The rustling newspaper from the corner chair. A gruff, but friendly voice. The smell of steaming coffee. Worn out jeans and carefully combed grey hairs. A hearty laugh and a warm smile. These are the memories I have of my grandfather who passed away from Alzheimer's in 2008.
Even though he's been gone for nearly ten years, I often think about my grandfather's subtle but powerful influence on me and my family- his commitment to education, his dedication to years of civic and community service, and his journey through grief when his eldest son died much too young. His values and life experiences have shaped me, but what if I didn't know as much about him as I do? And what if I knew more?
When my grandpa's memory began to fade, my dad met with him a few times to interview him about his life. My dad asked him about his parents, his siblings, what it was like growing up, how he met my grandma, etc. These recordings, in my grandpa's own voice, are priceless. Thanks to these interviews, we have a record of my grandpa and his family, most of whom passed away long before me and my siblings were born and never met.
Our grandparents won't always be around, but if we take the time today to get to know them and record their memories and experiences, their influence will live on long after they're gone. Check out the ideas below to get to know your grandparents and preserve their memories:
1. Record an interview with your grandparents
With the miracle of modern technology, the only tool you need to interview your grandparents is probably tucked in your pocket. Video or voice record the interview on your cell phone, type a transcript of the interview, and then save and share the interview with other family members. Everyone in the family will learn something new, and your grandparent's valuable and precious memories will be preserved. This is especially important if your grandparents know or remember family members that you or your siblings or parents never met. Ask them to describe these individuals and share their stories.
2. Spend quality time with your grandparents and let them know you care
While it may come easy for some, spending quality time with your grandparents outside your annual reunion or the occasional holiday may not feel totally natural to others. Perhaps you didn't grow up with a close relationship with your grandparents, but you can choose now to get to know them better. Take them to lunch. Give them a call or send them a text. Visit them at home. Play a game with them. Send them a handwritten card. You will never regret quality time spent with family or efforts to express love and affection, especially once your grandparents are gone.
Your grandparents have likely gone through many of the same struggles and challenges you will experience- dating, family life, career choices, buying a home, traveling, tragedy, discouragements, etc. Ask them questions about how they handled these life experiences and managed change, discouragement, prosperity and difficulty. You will learn more about your grandparents and gain some valuable insight and advice to tackle your own challenges.
4. Review photographs and identify family members
Remember that your grandparents are your link to the past. Sit down and review old family photos with them and have them help you identify great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others you've never met or who may no longer be living. Ask your grandparent to recount stories about the individuals in the old photographs- once your grandma or grandpa is gone, there may no longer be anyone else living who remembers these people and their stories.
5. Learn about special items and heirlooms
Maybe your grandmother has always worn the same necklace, or perhaps there is a special dish in her china cabinet that has been passed down for several generations. Do you know where these items came from, and why they're important to your family?
Take an afternoon to walk around your grandparent's house and ask them to describe these special items and where they're from (don't forget to pull out your phone to record!). You'll want to know the provenance of these items, even if they're only of sentimental value to your grandparent or your family. What a shame if the item's story or meaning is lost when your grandparent departs.
Everyone has special memories associated with food. Is there a recipe that takes you back to Saturday mornings at grandma's or to your favorite holiday with family? Ask your grandparent to teach you how to make the recipe or simply save it to share with your family.
Food is a wonderful and powerful tradition, but there are other traditions, too. Write down or save songs, stories, games and other activities that have been longstanding traditions with your grandparents and continue them with your own family.