It’s not unusual for my daughters to talk about my parents, commenting on their likes, their dislikes, and describing what they would say about a particular topic. It’s very important to me that my parents are part of their “village.” The unusual part? My daughters have absolutely no first hand memories of my parents. My dad died eleven months before they were born. Although they were two when my mother died, her Alzheimer’s robbed the three of them of making any memories together.
I was amply blessed in the parent department; my parents and I were a tight little family of three. My dad was wise, witty and generous. My mother was talented, loving and refined. When my daughters were born, I challenged myself to make my parents a real presence in their lives. I wanted my daughters to really know them, not just to know about them.
Most all of us have lost someone who we wish could be integral in our children’s lives. I’m sad that my children will never experience my parents’ abundant love and wise counsel. While that is something that I cannot change, I have found many ways to keep my parents alive in their lives. The ideas I list below are simple to do, and while I’ve written this post with my parents in mind, most of these ideas would apply to anyone who was significant in your life.
- I share stories about my parents with my children. My daughters love to hear stories about my life when I was their age. Their favorite stories are about the every day moments of my childhood. They want to know what my school was like, what my friends and I liked to do, and what my family was like. They marvel at my descriptions of life before technology. Often they will ask me to tell them stories about my mom and dad. Hearing my stories allows them to paint their own mental pictures of my parents.
- I display family photos all around our home. Family photos fill the nooks and crannies of our home. A framed photo of my mother looking glamorous in her mid-twenties sits on the hutch in our kitchen, displayed between the serving bowls. A favorite photo of my dad is on my nightstand. Seeing photos of my parents at different ages helps to bring my stories about them to life.
- I share my parents’ favorite expressions, quotes and songs. Every parent has favorite expressions that inspire their children, inspire eye rolls, or inspire a little of both. My dad had a quote or verse for almost every situation in life and he knew countless silly songs. I’ve repeated so many to my girls that they automatically attribute to him any silly song that I share or any inspirational thing that I say.
- We visit the cemetery. My parents are buried in New Orleans where I grew up and where my family has lived for generations. Every trip home includes at least one visit to the cemetery. My girls know that these visits are comforting to me, and it is important to me that my girls know where my parents are at rest.
- We visit places that were significant in my parents’ lives. No trip to New Orleans is complete without visiting some of the landmarks of my childhood. I love that as my daughters get older, they now repeat to me the same stories that I’ve shared with them over the years about the significance of these places.
- We use my parents’ possessions in everyday life. Both my grandmother’s and my mother’s china sugar bowls live on our kitchen counter. I get far more pleasure out of using them daily rather than protectively storing them in the china cabinet. My girls know who they belonged to and why they are special to me.
Hands down my favorite possession is my dad’s ice cream scoop. He never met an ice cream that he didn’t like, but Brown’s Velvet vanilla was his favorite. Both my girls, but especially G, share his love for ice cream. They love to hear about how he was always willing to take my friends and me out for ice cream so he could have some, too. They know that he served his ice cream in a soup bowl and, much to my mother’s dismay, occasionally enjoyed it right out of the carton. Because they know the history of the ice cream scoop, using it gives them a physical connection to my dad.
- We make my mother’s recipes. My mother loved to cook and entertain. I’m lucky to have many of her favorite recipes that I cook and will pass down to my girls.
- We nurture relationships with extended family. I’ve made sure to stay connected to our extended family. My mother’s siblings and my cousins provide my girls with the love of an extended family and a sense of belonging that they would not otherwise have.
- I asked family and friends to write letters to my daughters about my mother. My mother died six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. While Alzheimer’s had long before taken the mother that I knew, I realized when she died that my two-year old girls would have no memory of her at all. I wrote a letter to her siblings, my cousins, and family friends asking them each to write a letter to my girls sharing a favorite memory about my mother. Their responses exceeded my wildest expectations both in number and in content. Sweet, funny and poignant memories filled my mailbox, including many stories that I had never heard. I haven’t yet shared these letters with my daughters, but I will when the time is right.
- If your still have your parents, give them blank journals. Handwritten notes and journals just seem more personal and intimate than the same words typed. When I was in college, I gave my grandmother and one of my mother’s sisters blank journals and asked them to each write in them when the mood struck. When they asked what they should write, I suggested stories, recipes, advice and memories. Those journals are priceless family treasures that I am happy to share with my girls.
These suggestions are just a few of the endless ways that I’ve found to keep my parents present in my daughters’ lives. I would love to hear other ideas.