“Questions for Here and Now,” Feb. 25, 2020

Their photos sit side by side on my desk. I greet them every day. “Hey, Mama,” I say, smiling, “hey, Daddy.” My parents weren’t always happy. But they were in these photos and I’m glad to have fading images to remind me.

My dad is wearing overalls, grinning a lopsided grin, with his chin propped on his right fist and his left arm — paralyzed by a stroke — pressed to his chest.

My mother is dressed in shorts and a shirt, sitting on a blanket by a glittering lake, beaming at her grandkids playing nearby.

I love those photos. It’s odd to see them next to each other. My parents divorced when I was 2, and I have no memories of ever seeing them together. They came to my wedding, but my mother kept her distance from my dad and refused to be in the photos with him.

I was never sure why. Did she still harbor resentment after so many years? Or could she just not bring herself to face him? Was he still in love with her? Is that why he never remarried?

I wanted to ask them those questions and countless others. But I never dared, never did.

After college, I left my family in the Carolinas, to marry and raise a family in California. We kept in touch by phone and mail and occasional visits. But there was never time — or never the right time — to ask them things I longed to know.

And then, they were gone.

My dad had spent seven years in a VA hospital learning to walk again after his stroke. He swore he’d never go back. Years later, facing more treatment, he chose instead to end his life.

Suicide is hard to fathom. But every death is a mystery. And like other great mysteries — birth and love and joy and laughter — we can’t explain it. We can only live it.

In the two years my mother battled lung cancer, we shared some good visits and I spent three days by her side in the hospital before she died. But when I tried to ask questions, she would say, “I don’t want to talk about that. Just tell me stories about my grandkids.”

So I told her stories and she kept her answers to herself.

It’s been years since my parents left this world. But this morning, for some reason, I took a long look at their photos and began making a list of questions I wanted to ask them.

It’s too late for them to answer. But I plan to ask those questions of myself, from my own life, and give the answers to my children, while there’s still time for us to talk about them.

I call the list “Questions for Here and Now:”

1. If you could write your own obituary (as we all should do) what would it say?
2. Tell me about the time, place and family you grew up in.
3. What are your best and worst and funniest memories?
4. When you were young, what were your dreams? What did you want to do with your life?
5. When did you first (or last) fall in love? How did it feel?
6. What were the happiest and the hardest times of your life?
7. Tell me what it was like for you to go off to war, or to watch someone you loved go, knowing they might never come back.
8. What are you most proud of, and what do you regret?
9. Describe a decision that you made that changed, for better or worse, the direction of your life?
10. If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
11. Tell me a story about me, and what I mean to you.
12. Tell me a secret, something you’ve never told anyone.
13. Tell me things about you that you want me to remember.
14. What have you learned that you want your children, and all children, to know?
15. If I can tell only one story about you, what should it be?
Those are some of my “Here and Now” questions. What are yours? I hope we’ll all ask and answer them, while there’s time.

Comments

  1. Jane R says:

    I very much reading your columns.
    I lost my Mother 4 years ago and there are many questions I wish I had answers to.
    Thank you for sharing this column.

  2. Vickie says:

    Thank you Sharon. I attended a memorial service just yesterday where the 32-year old daughter giving comments talked about wanting to ask her dad (2 days before he died) what his favorite song was. She couldn’t get the question out. She said, “We both knew why I would have asked.” Ask early. I have three of the journals that frame questions about my life. I need to get busy and fill them in.

  3. Vickie says:

    This happened to me also. So many secrets never shared by both of my parents. I’ve been blessed to find first cousins at age 68 that I didn’t even know existed. That generation had tough lives during the depression that were too painful to share.

  4. Steve K. says:

    My Mother was a survivor of Nazi Germany, as were her siblings also (All now deceased), but I knew ZERO about HOW, or if her Parents made it out. I have one small B & W PIC of them with nothing written in the back, their names, NADA. Now my Dad was also a survivor of two concentration camps. Some of his life I know about. I only wish that I had gotten along with my Mother who died of breast cancer at the age of 54 when I was 17, and could have spoke to her about her history. Some day when we reach the other side, hopefully all and any question can be asked AND answered 🙂

  5. Kate Sciacca says:

    Wow. Great questions. How I wish I had asked…. especially my mama…. I know next to nothing about her childhood – only that she lost her mama at age seven and her dad when she was fifteen…. and that she went to live with her married sister and became a “live in babysitter” for her nieces and nephews.
    I’m going to give these some serious thought… and take some time to deeply consider the answers.
    Thanks 🙂

  6. Sherry Thacker says:

    Some of those are really hard questions and I would have to think long and hard about the answer. I may not have an answer for 1 – 2.

  7. Patsy Styers says:

    Your columns always make me think of my life and the past…sometimes the future. I was very close to my Dad and my Mom. They passed many years ago but I would love to ask them some of these questions. Thanks again for your fabulous insight into life and death.

  8. Sheila T says:

    If only all our questions could be answered! I am so sorry that your Mom didn’t choose to share with you.
    My Mom died first from pancreatic cancer. Dad passed 14 months later after open heart surgery & complications. I’ll never forget walking out of that hospital after he died & my sister saying “now we are orphans”. I commented that we no longer had anyone to answer our questions. Our history was forever gone. Then a few months later we met with some cousins, one bringing an old photo album I had never seen. On the back of a photo of a pretty young woman, was written “Duane’s first wife”! I loudly stated that our Dad had never been married before, to which some of my cousins said “oh yes he was but we could never say anything about it”. Not that it mattered at this point in our lives, or that it would have ever made a difference, but I questioned why it had to be a secret. I struggled with it for a while but finally realized it didn’t make me love him any less.
    So, now I am going through your list and an going to try to answer the questions for my children. For certain, I don’t have any deep dark secrets. But maybe there is something that I have never told them that makes up who I am.

  9. Jim doyle says:

    Great column Sharon. Very provocative!

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