My dad recently turned 78. His birthday was Friday, September 8th. I spent most of it tearful and worried. He and my mom were adamant about staying in Florida despite Irma’s imminent arrival. I called them several times a day to talk. When we’d hang up, I experienced the most unsettling feeling. Would this be the last time we’d talk?
When Saturday morning’s hurricane computer model projected Irma heading straight over the top of their community, I made one last tearful plea for them to come north. This time, they accepted. Since their arrival on Saturday afternoon, I’ve been especially aware of the details … I’ve been savoring, noticing, appreciating, and relishing. This is what happens when Time slaps me in the face. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, life feels different. For a brief period, I can see so clearly what is important; the inconsequential falls away.
Yesterday, I walked into the bathroom where my parents have their toiletries. On an ordinary day I wouldn’t have noticed, but yesterday this small detail caught my eye. My dad had filled an empty bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid with his favorite shampoo. I knew it was shampoo because it was marked “SHAMPOO” in several places on the bottle with a black Sharpie in his distinct script. This made me chuckle. This made me think back to all the times as a child I watched him balance an almost empty bottle of shampoo, salad dressing, or lotion onto a full one so nothing would be wasted. As it teen, this penny-pinching practice used to annoy me. But once I understood where my dad came from – how little he had growing up and what he’d achieved through determination and hard work, I saw it as an endearing detail in his fabric.
The sight of the shampoo bottle and the story that it tells of his life are the kinds of things I am savoring right now. Time is poking me, prodding me, reminding me to take it in while I can. So last night, we sat at the kitchen table where I asked my dad the questions I created for my father-in-law Ben when he learned he was dying of cancer. My husband, his brother, and his sister asked their father a list of questions. It sparked memories, laughter, and important admissions. Because of the list, it ended up being what Ben called, “One of the best days ever.”
Today I share this list with you—not because someone is dying but because someone is living … because someone you love is alive today and possesses wisdom, experiences, and advice just waiting to be heard. Take a moment and listen to what your loved one has to say. May what you learn enhance the precious days of your life. May you see endearing details in their fabric you’ve never seen before.
1. How did your parents come up with your name?
2. Who were your best friends growing up?
3. Did you have a favorite pet when you were a kid?
4. What were you like as a child?
5. What was your favorite meal growing up?
6. What was the hardest obstacle you overcame?
7. What were the happiest moments of your life?
8. If you could change anything in your past, what would it be?
9. Are there any relationships you want to repair?
10. Are there any tasks you need to complete before you die?
11. What brings you a sense of peace?
12. What are you most proud of?
13. Is there a message you want to pass on to others?
14. Is there any advice you’d like to give me?
15. How would you like to be remembered?
When I posted the above story and questions on The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page last week, I did not expect the beautiful outpouring of comments. They are too beautiful not to share. Here is a small sample …
Dori – “Yes, yes, yes!!! My mom came to live near us after my dad passed away. I saw or talked to her everyday, but the absolute best times we had were over lunch when I would ask her questions about growing up, the only girl with five brothers (they teased her a lot, but she loved them dearly and because of it she was the greatest sports fan!), how it was being a teenager during the depression (“I had two outfits to wear to school, that’s all”), where did they live when they were first married (at her parents initially and her mother charged rent for their room when they went off on their honeymoon!) and so on. After one of these days, she exclaimed to me “We have the best times together, don’t we?” I get teary-eyed writing that. I miss her. She passed away a little over a year ago at age 95 and I still have so many questions left to ask. So ask the questions while you have the time for the answers!”
Valena – “My mom has been doing something similar for her grandchildren the past few years for Christmas, called “Grandma, tell me a story”. She’s sharing stories she remembers of me and my siblings as we grew up. She always starts with a question, and then she tells a story about each of her six kids that answers that question. She then prints it, and and put each page into a page protector. She makes a copy for each family, and we have a binder that we’re slowly filling up as she gives them to us! The grandkids have LOVED learning more about their parents…. and my mom is a fantastic storyteller, so they’re so fun to read! She’s also written great stories about her own parents, grandparents, and she and my dad. These stories are such a treasure to us!”
Susan – “My father passed 14 years ago this October, although in his later years he didn’t travel very often he always kept his toiletry bag ready to go. Filled with all he needed to look presentable he never went anywhere without slapping on his Old Spice After Shave. I have kept his bag after all these years just as he left it. Every now and then I unzip it and remind myself of his presence.”
Stacy – “I wrote a list like this for my dad and gave it to him on my 40th bday. I told him this could be his gift to me. He passed away 4 days after my 50th birthday. I still haven’t seen his answers but my mom is looking for it. I can’t wait to get my long awaited birthday gift!”
Shona – “Thank you for these questions – I’m booked to go visit my 96 yr old grandmother in three weeks, I sent her a letter about a month ago letting her know I was coming to visit – and that my main reason for visiting is to find out about her – her childhood, growing up, meeting my grandfather and their life together. I have added your questions to my list – there are some beautiful questions. I know that she wont be here much longer and once she goes so will her knowledge. Thank you.”
My friends, feel free to add your beautiful memories and suggestions in the comments. I treasure your contributions to this journey to live better and love more! Friends in Mobile, Alabama, it is not too late to sign up for the FOCUS WOMEN’S Conference happening THIS Friday, September 22. I will be speaking from 9am to 10am and then meeting with you afterwards! Also, registration is now open for my speaking event in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 14. This is a FREE event but registration is required! Click here for more info and to register. I can’t wait to see you!