(Photo courtesy of Caitlin Regan )
We always think there is going to be time to ask questions, time to hear answers. Somehow we don’t seem to make the time to delve a bit more deeply into our parents’ and grandparents’ childhood, youth and adulthood, all those years before we met them.
We always think there will be time for questions. We think that until we realize there is no more time. We think there will be time until someone is abruptly taken from us, or until their memory is slowly robbed by dementia.
My 18 year old son is leaving in a few days on a trip to Poland called March of the Living. It is an educational trip for Jewish youth to teach them about their heritage and about the horrors that occurred in the Holocaust up close by visiting the concentration camps.
As part of the preparation for the trip, the youth are encouraged to ask their relatives who lived through the Holocaust about their experiences. I specifically invited my grandmother for the Sabbath this weekend so that we would have an opportunity to talk to her about her experiences in the concentration camp.
It was not easy asking her questions. Not so much because of the emotions (which did surprise me), but because there was so much she didn’t remember or that she was confused about. As we were sitting at the Sabbath table at lunch I started asking questions. She could not remember. When I asked her the same question a few minutes later, she would give me the answer. I had my 18 year old a bit confused because I asked the same question over and over and he did not understand why I kept repeating myself.
My grandmother ended up recalling the line ups early every morning no matter what the weather. She told us about her mother being yanked away from her and never seeing her ever again. She told us about the Russian with the big curly moustache who liberated them and told them the war was over and they were free. We learned that she had been in Birkenau not Auschwitz like we had thought. She told us that those two camps were one next to another.
So we learned some, but it was evident to me about how much of her history we would never know, how much is lost in her memory and how much information would die with her. As a child I remember doing a report about my grandparents. I am upset I didn’t redo it again as an adult. A few years ago I tried going through my grandmother’s albums with her because there where many people I didn’t recognize. By the time I asked it was really too late. She didn’t know to tell me about many of the pictures.
Through my blogging I have started writing about my experiences these days. I am now thinking that I should sit down and write an autobiography of sorts. Something that my kids can read when they are older and have questions. As an ER nurse I am all too aware of the fact that you never know when your time will be up. How many times have I heard relatives wail over the death of a family member and say “But she was just on her way to work.”
What I want everyone to do is to remember there isn’t always time. Take the time now to ask your parents and grandparents lots of question. Videotape them, write about their experiences, ask them about the old photos in their albums.
Your parents and grandparents are part of your heritage. In Judaism there is a saying that says:
“The deeds of our ancestors are a model for future generations.”
I think that holds true for everyone. There is much to be learned from our parents and grandparents. From their trials, successes and even mistakes. We just have to remember to ask for the information before it is too late. Hopefully you will even be lucky and still have decades to learn and experience even more with your parents and grandparents. That would be an added bonus.
P.S. This was not meant to be a depressing sad post. It was just to make us realize that some things should just not be pushed off.