Sep 162013

DOn't remeber relatives or family membersWhat happens if you don’t remember a family member or relative? How do you write about them or share their “memory?”if you don’t even remember them?

In a perfect world, we’d all have our own memories of both our parents and at least four grandparents, if not all our great-grandparents.But that’s not the way things are for many people.

I used to hate grandparent day at my kids’ elementary school. My kids were already painfully aware that other kids had grandparents who were a) still alive and b) living close by. Some years my in-laws would make the trip and enjoy a morning of crafting and show and sharing. Other years, my kids (and the kids whose parents were here on overseas assignments) would bring a “special friend.”  To ease the difficulty, my sister, queen of thoughtful gifts, gave my sons a scrapbook of photos of their grandparents playing and snuggling with them when they were tiny.

My sons don't remember their grandparents

My sons don’t remember such moments with their grandparents.

They don’t remember their grandparents, but they do remember that they were loved.

Likewise, my niece, who was born three years after my parents died, has few memories. (She does report meeting them in Heaven, before she “came down.” Yep, she is an angel.) I go out of my way to remind her how desperately my parents hoped for a granddaughter and we show her all the pink baby clothes my mom bought years in advance. We also took plenty of pictures of her wearing those outfits.

It’s very hard for people who don’t have memories of one or both of their parents. Recently, a friend was telling me how much she hates the fact that she has no memories of her mother. One of her biggest regrets is that there is not a single photo of her with her mother.

Memorialize Family Members You Don’t Remember

Don't remember my grandpa

My grandpa

I’m not going to lie. Memorializing isn’t the same as remembering. But, it is a way to honor a relative or family member. The fact that you care deeply about a person that you don’t remember or never knew tells a lot about you. It may explain your current values—like why being a parent is so important to you.

1. Write about what circumstance prevented you from knowing your loved one. What happened and when did it happen?

2. Write about how you coped with this circumstance, assuming you were old enough to realize what was going on.

3. Research (ask relatives, look through scrapbooks) and write about the type of person this loved one was. A good example is Joanna Liberty’s My Grandfather was an inventor.

4.  Write about what you think your relationship with this person would be like.

5.  Write about what you would have in common or why you might not have been close. Do you share a common interest?

6.  Write about what you admire about this person.

7.  It doesn’t have to be warm and fuzzy; write about your resentments and regrets.

8.  Write about the hole not knowing this person left in your life.

9.  Write about how others took up the slack and filled the void

10.  Write about how others ignored the void in your life. How did this affect you?

11.  Write about how this loss or lack of this person will affect your future. For instance, if my golf-fanatic-is-an-understatement dad were alive, my teenage boys would be golfers. It’s a little thing, but worth noting.

12.  Make a photo page or scrapbook layout of yourself and this person. Compare your physical features and personalities.

13.  Write a letter to this person (See Write a Letter to Yourself or Bully or….)

14. Do something in honor of this person. For instance, if you loved one died of cancer, take part in some type of cancer research. Alternatively, take up a craft or avocation (like singing or gardening) that they loved.

15.  Draw images of this person in an art journal.

Your Ideas

I’m sure this is just scratching the surface.  What have you done to memorialize or honor a family member that you don’t remember?  I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section below.

  12 Responses to “15 Ways to Honor Relatives You Don’t Remember”

  1. Before my father-in-law passed away my niece had the foresight to get him to narrate a children’s book. She now plays the book for her children, so they can hear their great-grandpa’s voice. Thanks for the well thought out post, Laura.

  2. Great post with some wonderful suggestions, Laura! I never knew my father, nor his side of the family but I am blessed to still have my grandparents around. I was fortunate to have grown up across the street from them and they were a necessary part of my life, particularly my grandfather. They’re in their 80’s now and my grandfather has a hard time hearing on the telephone, so I wrote him a letter this past Fathers’ Day, telling him everything I ever wanted him to know about how important he has been to me. I honor him by singing the same songs to my children that he sang to me.

    • That’s so beautiful John! That’s a wonderful way to pass down a tradition.You should make him a video of you singing to your kids.

  3. Very nice post with tons of good ideas, Laura. This is handy for genealogy bloggers. I never knew my paternal grandmother, but I have a few photos and memories of my dad’s. Thank you!

  4. I was very lucky to have a good relationship with my grandmother for nearly 50 years. Her mother died before I was 2. I have Grandma’s recipe book that she began when she was High School in what we would call “Home Ec.” After all the recipes from her class were completed, she began collecting recipes and getting recipes from her mother, my great-grandma. The book is fragile, the entries in pencil are beginning to fade & some are quite difficult to read. I’m entering those recipes on the computer, adding pictures when I can find them & where appropriate. Recipes from WW1, WW2, a couple from post-Civil war, & some recipes from my grandfather’s mother, in her own hand writing. When I’m finished, I will make it available to any family members, including Mom’s cousins & their kids, on some sort of Cloud program. I’m learning a lot.

  5. I enjoyed reading this post with all of its great ideas. The part about your niece, your mother buying little pink clothes for her years before she was even born…that was so sweet that it brought tears to my heart. I am glad that your niece has these special gifts from your mother to treasure forever.

    I thank you for your list of ideas. I have been looking for a way to honor my husband’s great-grandmother. She died when my husband’s grandfather was about 8 months old from childbirth complications. Her husband went on to marry again and this second wife was dearly loved by the children and grandchildren. They never knew anyone else as grandma. I never knew either one. I want to make sure the first wife is remembered, too. I think that I will use your letter writing idea and write to this great-grandmother of my husband that neither of us ever knew.

    Thank you again.

  6. That’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing that.

  7. […] Sometimes we know very little to nothing at all about someone, but we wonder about them. This too is a story. (See 15 Ways to Honor Relatives You Don’t Remember.) […]

  8. I like to research an ancestor’s historical context to understand their daily lives, and to know what important events would have occupied their thoughts, fears and joys. What historical events might have worried them, and what might have inspired them?

    • That’s a great point–especially the part of what inspired them. I naturally think to what they would have been concerned about, but you’re right. They had their sources for inspiration as well.

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