One of the most common regrets that people have after their grandparents and parents have passed on is that they don’t know as much about their forefathers’ lives as they would like to know.
Somehow, in the hurly burly of everyday life there doesn’t seem to be time to talk and ask, or maybe sometimes the right moment never quite comes along.
In the last few years I’ve come across a number of older people who have in their retirement thought long and hard about this issue and considered how they might best leave a positive and appropriate message for their descendants.
Two ways have emerged – or at least there are two ways of doing this that I have become aware of.
The first is the picture album – the picture album that carries a vital record from across the years, combined with illustrative notes about why each picture has been chosen.
The other (and of course this can be combined with the first) is the written account. Not an autobiography, but just a reminiscence on topics that one wants to talk about – a reminiscence of parts of one’s life, written not with the view that the writer will soon be passing away, but rather so that when that time does come, they have left their children or grandchildren something very specific to remember them by. Like the photos, it is more than a record of events – it is their way of seeing the world.
The small number of people whom I have had the honour of talking to about such an issue have said that they found it incredibly interesting to start gathering a specific set of photos to be “discovered” upon their passing.
They also said that they found the task of writing about themselves both challenging and enjoyable. They all suggested that they found it hard to get going, but then after a little while, once they stopped worrying about getting everything in the right order, they relaxed and just wrote down what they felt like writing, and it all became a lot easier.
And then came a very interesting revelation – for me at least. It was a technical detail, but it seemed to say quite a bit about the way we think about the world these days.
It turned out that these reminisces were written on a computer using Word or Google Docs or a similar program. By chance I happened to ask why, in that case, Admiral Document Storage was being given the honour of storing this vital document for the children.
The answer was along these lines.
First, the computer being used is already out-of-date, so will be of no use to their children. They already have far more advanced systems.
Second, they are sure that their children won’t want to spend time going through the computer looking for a specific document, and indeed they will probably forget to do so.
But a clear message left with the will which says, “My important documents are all stored in a box in Admiral Document Storage along with my thoughts for you” is certain to get them to look and see what has been stored for them. And so they will read the documents that have been left for them.
So the thoughts and notes that these individuals have written out and left for their descendants are left on the computer, in case someone manages to remember to go and look for the file, and at the same time they are left with other precious items in our storage facility.
As for what people say in such documents, I have not felt it my place to ask. But I suspect each and every set of thoughts left for one’s descendants is unique.
I have to say that the conversations I’ve had about this have given me quite a pause for thought. What would I want to say to my children after I have passed away? I guess I want to tell them how much I love them, and perhaps tell them a little about my life that they may never have heard – although now I come to think of that, it would have to be a sanitised version!
It is quite a moving thought – although I am sure that this sort of document is not for everyone.
We are used to being an archive for legal documents and the like. Now it seems we are also an archive for memories.
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