loved in all our hearts.

    Comment by Carroll on March 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm

  2. I love that, Carroll.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on March 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm

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