Ask Those Questions Now

Recently, I’ve been pondering a comment from the late author Alex Haley: “Every time an old person dies, it is just as though a library has burned.” What triggered this? Finding an old World War II photo of my dad standing next to two of his Army buddies. Who were the other men? What’s the bombed-out building behind them? What was the date? Did the other men survive the war? But I can’t ask Dad because he died several years ago—and took almost 80 years of personal experiences, world history and family memories with him.

Over the years, I did ask him questions about the war. But like most men of that generation, he didn’t talk much about those experiences. At least not to his children. Or maybe I didn’t know the right questions to ask. So I concerned myself with my own little world of getting an education, marrying, teaching in a Detroit area high school, raising children—and visiting the folks every other weekend. One time, Dad and I were talking about my having worked as a civilian secretary for a ROTC Army unit while I was in college. Remembering some of the ridiculous orders I innocently had obeyed, such as being sent by a captain to “procure” items from the major’s office, I asked Dad, “What was the worse command you ever received?”

His eyes took on a far-away look, and I barely could hear his reply: “Fix bayonets.”

In that moment, Dad was no longer in his living room, but in some long-ago jungle in the South Pacific. He didn’t talk for the rest of my visit, so I decided I wouldn’t ask about the war again. I regret that decision now and have many, many other situations I wish I could discuss with him.

A while back, I asked several friends what questions they wish they could ask relatives who have died. One friend would like to know more about her father being raised in a Kentucky orphanage; another friend wants details about her mother’s childhood during the Great Depression; a co-worker wonders about the two children her mother gave up after her first divorce.

Yes, we all have unanswered questions. Sometimes we didn’t know how to ask about the tough situations. Or maybe we were caught up in our own challenges and thought our parents always had been this old. Now, suddenly, the years have passed, and we find an old photo triggering questions that never can be answered. But rather than linger in regrets, I’m determined to ask details from older cousins and remaining aunts–now. We all need to ask those questions while we can. Getting the answers may require a long phone call or even a visit. But the results will be worth the effort.

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About sandrapaldrich

Sandra P. Aldrich, author and popular speaker, loves the Lord, family and all things Appalachian. Isaiah 41:9-10
This entry was posted in aging, aging parents, appreciation, courage, regrets, veterans. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ask Those Questions Now

  1. CJ Hines says:

    Yes, it’s important to find those answers before that generation is gone. I had a similar experience with my father, who served in the Army in World War II. He didn’t want to talk about the war either.

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  2. Karen says:

    Sandy,
    Strange, or is it of God, that you chose this topic to write about. Your mother has been in my thoughts and prayers a lot lately. I haven’t seen her in several years, and I do need to see her.I hope she is still healthy and enjoying life. My motto these days is: life is short, so I best do it now. I love your writings! God’s blessings to you.
    Karen

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  3. My comment, which I placed on Facebook, was for my now-deceased father: Tell me about your life after your dad died. It was something he NEVER talked about. Ever. You may have read a thread on Facebook about my grandfather’s death–that he was hit by a pusher locomotive while driving back from his in-laws’ place. My father was nine years old, and that death happened 39 days before the start of WWII.

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  4. Oops . . . make that 36 days.

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  5. Hi Sandra. Thanks for the twitter follow and good to find your site. Nice blog post. There’s so many great stories out there that we miss. I wish I could have my grandparents back, even my father, and ask some questions.

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  6. emmlyjane says:

    We recently lost my grandmother. She was always a quiet, reserved woman who did not share much of her own life’s story. No one knew how our grandparents met. I am most grateful to my cousin who went to visit on a mission before she passed. He was determined not to leave without knowing their story. Turns out Grandma “out waited” people even back then to get what she wanted. My grandfather had come to the dance with a date. Grandma stayed at the dance and waited until Grandpa walked the other girl home and then walked back so they could get to know each other better.

    It’s a moment of our family’s history we would have never known. I will cherish it forever and will not let another person out of my life without getting to know their story.

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  7. Pingback: If Time Heals All Wounds, Then Why Am I Still Bleeding? | CJ Hines

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