How to create lasting memories of Grandparents and other gift ideas

As the founder of Silver Linings Transitions, a senior move management company, I’m frequently a guest speaker to seniors and adult children who are in the process of downsizing. During my talk “Do You Own Your Stuff or Does Your Stuff OWN You?”, one of the biggest disappointments expressed is family members don’t want to take treasured belongings. This is because we are facing a generational shift going from The Greatest Generation and their accumulation from a scarcity mentality caused by the Great Depression to Millennials and Generation Z who collect experiences and bragging rights they can share on social media.

We’ve gone from well made furniture designed to last a lifetime to Ikea designed to last one move.  Even movers contracts stipulate they won’t be responsible for Ikea furniture that breaks during a move.

I tell my audience and I will reiterate here just because your family doesn’t want your stuff, it doesn’t mean you aren’t loved or you won’t be remembered.  The bottom line is all of us want to be remembered.

When my grandmother died unexpectedly and we had to clear out her home while grieving her loss, my family fought over a few key items but none of us wanted her china.  As someone fairly recently married I explained to my mother I wasn’t even using my own china, I wasn’t going to use my grandmother’s china.  I think of my grandmother every day.  I have a small pair of diamond earrings I never take out. I sleep with her lamp by my bed.

I was my grandmother’s favorite grandchild…(I was actually her only grandchild;).  We had a very special relationship.  My parents divorced when I was one so my grandparents stepped in and became co-parents with my young mother.  (Though I’m told 23 was not considered young back in 1970.)

When I was young, my grandma would hold me in her lap and let me sip off her evening scotch.  Even as a teenager, I would bring all of my friends over to meet my grandparents because I loved spending time with them and thought they were hip.  There was very little I couldn’t tell my grandmother (my grandfather was a different story).  She had this way of understanding and most importantly never making me feel judged.

As a young adult, after college and before marriage, I would spend Thursday evenings with my grandmother having dinner and then watching prime time television shows like Friends.  I’d take off my bra and put on one of my grandmother’s house coats so I could be comfortable until I’d get dressed to go home.  My grandmother and I also shared a love of Ally McBeal because we both had crushes on Robert Downey Jr.

When I married, my grandmother would bake brownies for my husband with applesauce and he would tease her about “Shady Pines”.  My grandfather died shortly after finding out I was pregnant with my first child so we involved my grandmother as much as we could in my pregnancy even bringing her to the ultrasound when we found out the sex.    When I delivered Gillian, my grandmother sat very uncomfortably in the corner as I had a difficult delivery and her generation wasn’t used to the “open door” delivery rooms.

Sadly, my grandmother passed away from a medical mistake only three months after my daughter’s birth.

I was lucky.  The day before she died of a pulmonary embolism, I had a premonition and visited her at the hospital sharing a video I’d taken that day of Gillian, her first great granddaughter. I got to tell her how much I loved her and we both acknowledged there was nothing left unsaid. 

Though I have no regrets about our relationship and how I treated her as a granddaughter, I have one huge regret that can never be undone.  I can’t go back in time and make it right but I can make sure other people don’t make the same mistake.  Especially now with time on our hands and technology on our side.  Record your parents, your grandparents and if you’re very lucky, great-grandparents.  I never recorded my grandparents’ stories, their voices or videos of them.  I have nothing documented to share with my children and I so wish I could still hear their voices.  

With Mother’s Day around the corner, here are some creative ways you can capture your loved ones voices and/or video:

The easiest way to capture a conversation and record video, is to use Zoom.  You can speak up to 40 minutes for free and there is an easy to find record button.

If your parents or grandparents don’t have access to video, there is a feature through Google that allows you to record a voice conversation. 

You can also send your loved one a book like the one my grandmother had but only partially completed*.  There are several available options on Amazon

This is a great list of 30 questions for conversation provided by Aegis Living.

If you’d like to pay for a lasting a legacy, a local San Diego Company, Fond Reflections creates a movie out of family interviews and photos.

Here are a few more “gift ideas”:

  • Make a slideshow
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a poem
  • Write a song
  • Schedule a family Zoom call
  • Make a Powerpoint presentation about why your loved one is so great

I have been through many tough times in my life, waiting on a cancer diagnosis, going through a divorce, starting a business and parenting teens. Occasionally, I find a saved handwritten letter from my grandmother and I smile because it always seems to be the message I needed to hear.

Years from now, we probably won’t be eating off china but we will still be watching videos and listening to sound files.

*My mother gave my grandmother a journal called “Grandmother Remembers: A Written Heirloom for my Grandchild”. My grandmother died unexpectedly (though I suppose death is almost always unexpected), and the book was never completed.