As it became more clear that my Mom was going to indeed die, I reached out to my sister-in-law who had lost her mom several years before. I asked her if there was anything that she would have done differently in that last year. Things she wishes she could go back in time and change.
After we broke down in tears she gave me some items. It seemed each time we discussed my mom it brought up all the feelings of anguish she experienced when she lost her mom and we both ended up crying. Now that I am on the other side of the death mark, I think it was because she knew what I was about to experience and knew it was not going to be good. I think about it now like when I watch a first time pregnant woman. You wish you tell them about those first few months of motherhood – that its terrible and wonderful all in one. That they are going to wish some days they could go back in time to before children and that they would feel guilty about it. But to hold on…. it does get better and that deep fatigue fog does lift eventually. There is no way to warn a first time pregnant woman. They are blissfully unaware and wouldn’t believe you anyway.
So in the midst of tears she gave me her advice.
First, she wishes she had taken more pictures and video in the last year. She didn’t because she knew her mom didn’t look her best and wanted to respect her but in retrospect she wanted more pictures of her mom. That last year had a lot of memories and good times with their family. A video of her Mom would have been especially nice as she would have been able to hear her Mom’s voice again. We take lots of video of babies and children but adults don’t like video of themselves.
Second, she wished she had talked to her mom more directly about what she wanted them to remember about her and stories about their family’s history. It was hard to bring up the subject though because it was admitting that death was coming.
Lastly, she wishes they had taken a vacation as an extended family — her Dad, Mom, her family and her brother’s family. After her Mom died, they went on vacation with the extended family and her Dad’s new girlfriend and they had a great time and their family was closer than it had been in a long time. She wishes they had that great memory like that to go into the homestretch with her mom.
I took her advice to heart and did all three. I made sure to take pictures of my mom and her grandkids. It was more difficult to get a picture of my mom and I and honestly I am not sure I ever did accomplish that goal.
I also asked her very directly what she wanted to pass along to her grandchildren. What did she want them to know about her and lessons she wanted to pass along. It was difficult to bring up the subject because while we didn’t say it, it was obvious I was asking her because we knew she would not be around to tell them herself.
This is what she told me:
- Choose your battles wisely
- Don’t assume that that something can be used the most obvious way
- Don’t make your house so comfortable that your kids won’t leave
- When you raise your kids put them in a garden that is so large that they can’t see the walls. She explained further that they should feel a sense of freedom but there are walls to protect them.
- Know where you come from – church, family and heritage : this helps you understand yourself as you grow and change. Why am I reacting this way or think this way? Its okay to change but its good to understand where you came from.
- Walk in another’s shoes. Experience how other people live. Don’t just have dinner in their house but immerse yourself to find out what makes their family and community tick.
- Act honorably: the world will be a better place for it. You can set a tone for your community so be an example.
- “Never be afraid to do small things with great love” (Mother Teresa quote). You are god’s present to the world and his messenger. When you do things without any thought of reciprocation, you don’t know the result or how it will affect someone.
- She wished for them a life full of positive joy that they can pass along to others.
Lastly we went on a vacation with my extended family. I can’t take credit for planning the vacation. I really don’t remember who came up with the idea but I do know that we all enjoyed the trip and I love having the memories. While we were there I also snuck in a video of my mom enjoying some wine. Six months after she died I put it on YouTube and her brothers and sisters and my siblings were all glad to hear her voice again.
Your list may be different but this may get you started and help open the conversation with your parent.