My mom and I used to talk about everything. And I mean, everything. In fact, my dad used to joke that the motto of my mom’s side of the family – a boisterous, comfortable crew – was “leave nothing unsaid” (he also said another one was “silence is shit,” but the former is a lot easier to share in polite conversation).
I was so incredibly fortunate to have a mother with whom I could always easily communicate. We let it all hang out, all the time. And it didn’t hurt that we were both naturally curious women and incessant talkers who loved sharing stories about our lives over dinner, on car rides, while we were watching TV or cooking together. I never really had to create an agenda to ask her about her life, and since she was young and healthy, never really thought that I would have to. I thought we had guaranteed time.
And yet, it turns out we didn’t have a lot of it. Shortly after my 30th birthday she was killed in a car accident, on the heels of a camping trip during which we had spent a hell of a lot of time swapping stories. Of course, I’d had no idea those would be the last ones we’d share. And also, how very much there was yet to learn about her.
Since her death, not a day goes by in which I don’t wish I could ask her something about herself; especially as I move through life and hit milestones that I wish I knew how she handled when she hit them herself, like parenting, buying a home, and taking career risks. And not just the big stuff, because we all know that lives are made up of exponentially more moments than just the big ones, but rather the little things: those precious tiny experiences that ended up shaping her as a person.
If I knew more about those, I’d have even more fodder for creative ways to honor her memory—say, if there was something she always wanted to know but never found out, or what the best thing about her life was when she was 20/30/40, or if I’d just asked her what her most perfect day looked like.
So when I received a few packs of Remembering A Life’s Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards this summer, I realized how much I would have loved to have them when my mom was around. These clever products were created to encourage friends and families to share stories about life, the things that matter most and how they want to be remembered.
The card collection has three different themes: First, the Original deck, which has 50 questions to get conversations going about life events, experiences and personal beliefs (it’s also available in Spanish). Next, the Kids’ deck, which has 25 questions designed to include the youngest members of the family in conversation (which I absolutely love, since storytelling and curiosity should be encouraged as early as possible in life, and which my six year old delighted in using to get me to tell him about a pretty hilarious and embarrassing holiday meal disaster). And finally, the Celebrations deck, with 25 questions that invite people to share stories about – you guessed it – everything from birthdays and anniversaries to faith-based and national holidays.
These Conversation Cards are one of many resources and tools found on Remembering A Life’s website that helps individuals and families beautifully memorialize a life well-lived, whether a death has just occurred or an individual and their family wishes to plan in advance. The site also offers guidance on where to begin the planning process, the kinds of decisions that loved ones will make and the many options available to make a tribute personal and meaningful.
The best part of these cards: one doesn’t have to be a natural conversationalist to get something meaningful out of their use. The prompts are creative and accessible, with deeper questions peppered throughout about, say, someone’s take on faith or spirituality or which events in the country have had the greatest impact on that person. It resembles more of a game than a meaningful resource to facilitate what could be a challenging conversation that many of us might naturally avoid.
These days, in this seemingly interminable period of physical distancing, we have to work hard to make sure we aren’t socially distant as well, which is all-too-easy to feel. On my end, I’ve (barely) gotten through the last six months of Covid life by keeping regular virtual dates on the calendar with family and friends – dinners, book club meetups, and mostly just catch-each-other-when-we-can Facetimes in between juggling kids, virtual schooling, and work. I’ve started to use the Have the Talk of a Lifetime cards during some of my longer virtual social get-togethers because first, there’s only so much time I can talk about my impending feelings of doom in the world, and second, it feels so good to know that I can still sit down with people I love to talk to about their lives in a rich and satisfying way, even if we aren’t sitting in the same room. The fact that a tiny pack of cards could accomplish that is pretty great.
I plan to dole out packs of these to friends and family as a way to bring them closer to the ones they care about this fall – also, I’m going to gift a few to you, too, so keep an eye out for a giveaway on our Instagram account!
This post is sponsored by the National Funeral Directors Association. As always, all opinions and ideas are entirely our own.