I remember my grandmother, well into her eighties, telling me more than once that whenever she looked at her own reflection in a mirror, she was dumbstruck, each time. She could not connect that face, that ravaged old face, her old face, to the feelings of hope and energy and contentment, along with a bit of jealousy and pride, she still experienced every day. It wasn’t simple vanity that she talking about, or even denial. She wasn’t bothered about the wrinkles. It was that her emotions were precisely as sharp and vivid and compelling as they had been when she was nine. Nine! What sense did that make? How could part of you be in grade school, while the rest was ancient beyond recognition? What did it mean? It was an interesting and unexpected take on the whole process of growing old.
Thinking of her reminds me that those we care for each day, closely, intimately, have their secrets still. Yes, we may have to accompany them as they perform the most basic of functions, and yes, we may have to dress and feed them and pay their bills. But familiar as they are, dependent as they are, our aging parents or other loved ones have stories to tell. We may believe we have heard them all, too, but have we?
So let’s ask some questions, show some interest. We don’t know our parents or grandparents nearly as well as we think we do. With the holidays here, we may get to spend more time than usual with family – a good excuse to share more than gifts and meals and gossip. We can share ourselves, too. Let’s start some conversations that don’t focus on daily housekeeping details or upcoming doctor’s appointments. Let’s talk, really talk – it’s good for everyone.
Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:
- What is your earliest memory?
- What was your room like when you were little?
- Who were your friends when you were growing up?
- Where did you go to school? How did you get there? Did you like it?
- What was your best subject in school? And what was your absolute worst?
- What school activities and sports were you involved in? Were you a cheerleader? A baseball player? In choir?
- What did you wear to school? How did you wear your hair? Were you trendy or nerdy? Do you remember silly fads or popular haircuts? What about shoes or jewelry?
- Did you get an allowance? How much? Did you spend it or save it?
- Did you have a part-time job as a teenager? What did you do?
- What about music? Did you have a favorite singer or band?
- How about the movies? Or TV and radio? Any favorites?
- What did you love to do with friends? Go to the beach or dancing, or what?
- Tell me about your first bike, your first car. Who paid for them? Did you pass the driving test the first time you tried?
- Who was your first love? Your favorite pet?
- Do you have a lost love?
- What world events affected you most growing up?
- What was the happiest moment of your life?
- What are you most proud of?
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
- Who was the person that influenced you most?
- How would you like to be remembered?
- Am I like you? In what ways? In what ways am I different?
- Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have?
- Do you wish things had been different between us? Is there anything we can still change?
- Have you any regrets?
- What about today’s world, today’s technology, do you like? What drives you crazy?