Episode 80 Our Elders Have Stories

July 5, 2023

Good morning from Martha’s Vineyard. What popped into my mind this morning is a great story about my friend,Antonella. Antonella is Italian. Her parents are Italian, and they moved to North America when she was around 10, I think. She’s an only child, and her father is kind of a tough guy, meaning he’s discerning, he’s bossy, a bit moody, demanding. Of course, he loves her and she has a very loving relationship with him, but she has also sort of a charged relationship with him in some ways.

Anyway, we were away in Nashville. It was our first time together after many years, and as we would walk on the streets – side note, her mother has passed away –  I noticed when she was speaking with her father she was saying papa this and papa that, and I said to her, Antonella, I can sense that you’re more loving and lighter when you’re talking to your father. There was a whole new tone in the relationship.

As I said, her mother passed away and her father is aging, and she had consulted with someone who suggested to her that one way to change the tone of her interaction with her father was to get him to tell stories. So, she started to say things like Papa remember that time when, and she reminds him of pleasant things in the past and change the tone of their interaction. It’s lighter, it’s more loving, it’s more playful.

This made me think about something that happened to me yesterday here on the vineyard. Gail and I went and met up with our friend, Susie.  She had recently posted something about her father on Instagram that was extremely fascinating. We started telling stories about our parents, and talking about things we didn’t get to ask our parents or – better said – things we forgot to ask our parents. I know I’ve told you in the past this story about spending a lot of time with my mother at the end of her life and how I forgot to get her to talk about why her mother didn’t raise her. I knew my grandmother, but my mother was raised by her aunts. My father controlled the narrative around that whole part of their life. It was like something we knew not to talk about. Yet, after my father passed and I had all this time with my mother, I never got to hear from her what happened to her as a child and why she was raised by her aunts. It’s really a big regret of mine. I wish I had heard her side of the story.

Sitting there with my friends Susie and Gail yesterday, we were all talking about things that we didn’t get to ask or that we forgot to ask our parents, and I want to urge those of you who still have your parents to noodle this a little bit. In the case of my friend Antonella, she’s getting to hear her father tell stories by introducing a memory. And that’s a good way to change the tone in an interaction. I hear from many of my friends, their parents are not, well, they’re grouchy, they feel lonely. A lot of people get depressed when they get older, and it can be difficult to be around them, and getting them to tell a story can be a way to change the energy and the exchange or to make your job something perhaps you dread less. On the other side, it can simply be things that you’ve always wondered about. Think a little bit about the trajectory of your parent’s life. What are the things you might be curious about? Where are the gaps in the story? What can you get them to tell you about?

I can’t remember if I’ve shared this before, but my brother Randall’s good friends, Lowell and Lydia had their own relationship with my mother and father, and they recently rediscovered these tapes they had made. They interviewed my mother and father about three or four years before my father passed away, and I got to sit and watch and listen to my mother and father speak for about a half an hour. I got to hear so many stories that perhaps I knew, some I didn’t, tidbits I had forgotten. It was absolutely beautiful. It was like a gift from the gods, truly. Simply to see them and hear them and be reminded of some of these beautiful stories.

So I’ll leave you with that thought. Where can you ask questions? How can you get your loved ones to tell stories? I know it’s not easy to be around people who are aging, losing their memory, perhaps suffering with various ailments. They can be depressed, or just simply grumpy. I hope perhaps you’ve gotten some ideas here how to think differently or switch up that energy because I really do know it’s not easy. I’ll leave you with that today. That’s all for now. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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