You experience so much throughout the course of your life.
Chances are your family and loved ones know quite a lot about you simply because of shared memories. Times spent together. Special life events. Significant family moments. These are the things you experience together that become the basis for the family stories that are recounted again and again.
But these shared memories are just part of your life story. What about all the other moments, memories and feelings?
The story of your father tripping as he walked you up the aisle on your wedding day has been told over and over. The whole family has laughed and laughed about it over the years. But have you ever shared what you were thinking and feeling at the moment you said “I do”?
And your children will always remember the day they graduated from university and looked up to see you beaming from the audience. But do they actually know the depth of emotion you were feeling that day? Do they really know how proud you were?
While your family and loved ones may know about some of the significant people, places and events that have shaped your life, they don’t know everything.
Having ‘the talk’ is a way for your family to come to know your complete life story. It’s a way for them to get to know you in a new and different way, and can deepen and strengthen family bonds and relationships.
Here’s a guide to help you have meaningful conversations with your loved ones about the things that matter most.
Setting the scene
Let’s face it. Plucking up the courage to have the talk can be the most difficult part. Who should I have the talk with? Will they be open to it? When is the best time? Here are some ideas to help put you in the right frame of mind.
- Don’t force it. The talk should feel relaxed and natural. It shouldn’t be stressful and can happen at any time and place that feels comfortable.
- Choose your person. You can have the talk with anyone who matters to you – a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, relative, close friend or someone who is particularly significant in your life. And you can have the talk with more than one person.
- Be open and honest. Retelling special stories from your life and sharing significant memories may lead to questions. Be prepared to answer these questions and dig deeper.
- Be respectful. Some topics may be uncomfortable. If that’s the case, be respectful and move on. The person you are talking to may have reasons for not wanting to talk about a particular topic.
- Use photos and mementos. Family photos, momentos, heirlooms and other treasured items can be a great starting point for conversation and bring memories flooding back.
- Go with the flow. The talk may not go exactly as you initially thought it would, but no matter where the conversation leads your loved one will walk away with stories and memories they can treasure and retell.
There’s no right or wrong way to have ‘the talk’. There are no rules. It can be anything you want it to be. Everyone’s story is different, so your story will undoubtedly need to be told differently to someone else’s.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to get the conversation started. Think of them as prompts. You don’t have to answer them all, but they may help in the process of sharing your life story.
Getting to know you … again
- What is your earliest memory?
- Is there a story behind your name?
- Did you have a nickname when you were growing up?
- Did you have any particular family traditions when you were growing up?
- How would you describe yourself as a child?
- What is your best memory from your childhood?
- Who was your best friend and are you still in contact with them?
- Did you have any pets when you were growing up?
- What were your school years like?
- Did you have a favourite subject at school?
- Was there a particular teacher that influenced you?
- When was the first time you realised “I’m an adult now”?
- How did you decide what your career would be?
- Did you have a mentor who helped you in your career?
- What is your favourite part of your job?
- Has religion or faith influenced your life?
- Did you ever receive any awards?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- Have you ever met anyone famous?
- What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done and how did it make you feel?
- What was the proudest moment of your life?
- What was the happiest moment of your life?
- What was the saddest moment of your life?
- Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
The people in your life
- Who were your parents?
- What were your parents like when you were growing up?
- What did you learn from your parents?
- Do you have a favourite memory of your grandparents?
- What did you learn from your grandparents?
- Were you close to your brothers and sisters when you were growing up?
- What is your relationship with your brothers and sisters now?
- Who are your best friends?
- What is the nicest thing a friend has ever done for you?
- Who was your first boyfriend/girlfriend and how did you meet them?
- How did you meet your husband/wife and how did you know they were “the one”?
- What is your favourite memory from your wedding day?
- What was it like when you saw your child for the first time?
- How has being a parent changed you?
- Who has been the most influential person in your life and what did you learn from them?
The lessons you have learnt
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in life?
- What traditions do you want your family to carry on?
- Is there a phrase or adage that you try to live your life by?
- What words of wisdom or advice would you like to pass on?
- How would you like people to remember you?
- What words would you like to think people use to describe you?
Document your talk
Having the talk is a really great thing, but make sure the things you cover during the course of your conversation are documented in some way. Your loved one may want to write things down in a journal. Or perhaps you can make an audio or video recording.
Documenting your talk means that your story will be preserved for others, which is priceless.
The talk is a shared experience
The things that you’re able to share with your loved ones will be precious beyond measure. But as much as they’ll gain from listening to your story, you’ll also gain from the experience.
The talk is a two-way conversation. It’s also an opportunity for your loved ones to share their memories with you. Remember, by sharing your memories you’re helping your loved ones understand how important their life story is too.
It’s not a one-time event
Having the talk doesn’t need to be a one-time event. It can be a series of ongoing conversations – from reflecting on the past to planning for the future.
The important thing is that you’re helping your family and loved ones better understand who you are – and this will help them when it comes time to make important decisions about how to remember and honour you after you’ve gone. It will help them say goodbye in the way that best recognises the life you have lived and help them work through their grief.
Have the talk. It’s your story – so be sure to tell it.
For more information about planning ahead, please contact the Walter Carter Funerals team by calling (02) 9389 3499 or emailing [email protected].