Time is fleeting. It doesn’t wait for anyone. When we are younger, it doesn’t seem important to make the time with our loved ones really count. I was like that until my aunt and uncle both suffered from serious illnesses. I was very close to them, so somehow the experience of almost losing them brought me to my senses. I then realized that I needed to make the most of what time we have left.
Uncle forgets a lot these days. He doesn’t have full-blown dementia, but his short term memory is getting worse. He’s not alone. Now close to 80, he has plenty of company. An estimated fifty percent of people 85 years and older now suffer from some kind of dementia.
So how do we make our time memorable when a loved one has memory problems? The best way is to meet them where they do remember. Younger people have lots of future to look to. Older people have more past to remember. Most people with even moderate dementia can remember their childhood and early adulthood. That’s where they’re comfortable. That’s where you can connect with them.
Talking about the past and remembering the good times is such a blessing. It doesn’t just bless the older person . . . it can bless you. Knowing the family stories and the obstacles that your loved one had to overcome to be successful in life are rich and worthy to be passed down to future generations. Talking about a person’s early life also helps us to understand them better. What great wisdom would be lost if we neglected to know how they became who they are!
My friend’s maternal grandmother raised 14 children and all reached adulthood, save one. Her husband was twice her age and long past where he could make a decent living. That grandmother is part of my friend, Karen. My grandmother is also what I am made of.
Whenever I feel discouraged or that I have too much on my plate, I remember that friend’s granny. All Karen’s granny had to do to raise those kids – feed them, cloth them, and without any help. That’s all. What work!
I remember sitting on that granny’s bed with Karen who asked her granny why she would marry a man twice her age. I asked my own granny about her childhood and her mother’s childhood. I wouldn’t trade those stories for anything in the world.
What stories do your loved ones still need to share? Do you know why they lived where they lived? Do you know what the happiest time in their life was? Do you know what they consider their greatest accomplishment? Do you know what lessons their parents taught them that are still the most important to them? These are all topics that could enrich your life while giving them the time to share on subjects they feel comfortable with.
Our society revels in those who are young, but do we give enough honors to those who have lived good lives and have wisdom to share? Will you be the memory keeper for your family?
Here are a few questions to ask your older relatives to get you started as the Memory Keeper for your family!
1. What occupations or roles have you had in life that has given you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
2. Why did these roles or occupations seem to be gratifying to you?
3. What single “seed of wisdom” do you hope to hand down to the next generation?
4. What did you want to be when you grew up?
5. What was it like when you were first married?
6. What did your family do for fun when you were young?
7. What was your first “date” like and who was it with?
8. When did you first learn to drive and who taught you?
9. What was the best present you ever received as a child?
10. What was your wedding day like? What did you wear and were there any catastrophes?
Note-- Being “interested” and a little less “interesting” is how you connect with anyone!