When I was 26 years old — pre e-mail (what??), I wrote my dad an 8-page snail mail letter. It started like this, "Dear Dad, I've been meaning to write this letter for quite some time, and in the "rush rush" of everyday, I just never found that chunk of time. Until today."
I went on to explain that while I "knew" him, I didn't really know him. "And so forgive me," I wrote, "but I think this letter is going to be a zillion questions to try to find out what your life was like pre-Marianne that contributed to the kind of person you are today."
At first my dad tucked my letter in a drawer. He was "annoyed," my mom said. "Felt like I was being too nosy." But then he changed his mind, pulled out my letter, got busy and ended up writing for me a 53-page life story that abruptly ends mid-paragraph when his dimentia quieted his typing.
Perhaps our imposed down time can be a chance for you and/or your kids to write your own legacy letter to a parent or grandparent. Or because this is 2020, interview them over the phone or Facetime or Skype or Zoom and record their answers. Make a book out of it, even if it's just stapled together.
And just for starters on the "what do I ask" question — here were many of my original questions (I know this because my mom photocopied the letter for me and saved it for me).
When you were born, what house did you live in and where?
How would you describe your childhood?
What was your grade school like?
Do you remember a favorite teacher?
Did you have a lot of friends or just a few? What kinds of things did you do together?
Did you have a nickname?
Did you play sports or an instrument?
What were your favorite things growing up — favorite foods, activities, clothes to wear?
What was your relationship with your parents like?
How did you and your siblings get a long? Were you closer to one than another?
Did you have pets?
What was high school like for you?
What did you do on a Friday or Saturday night?
Did you date? And go to the dances?
Who was your first girlfriend?
What were your fears as a younger person? Your dreams?
Was marriage something you always wanted? Or did it take you by surprise?
Did you always want children?
Can you tell me about one of your happiest days?
Or your biggest disappointment?
If there was something you could change about yourself, what would it be?
What life advice would you give me?
What do you most want me to know about you?
My hope is that this time of being at home inspires new ways of connecting with family and friends. In the "rush rush" of everyday, I just never found the time," I explained to my dad. As each of us look for ways to fill our days with work and at-home activities, it seems we just might have the time right now. xo, Marianne