I have been reflecting recently about the issues that fall into the category of “before it’s too late”. I recently spent some time with a friend in hospice just being with her and present in her home as she fades from the ravages of ovarian cancer. I am so glad I made time in a rather hectic week to just be there for a couple of hours before it is too late. My mother-in-law is fading too, from old age. She may not be able to take advantage of my gift to her for her 90th birthday to take her out for a nice breakfast or lunch on a sunny day. It may already be too late.
In my last blog “Retiring: Act 3, Scene 2” I wrote about my anticipation of a road trip to visit the rural homesteads of my grandparents in the late 19th Century for a writing project about their lives. I returned with high excitement about the historical descriptions of how homesteaders struggled, and survived in isolated communities, carving out the future from barren, uncultivated territory through their efforts to find water, plant crops and build homes, schools and communities. As impressive as their efforts were, it was also devastating to the native population who were losing their buffalo and their way of life. I was thrilled to find homesteading documents that confirm that they filed for land from the US Government and were ultimately granted land because they “proved up” through planting crops and trees and building homes.
With all my excitement, I also felt regret. Regret that I didn’t ask more questions of my parents and my aunts and uncles when they were alive. Questions about what their lives were like, what were the stories they heard from their parents. Answers to why my grandparents moved from Nebraska to Oklahoma or from Oklahoma to New Mexico?? Did they live in a dug out like the other pioneers who moved to Oklahoma or New Mexico? Was water available for them or did they have to carry it from a long distance? Of course, these are questions that never occurred to me when I was young. But maybe if I had asked about their lives growing up, I would have heard more stories that might have answered some of these questions before it was too late.
Many families and schools are taking on the project of family stories to be shared before it is too late. The Story Corps project heard on National Public Radio, Morning Edition offers us an opportunity to record, share and preserver the stories of our families lives. Since 2003, Story Corps has collected over 30,000 stories which are preserved in the Library of Congress. This project has certainly influenced teachers to ask their students to collect stories and for many families to begin to collect and record stories before it is too late.
For those of us in “retirement age” although we may not be retired, the finality of life becomes more real as we lose parents, friends and colleagues. We can begin to see that our own time is not at some long distant point in the future In my reflections on this phrase, “before it’s too late”, I am conscious of how important it is to identify those things that I want to do or say “before it’s too late”. Some folks call it a “bucket list” which to me suggests activities or adventures…the “I’ve always wanted to do” list, which is important too. But my reflection has been more about the time I want to spend with friends, the stories I want to share with my grandsons, the visits I want to make to my senior neighbors and the check-ins with my elderly relatives. These are the things that I tend to put off because of the urgency of the moment when my “to do list” lengthens with tasks such as: prepare a presentation, write the next blog, contact a future client or balance the check book.
The loss of a friend, the slow fading of my mother-in-law and the missing stories of my family are poignant reminders for me of what I want to do “before it’s too late”.
What do you need to do “before it’s too late”?