My friend from Honolulu, Josh Wisch, recently posted this sage advice on Facebook. Even though some of us are now orphans, it’s not too late to write and preserve the stories of your parents and other relatives. Heck, give this to your kids and have them interview you. I wrote a little post awhile back called HEALING WITH HISTORY, and how helpful it was for me to research and write the story of my maternal grandfather, Vern Case, during the first year after we lost our son Jimmy. I then tackled my father’s story,Grover Gauntt Jr. and followed that up with one about my mother Barbara Case Gauntt. I gave Barb her story on Mother’s Day in 2010. More recently, I’ve joined Ancestry. com and have picked up the yoke pulled for so long my dearly departed Aunt Joan and my mother on our family tree. The online tools are so much better these days and I’ve uncovered some absolute nuggets about other relatives that I will one day write. Our family—our ancestors—are key members of our tribe. They inform who we are, where we’ve been, and where we may be going. I quickly realized I wasn’t singled out to suffer loss. Almost every one of my predecessors lost at least one child. They were tough, they lived hard lives, and they persevered. They inspire me.
If you have 20 minutes, please also check out Josh’s Ted Talk, Harvesting Rice. It is an amazing story of self-discovery, genocide, forgiveness, grief, hope, becoming an orphan and that unbreakable bond between fathers and sons.
Tomorrow Is Not Promised: Interview your parents
By Joshua Wisch
July 30, 2018
Lately, I’ve been sharing this bit of unsolicited advice with a fair number of friends, acquaintances, and – I’ll admit – some people who barely even count as acquaintances. Even if it seems like a weird idea to 9 out of 10 people to whom I suggest it, I’m fine with seeming to offer an odd recommendation if it ends up making a difference to the 1 out of 10.
But let me back up for a minute.
Today is the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing. In Judaism, today is his yahrzeit. It is inconceivable to me that it has been five years, but the calendar brooks no disagreement on this point. Five years ago today I was recently returned from a round-the-world trip that took me from Poland to Rwanda to Vietnam. I used FaceTime to video chat with my father for every leg of that trip. He was doing well, bicycling every single day, and helping me cope with what I was encountering on my journey. And then – with no warning – he was gone just weeks after I returned to Hawai’i.
Almost stranger still is that my mother has been gone for 28 years. Like my father, she passed with no warning. I was 15 years old and it was during Chanukah. It’s an odd thing to remember, but I was watching “Fletch Lives” on television the last night I saw her. The movie wasn’t yet over, but I had school the next day and decided to go to sleep. I walked over to my mom, told her “I love you,” and walked upstairs to my bedroom. I’ll forever be grateful those were, in fact, my last words to her. I fell asleep and hours later, she was gone.
Tomorrow is not promised.
To me, that sentiment is quite real. I know that all we hold dear can vanish instantly, without warning, without preparation, without a chance to say goodbye.
I have no recordings of my mother. No audio, no video. Her voice lives in my memory alone. But as for my father, I had voicemails of his that I’d saved, for no particular reason. But when he died, those voicemails became my most prized possessions. Like my mother, my father’s voice remains in my memory, but it makes it more real to hear. It makes it seem more like he’s still here. I saved those voicemails in at least five different locations so I’ll never lose them.
But I never interviewed my parents.
I never thought I’d need to. But now, every week I think of something else I wish I’d asked them when they were still here. I want to hear about their first date, what it was like the first day they moved into our house, what they thought the first time they moved to the country and saw a lightning bug. I want to hear stories about their childhood and my childhood before I was old enough to remember. I want to know so many things that only they would know. We spoke all the time, but there is still so much I want to know. And now there is no one I can ask.
So – if you’re still reading – I have a favor to ask of you. On this day when I remember what I’ve lost, I ask you to remember what you still have — and to take a small action to preserve it. You probably have a smart phone in your pocket. It has a voice recorder. It has a video camera. Call your mom or your dad. Ask for 5 minutes of their time tomorrow. Tell them you want to ask them a few questions – questions to which only they know the answers. It doesn’t matter how insignificant those questions may seem. I promise you that years from now, what your parents tell you in response WILL be significant.
Tomorrow is not promised. Tell your loved ones you love them. Hug them. Kiss them. Hold them close. Hold their stories close. Ask them to share those stories and record them so you’ll never lose them. Because no matter where you travel, what you buy, what you drive, where you live, or what you do for a living: a story from someone you love – that only they would know – in their voice – is worth more than all of it combined.
Take 5 minutes.
Fill those minutes with love.
Keep them forever.