Post-mortem Insight: Why wait til it’s too late?

Yesterday my family and  I attended a memorial service for my father-in-law. It had been 9 months since his passing.  Our wells of tears had dried up and our minds were open to honoring his life accomplishments. Many people came up to the podium to speak of him- the challenges they faced together in their career, the obstacles that they overcame and the principles that motivated them. As his daughter in law, I had not known him during his career days. While I knew drips and drabs about his work, I never fully understood his personality and the drive that sometimes triggered conflicts of interest.

Listening to what people had to say about him yesterday  gave me so much insight into who he had been and gave me so much more respect for his ideals. I always knew what a warm, passionate person he was but this window into his other life outside of family gave me a whole new perspective. My children respectfully listened to the stories about their grandfather and one of them even got up to thank people for giving her this opportunity to learn about him.

This whole experience really got me thinking: why do we wait until someone dies to reflect on their life? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if families got together to share these stories at a time when you could still ask the honoree questions? There are so many things left to second guess. We only know the facts through other people’s eyes. What if we had a chance to clarify the rationale behind his choices; or ask what he was most or least proud of doing?

Children never seem to pay attention to what their parents do outside of the home. Sure they know what profession their parents have chosen, but they have their own lives to live and can’t bother with more than that. By the time they do become interested, they are likely involved in their own careers and families and have limited time for in-depth discussions. And then the grandchildren come along, but they are more interested in hearing about when grandpa was a little boy- not the ups and downs of his career.

So when is the ideal time to have these reflections? I wish I knew, but there has to be a better way…

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