Getting the Answers Before It's Too Late

by Christine

Her response to my email was disappointing but not completely unexpected. In the oodles and oodles of photographs that I have been scanning, I found three 8 ½ by 11 black and white wedding photographs. It was not my parents wedding or anyone else in the family. Candidly, my family has a history of eloping so I was pretty certain these must have been friends of the family. My father was part of the wedding party and in one picture my mother is sitting in a pew. I had hoped my Aunt would have some answers. Unfortunately, she didn’t know either one of the two brides or bridegrooms in the photo or the dozen or so in attendance kneeling before the brides. It was a fancy wedding!

Of course, since my mom’s passing, there is no one to answer my questions. That is not to say mom was forthcoming with a lot of information before she died. She never was one to talk about her family or her life before she met my dad. But in retrospect I have come to understand that her lack of answers in the last few years of her life had more to do with the dementia that was overtaking her than her unwillingness to fill in the blanks. She would bark, “I don’t know why you want to talk about that” and we would all back off.

I am a political scientist/historian at heart so I want the facts- documented and correct. My brother on the other hand never let’s a fact get in the way of a good story. He just fills in the blanks to his satisfaction. I know he is less stressed than I am about getting the “right” answer. I have learned from others that what I am experiencing is not uncommon. It seems that questions bubble up after the death of a parent or even a spouse. The questions can be as mundane as “What happened to the little Christmas houses that we had as kids?” to the serious, “Is there any history of autism in the family?” to the scandalous, “Who is that women in these pictures of Granddaddy”? But all the questions go unanswered now.

My Aunt Carolyn shared with me that she had numerous questions for her parents after their death that went unanswered. So she is keeping an ever-expanding letter that answers questions she thinks her daughters may have after she is gone. I know that there will be questions that will go unanswered but my Aunt Carolyn’s time is well spent. Her daughters will appreciate her thoughtfulness.

I would love to read her letter today and it has made me think. I cannot spend my time documenting my past; I want to live in the present. But I want to be thoughtful of my children and grandchildren.  I was a hospice volunteer for many years and they have a document called The Time of My Life. It has hundreds of questions that start with “Did you know either of your Grandfathers” and ends with “Is there something you always wanted people to know about you”? It is a wonderful tool for sharing personal and family history particularly with children.

I am reminded of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The play is popular with high school theater directors and seems to be performed continually. I assume that is because the performance rights are cheap and the main characters are young people. I also think the concepts are well beyond most high schoolers. Emily, the main character, comes back from the grave where she pleads with her mother to “look at me one minute as though you really saw me”. What she asks is impossible but a longing that all of us feel once those we love are gone. We want just one more minute to fill in the blanks. Today is the day to take just one minute to really look at the people you love.