Tools of the TradeBefore you start your interview, it’s important to be prepared. While you should keep your focus on the conversation at hand, taking a few notes will help you keep names and dates straight. Many of the Talk of a Lifetime materials include space for notes, but tech-savvy individuals may record audio or video of the interview to remember every last detail. Consider typing up your notes after the interview is over, so you have a written record of what was said.
Getting StartedStart with the oldest generation of your family, like your grandparents. Let them know that you’re interested in recording the family history and ask them if they’d like to contribute. Most relatives will be overjoyed to bring out the photo album and recall their favorite memories!
Asking QuestionsIt’s a great idea to make a list of genealogy-related questions, but let the conversation flow organically as possible. Make sure that your relatives are comfortable during the process, and don’t push too hard on specifics. Often, exact dates and names get a little fuzzy with time, but any information is still worth jotting down. Here are some prompts to get you started:
- What is your favorite memory from childhood?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What historical events do you remember from your lifetime?
- What was your parents’ best advice for you?
- Who is the oldest relative you remember?
Recording the PresentWhile uncovering the past, you may learn more about your family in the present. As the conversation moves in different directions, don’t miss out on the chance to learn more about your interviewee! This can be the perfect time to introduce the Talk of a Lifetime. Speak to your relatives about their life stories and learn how they would like to be remembered for future generations.
Wayne Stellmach IMSA and Wilbert Funeral Services
Ever since I’ve been aware of Have the Talk of a Lifetime, I have made it a point to have more talks with my family about what is important to me and what is important to them. These weren’t “official” talks, so to speak, or positioned as “we should talk” events, but simply conversations on a deeper level. It’s been enlightening and I have to admit rather fun to learn things about my family whom I thought I already knew pretty well! This is especially true of my Dad, who is 88 years old and still sharp as a tack. I’ve always had a great relationship with Dad, calling him often and grabbing lunch with him at least once a month, which gives us the opportunity to talk about all kinds of things one-on-one. I’m fortunate in that the majority of my large family remains in the area so we do have family gatherings around holidays and special events, but because the family is so huge these are not good opportunities to talk on deeper levels with Dad (or anyone else). Lunches with Dad are really our best talks. What have I learned about him that I already did not know?
Well, there was the time he hitchhiked across the United States, back in the days when the roads and the world seemed a bit tamer and safer, but still this was a daring adventure! And it might explain my own adventurous streak!
I also learned that the huge pine tree that towered over our family home yard was transplanted from a wealthy estate, with permission from the estate manager who was overseeing work that my Dad was doing as a young electrician. Dad would spend time with the estate manager as he waited for the wealthy couple to leave the property for the day as they did not care to be disturbed by the workers who were installing a swimming pool, for which Dad was running electrical lines for heat and lighting. One day he heard that they were thinning out some trees around the mansion and Dad had just built our family home (yes, built it himself) in an unincorporated prairie area 20 miles west of Chicago and he had no trees or other landscaping. The only reason this story came out was because I was telling Dad over lunch about a wonderful meal and wine pairing my wife and I had just attended at this estate, now an equestrian center and banquet hall hosted in the mansion. He went on to tell me that he did work there “back in the day”. Fascinating threads of life that I never knew about!
One day we were talking about career paths – my children’s and my own – and Dad shared with me something I never knew. Although he had eventually launched a successful electrical contracting business which ultimately employed several of my siblings, Dad said that while working as an electrician and manager at other firms earlier in his career, he was passed over for promotions several times. But they were conscious decisions he made because he placed our family above his job. He worked hard and put in a full day, but at the end of the work day, he left to be home with Mom and us 7 kids – and all the craziness that created! He was told if he was to advance, he had to put in additional time, but he continued to decide that family truly came first. As I said, he did pretty darned good for himself and for all of us but the things you take for granted…
So while seemingly examples of just random or idle chit-chat, I learned quite a bit from these talks about his lifetime. His priorities, his spunkiness, his values, what matters most to him and his being willing to stick his neck out for the sake of his family. Now that’s a Talk of a Lifetime!
I Hear YouDo you ever ask yourself why is it that some people are so easy to have a fun and engaging, even a deep conversation with when others it may be difficult to get the time of day out of them? Many times, the conversations that are the most difficult to start can be with those who are members of our family. Today, more than ever with miles that separate families and loved ones it is important to have conversations, to open the lines of communication. To get to know one another again! When you Have the Talk of a Lifetime, conversations about the things that matter most to your loved ones and how they can be remembered and honored in a meaningful way, it’s helpful to have some tips to get that conversation flowing. Try these suggestions to get the information you’re looking for:
Keep the Tone FriendlyMake sure you’re relaxed and smiling when you start your Talk of a Lifetime conversations. Make eye contact and respond to the other person to show that you’re listening, with a laugh, a nod, or an empathetic comment. If your overall body language is open – no crossed arms or staring off into space – then the other person will feel important and heard. These conversations may be in person or video chat, you may want to record some of your conversations.
Stay PositiveSome of the memories and discussions you have may be painful, get off to a good start with a joke or a family story that’s going to get a laugh. Even when you get to more serious topics, a positive attitude can go a long way toward understanding and coping with memories and other issues.
Small Talk is GoodMany people get impatient with small talk, but it’s an important step in communication. You may need to fill some awkward silences with comments about the weather or what you had for breakfast, but these are things anyone can relate to. Small talk is a good way to bond and move toward deeper conversations. Plus, small talk is a more natural way of starting a conversation, rather than just abruptly jumping right into a big topic like funerals and cremation.
Questions, QuestionsThe heart of Have the Talk of a Lifetime is engaging your loved one and asking questions about his or her life. What mattered in that person’s life? Let the topics lead you along the path. Questions are a normal part of conversations, and if you’re keeping things positive and the tone friendly, then information will start coming. Comments that affirm and reinforce the information someone is sharing are important, too. “Wow,” “I didn’t know that,” “Tell me more,” are the kinds of things you can say to encourage someone to keep talking.
Keep Your Mouth Closed and Your Ears OpenYou’re really there to listen, so let the other person do all the talking. It’s easy, especially if you’re relating to what someone is telling you, to jump in with your own personal story or anecdote. You don’t want to take over the conversation, so try to focus on the other person and consciously try not to dominate. If the talk stalls, that’s a good time to relate something from your life experiences to get the conversation going again.
Have the Talk of a LifetimeNow you’re ready to have the Talk of a Lifetime! These conversation tips can get you going, and our free workbook can help, too. 60% of people who used the Have the Talk of a Lifetime materials learned something new about a loved one! Visit www.talkofalifetime.org/resources/ today and find out how to get your talk started today.
Mark Allen, Executive Director and CEO International Order of the Golden Rule
Who doesn’t love a good cemetery? Cemeteries offer nature, sculpture and history rolled into one. Realizing that every person resting in a cemetery has a one-of-a-kind life story is an awe-inspiring thought. I always want to know more about how people lived their lives.
An entertaining way to learn about who’s behind some of those markers is to watch a series of YouTube vlogs entitled “Hollywood Graveyard.” Its host, Arthur Dark, does an admirable job of noting the beauty of cemeteries as he presents facts about their notable inhabitants. Most of the graves he visits are those of famous people whom many adults will recognize: Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Rivers, for example. Others are celebrities from years gone by whose fame faded long ago. Ironically, it’s the people I’ve never heard of who often have the most interesting stories.
For instance, I’d never heard the name Ub Iwerks even thought I was quite familiar with his contributions to the entertainment industry. Mr. Iwerks was Walt Disney’s right-hand man for many years. In addition to contributing to the creation of dozens of beloved animated characters, he is also credited with illustrating Mickey Mouse as we know and love him today.
Then there’s the even lesser-known Tamara De Treaux, an actress who stood 2’7” tall. Her diminutive stature kept her from being a leading lady, but it didn’t stop her from becoming part of movie history. She was the person inside the costume of “E.T.”
Even familiar people can have unfamiliar backgrounds. Baby Boomers may remember Julie London and Bobby Troup as the married couple who starred in the 1970s television series “Emergency.” Prior to their stint as television stars, Julie recorded over 20 albums of pop and jazz standards which are now mainstays on online music sites and top radio stations. Her husband had a no less impressive career as a jazz composer and musician, writing the standards “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” and “Girl Talk.”
While cemeteries are historically the most common site for final resting places, today we have other options. Online tribute sites can tell a detailed story about a person’s life through photographs, videos, stories and mementos. QR codes linked to memorial websites can be attached to urns. Social media platforms offer conversion of people’s profiles into memorial sites.
Still, a physical location, whether it be an earth burial, urn or scattering garden, suggests a permanent connection. There’s something sad about having nowhere to go to pay tribute to people like former Beatle George Harrison, actor Christopher Reeves and John F. Kennedy, Jr. whose cremated remains were scattered in places unknown or inaccessible.
We don’t have to be famous to have input about how—and where–we’ll be remembered. Many helpful tools are available through the Have the Talk of a Lifetime program that make it easy and even fun to give this information to others. After all, sharing stories with young people, passing along cherished recipes or noting accomplishments that made us proud may be the most enduring way to keep memories of us alive.
What is the Talk of a Lifetime?The Talk of a Lifetime is a conversation that challenges you to think about your life’s priorities. What are your goals? What are your proudest moments in life? How do you want to be remembered after you are gone? As you speak about these important questions with your loved ones, you develop a deeper sense of their legacy – and your own as well!
How Will This Benefit Me and My Family?While some people feel uncomfortable thinking about life and death, the Talk of a Lifetime is a stress-free way to discuss your legacy. Speaking about these issues openly and honestly can be a huge asset for your family. Plus, you can go at your own pace. Maybe you’d like to share a story about your favorite role model, pass advice to the next generation or leave generational information. Maybe you have specific wishes for memorialization after you are gone. No matter what you hope to express, the Talk of a Lifetime is the perfect venue for communication.
How Can This Be My Family Resolution?You can make the Talk of a Lifetime a New Year’s Resolution, to benefit both yourself and your loved ones. By setting this discussion as a family resolution, it encourages bonding through a shared experience and commitment. When you have the Talk of a Lifetime, it’s a two-way street. Not only can you express your thoughts and feelings, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your family as well.
How Do I Learn More?There are plenty of resources available to learn how to have the Talk of a Lifetime. From conversation cards to free workbooks, it’s easy to find the tools you need to communicate effectively! Do you still have questions? Feel free to Contact Us for any advice!
Like many people, all of my grandparents died when I was extremely young. While I have photos of me sitting on my grandmother’s lap and a few of my grandfather’s old shirts in a trunk in my basement, I have almost no real memories of my grandparents. Sure, I’ve heard my parents tell stories here and there but I’ve never heard anything that made me feel truly connected to my grandparents.
Last month, I brought my Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards to my parent’s house and we came across a card that asked, “did your heritage play a role in your upbringing?” To my surprise, my mom began telling me a story about how her and her siblings used to dress up in traditional Greek attire and march in their church’s parade every March 25th to celebrate Greek Independence Day.
While the story was incredibly fascinating, I was extremely confused because I’ve spent my whole life thinking I was 100% German descent. After I went home that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about what else I possibly didn’t know about my family and my heritage.
I had heard about those websites that can show you all about your ancestry and family tree but I always thought they were too expensive and too complicated to use. But after hearing the stories that my mom shared about her heritage, I knew I had to find out more. After doing some research, I stumbled across the Family History Library – the largest genealogical library in the entire world AND the database for ancestry.com. The library has thousands of records dating as far back as the 1800’s and their main goal is just to help people discover more about who they are and where they come from.
It took me about 30 seconds to sign up and I began to start researching everything about my family’s history. The best part was that it was completely free. The website lets you upload pictures, enter information about other family members that may not be on the website yet, and connect with other members. I could search records based on names, marriages, death, age, location, and so much more. The Family History Library helped me discover so much information that I never knew was possible.
Turns out, my great grandparents moved to the United States from Greece when they got married so they could raise their family. I was even able to find my grandparents marriage certificate and find out that I have a great uncle that lives in Canada. My mom’s family lives all over the country so I never really got to see them growing up and when I did, we never really got a chance to talk about our heritage.
It’s funny how I was able to uncover an entire part of my family history just by asking one simple question from the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards. Now I have so much information about my family, heritage, and life. Just think about what you could uncover about your families background with just a few simple steps!
I have always had a deep appreciation for my Jewish heritage, but am not particularly religious. And so, it was surprising when my youngest daughter expressed an interest in Judaism and participating in a Birthright trip, which is a two-week Israel experience provided by a foundation for young adults who have a Jewish parent. My daughter told us that our son recommended that she go on her Birthright trip, something I didn’t realize until after she returned. It made sense; prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, he communicated that, should anything happen, he wished to be memorialized in a manner consistent with Jewish tradition. He intended to go on his Birthright trip following his enlistment in the Marines. Sadly, he died in 2015, which made my daughter’s visit even more meaningful.
She fell in love with Israel and became more committed to Judaism. Upon her return, she applied for a teaching fellowship there starting this fall. Once she was accepted, it was decided that my wife, my eldest daughter and I would accompany her to Israel. So off we went last month, for a two-week trip to the Holy Land. We explored the religious, historic and architectural wonders in this country, a fulcrum point of world affairs for more than 2,000 years. Everyone I know who had been there and who was surprised that I had not, said I absolutely must go. They were correct. The experience was amazing, of course, but not only because of the things we did and saw. And not because of the deep meaning and connection I felt to the country of my people.
What made the experience so amazing is that my family was with me, who were able to gain insights into my background and how important my Jewish heritage is to me. My wife is not Jewish and did not know much about the religious and historical aspects of Judaism and Israel. Throughout our 30-plus-year marriage I sometimes talked about my family members lost in the Holocaust, but never delved into their stories very deeply.
On this “bucket list” experience, my family was present as I found the city that is my grandfather’s namesake, “Lemberg,” among the Valley of the Communities, a massive 2.5-acre monument commemorating more than 5,000 Jewish communities which existed for hundreds of years but today, in most cases, nothing remains of them as a result of the Holocaust. Our tour guide took us to places many hear about on the news, such as the Golan Heights and West Bank. It became very clear to my wife and daughters, the complicated feelings I have about the events that resulted in the creation of the State of Israel, and the complex state of affairs that exists in the region today.
It wasn’t all about me, though. The land holds intense significance to Christians and Muslims as well. From the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, to the site of the first and second Jewish Temples on which now stands a Muslim mosque, we talked about the importance of these religious and archaeological sites, and how this experience affected their perspective on things. I am particularly proud of what my daughters gained from the experience, and how it might shape their social and world views.
The trip was also not all about the heavy stuff. We experienced some fun and amazing things, too, such as rafting down the Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea (can’t help but float, because the water is 35% saltier than any ocean), shopping in centuries-old markets in Jerusalem and Tsfat (the birthplace of monotheistic religions) and relaxing on a pristine beach in Tel Aviv. This was, to say the very least, an event of a lifetime that I am grateful to have shared with my loved ones. I also feel grateful that my children drew me closer to my faith; something that likely would not have happened since my parents and grandparents are no longer around to influence this important part of who I am.
My big takeaway is, had we not gone on this amazing trip, my daughters and wife may never have known the true extent of my connection to my heritage and faith. I never really discussed it with any authentic emotion. Conversely, we likely would never have discussed the things we did about the past and present, or the future. I would urge people not to wait to talk about things that matter. Don’t just dream about the big trip — take it! Whether you’ve read a book or watched a movie that caused you to think or feel a certain way, or if you’ve been on a trip or experienced something meaningful, use it as a way to start a conversation about what’s important to you. It will become part of your story — your Talk of a Lifetime.
Whether you’re a family who sees their grandparents frequently or just gets together from time-to-time for holidays, reunions or vacations, you probably think your kids know their grandparents pretty well.
Yet according to a recent survey by Ancestry.com, 68 percent of those surveyed admitted that they didn’t know how their grandparents met, and over one third didn’t even know what their grandparents’ occupations were.
So how can parents help their kids take the initiative to really get to know their grandparents? To get the ball rolling, here are two great resources that can help facilitate meaningful questions and conversation starters at your next family get-together.
One of my favorites is the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards. There are 50 cards in a deck, and each one is printed with a different question like: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What is something very few people know about you? Who has been the most influential person in your life?
To play, simply get your family together and take turns choosing cards. You can either have everyone answer, or just have the person who drew the card answer.
These nifty cards can help kick-start a wide variety of conversation topics that will get families talking, laughing and sharing stories to help your children get to know their grandparents in a new way.
Another helpful resource that’s loaded with ideas is the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Activity Guide. This free, 24-page online booklet offers tips on natural conversation starters, family tradition discussions, table talk starters, interactive games that spur conversations, ancestry and family tree talks, and fun family photo suggestions.
Both of these tools will help your kids learn more about your parents’ memorable events, people, places, values, as well as the lessons they learned along the way, which can help make them closer. And who knows? It might even help you understand your own mom or dad better a little better and strengthen your relationship, too.
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior (savvysenior.org), a syndicated information column for boomers and seniors that is published in more than 400 newspapers and magazines nationwide.
Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, author of The Savvy Senior: The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens (Hyperion, 2004), creator of the Senior Newswire service (seniornewswire.org), and voices a one-minute radio tip of the week that is broadcast in more than 1,000 senior centers and assisted living facilities via Golden Age Entertainment.
Jim has been featured in numerous high profile publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times, and has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television.
The old English nursery rhyme goes: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. The thought behind this rhyme was most likely to not have a child succumb to bullying or teasing, to be strong and resilient. Learning healthy emotional language is a tough subject because we often make the wrong assumptions or take things personally. We all know someone that has been hurt by the words of someone else. We all know someone that has never forgiven or been forgiven by someone because of those words. For most folk’s harsh words have caused enormous pain and they remember them like a stubborn elephant. You can Have the Talk of a Life Time a lot easier and healthier when we learn not to make assumptions and try to not take things personally.
In 1980, my father got remarried after my mother died. The result of this union was a new step brother, Harvey. On the first Thanksgiving after the marriage, I found myself sitting across from Harvey at the dinner table. Typical of a Calhoun get together, the noise was thunderous with everyone talking and no one listening, an art form the family had perfected. Harvey was extremely passionate with his food, stacked high like a mountain and falling over the edges of his plate. Much like a hog at a trough he ate with intensity. Before long, Harvey refilled up his plate for round two. I decided unwisely to tease him at that moment by saying: “Harvey, make sure you get enough to eat!” and our history changed in that moment. Harvey immediately emotionally shut down and became catatonic.
Later that same night, the phone rang and Harvey was madder than a wet hornet. He vehemently said: “I am as mad as hell and I am not going to take it any longer”. I did not want to tell Harvey that his quote was actually from the movie Network for fear of him taking me out to the wood shed and the for the obvious reason that humor was not appropriate at the moment. Harvey was at his wits end and I was the target of his anger. Together we decided it was best to deal with this subject face to face. As a result of my stupid remarks, I drove 1-1/2 hours one way that night to meet him for coffee and to help him process the day and to understand why he took what I said so personally. At the same time, I was making assumptions about why he got so mad and believed it was about me. After a few cups of Joe, I learned that his father would physically beat him if he ever left any food on his plate. Sometimes in life, you can’t make this crap up. Harvey had indeed taken my comment personally, but I was the triggering mechanism. Cleary, I had made bad assumptions about his anger. I was able to communicate that I was guilty of bad humor and really had no intention of hurting him. He was able to be real and vulnerable and let a new step-brother in on a painfully personal traumatic story. Thank goodness we made the effort to talk, share and build a bridge of understanding.
30 years later, I was asked to read at Harvey’s funeral. I could not help but reflect upon that first Thanksgiving we had spent together. In hindsight, I really don’t know if it was dumb luck or courage that made us get together that night. Life is indeed short. We must all make a sincere effort to Have the Talk with the folks we love and care about. Forgiveness and second chances are a good thing. We do not want our life story to be defined by misunderstanding, assumptions and taking things too personally. Give yourself a gift and Have the Talk. Be realistic and understand that developing a heathy emotional language will be a work in progress simply because we are human. Do your best, forget the rest. We all are blessed when we find connection, love, good conversation and a great cup of Joe!