Recently, our family participated in a memorial service for a well-respected man—a cherished husband, father, and grandfather. Reconstructing memories is always a healing process, and there was a lot of reminiscing to fill the day.
Part of what made the departed one so valued to his family was his willingness to be part of their lives. He gave of his time, but in doing so, he also was present and participating.
After the memorial service, we gathered with the family and began carrying forward that tradition one more generation. Sitting in the living room, each family member was directed to say what he or she appreciated about each of the others present. While the ground rules asked that all stay within the guidelines of positive words, extraneous comments began popping up.
“You have such poise,” said one vivacious and impulsive mom to her adult daughter. “I have no idea where you got that from.”
I knew; I didn’t need to look any further than the young woman’s grandmother, the widow these family members were trying to encourage. Truly the matriarch, the elder woman had a quiet dignity in manner and expression. It was no surprise to me that her granddaughter, spending much time with her, would absorb these very qualities.
The grandmother, herself, mentioned sometimes being puzzled about where some of her proclivities originated. I suggested looking further back to her past for clues as to whose qualities she was passing along. Which grandmothers—or aunts or others—had bequeathed these character qualities to her through repeated shared moments throughout her life? Whose story is she nonverbally transmitting by the actions she has learned to demonstrate through her life?
While we look to the elders in our family as paragons of the virtues we wish to emulate, we must remember that they are actually vessels in passing down these very qualities from generations we have never met. While our elders can remember them, those people are invisible to us—unless we take care to carry their story forward by absorbing the details from those living memories held in reserve by our grandparents and other elders.
A family treasure in store, kept through long-past childhood observations of those who have now grown old, these memories can still be ours to pass along. We can only tap into them, though, by taking the time to sit and reminisce with those grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, and other elders in our lives.