Remembering our Loved Ones: What would you ask?

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by Alisa

Most of us have had someone close to us pass away. Occasionally there’s something sensory or tangible we have to remember them by, other times we have only our memories. My grandpa passed away when I was nine, but I have a CD (made from a tape recording) of a fireside he did for his posterity. It means so much to me now to listen to it with my adult perspective.

My father is seriously ill. My dad’s doctor has prepared him with about a year to live. Right now he feels OK, but I know over time his energy will deteriorate.

We have a special bond, he and I. Although I usually consider my parents’ home a strictly patriarchal one, he raised me nearly identically to my two older brothers, encouraging me in my aptitude for math and science. He suggested I become an engineer like him, and when I instead turned to English, he suggested that I would make a good technical writer (my current profession). These gifts of encouragement and praise make me want to take advantage of the time we have now, while he still feels relatively well, to create those things I want to remember him by.

I like my grandpa’s CD because the audio medium very much appeals to me. I hear a lot of a personality in vocal inflections, and I’m more likely to listen to a CD than watch a video. My MiL suggested that I interview my dad for NPR’s StoryCorps. Unfortunately, I missed the travelling StoryCorps van at my city by a matter of weeks, but going to their site has got me started on a list of some good questions I want to ask my dad as we create the audio recording I will to use to remember him. It may not get archived in the Library of Congress, but it will reamin with me, which is what’s important.

My current list is 40 questions long, but here are a few of them:

  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • How do you think you and I are similar?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Do you remember any of the bedtime stories you used to tell me? Can you describe them now?
  • Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence of your life? Tell me about them.
  • How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • What were your parents like?
  • What was it like to have your mother pass away while you were away on a mission?
  • What was it like to be a child during the start of the cold war?
  • What do you enjoy most about hiking in nature?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
  • What do you think the afterlife will be like?
  • What would you like to say when you meet God?
  • Can you tell me about your illness?
  • Do you look at your life differently now than before you were diagnosed?
  • If you were to give advice to me or children to come in our family, what would it be?
  • What have you learned from life? The most important things?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

I want to ask you, what would you want to know from your parents, grandparents, and close loved ones? What questions would you ask? If you could now ask one thing of someone who has departed, what would it be? If you had only limited time to spend with someone you loved, what would you do to make sure you remember them?

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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9 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Alisa, I think it’s wonderful that you’re being so proactive about recording your father’s thoughts for posterity. I’m sorry to hear he has only a year to live. How heartwrenching.

    I love your questions, and the only ones I would add are things like this:

    – Describe a life changing moment, and how it impacted you.
    -What is your biggest regret?
    -What is your greatest triumph?

  2. Ziff says:

    I have nothing to add to your list, but I want to second Caroline that I think this is an excellent idea.

  3. Sarah says:

    I’m sorry that you missed the StoryCorps opportunity. There may be other options to archive your interview with your dad, if that is important to you. If it is, you could look into archives that collect in areas like the geographical area your dad is from, his professional or working background, or his religious affiliation.

    That said, I think you are doing the most important thing–preserving his voice and stories for yourself and your family. The only other question I can suggest is “Describe a typical day” in different phases of life. Sometimes the little things mean a lot.

  4. D'Arcy says:

    Alisa,

    May I first start out by saying that who you are, the grace and beauty with which you face the challenges of life, has had a major impact on me. I’m so grateful for you.

    You pose an interesting question. Last year we had a family reunion. My grandmother is 93 and my cousin interviewed her for all of us. We all gathered and watched it outside, projected onto a big screen. She spoke of her childhood, of what it was like to be an immigrant from Germany, of the hard times she had during WWII (here in America people were VERY cruel to German immigrant) of how she met my grandfather, how she joined the church, her greatest desires.

    We all sat there, seven of her eight children (one has since passed), hundreds of grandchildren and great grandchildren and we looked to this amazing lady who was responsible for all of us sitting there.

    It was the most cohesive, bonding experience I’d ever had with my extented family. There was just an increase of love and happiness and kindness when we were reminded that we are family, and that we share the same blood and the same roots.

    I think I would ask my great grandmother about all the small details of her journey from Wales to Utah. We always hear the big stories of such adventures, but I’d like to know how the boat smelled, I’d like to know the conversations she had with the missionaries, I’d like to know how she got the money, I’d like to see the evening when this young girl firmly told her parents that she was leaving and not coming back, I’d like to know how my great grandfather and her met. I want the small details. Iknow a lot of generalities of my anscestors, but never enough specifics for this mind of mine!

  5. Alisa says:

    Thanks all for your comments! I love the suggestions. I wasn’t planning on getting into the narrative of a day in his life, or those details, but now I definitely want to do it! This is why it’s so good to bounce these ideas off of all of you.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Beautiful post, Alisa. I think you have such a lovely way of both remembering your dad and finding something that could bring you two closer.

  7. Eslteacher says:

    Alisa, I am going through the same situation as you currently and the one question I keep coming back to that I am going to ask my mom is: What were the principles of parenting that you tried to follow?

    Realizing that no one is perfect and having had my own children (and now grandchildren), I want them to know the kind of parent I tried to be, even though I was not always successful. I want to know this from my mom as well.

    Best wishes to you and your family on this journey.

  8. Alisa says:

    Eslteacher, what a good idea. I wish you the best as you progress on this journey with your mom.

  9. Brooke says:

    Alisa, I appreciate so much what you have decided to do. Such a marvelous, meaningful gesture that will benefit you and other family members for a long time. I remember when my grandmother died unexpectedly, one of the things that tormented me was everything that was lost with her. Gone for good. Everything in her brain that she hadn’t written down. And it made me want to talk to my parents more. And my other grandma as well. Your questions are a great starting point. Would you mind sharing some more of them? (you can email me)

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