DEAR CAROLYN: My dad died last year and I wish I could give him one more hug, take another picture of him with my kids, record him talking about his childhood or my parents' marriage. I want to do better now with my mom. But I cannot figure out how to change patterns and take more pictures or recordings. She hates having her picture taken, and any reason I can think of for recording her is, basically, "When you're gone, I want to be able to hear your voice." Ten years ago, it would've been fine, but now she's in her early 80s and, since Dad died, has become very averse to any reference to her death, even implied. Any ideas?
AVOIDING REGRET: Say you want to record her stories and recollections of family history to share with the rest of the family. If even that is dicey, then say you're recording everyone's recollections, age notwithstanding. Then do it — record everyone. What a great project. And everyone's mortal, right?
— Do you have collections of old photos — especially when she was young? Ask if you can record her talking about them, so you know who the people in the photos are. Needless to say, this will also mean a lot of talking about her own life.
— Actively look for opportunities then turn on your phone's video — for example, a cute reading to your kids, having an impromptu singalong. Capture these intimate everyday moments as well.
— My siblings and I did this. Definitely make it YOUR project/hobby ("Can you help me out with something, Mom?"). Send your kids to ask the questions — she may open up to a grandkid in ways she won't to you. Also, consider having a book or other guide to help you ask questions. For a variety of reasons, we found people were more open to answering questions that came from a book (authority) than directly (nosiness).
— Look into StoryCorps's Great Thanksgiving Listen: They have an app, suggested questions for different topics and relationships, and guide you through interviewing people. I will never regret interviewing family, regardless of the awkwardness of the ask, which is less awkward if you ask everyone!
RE: REGRET: Pointing out to your mom that she will die soon and you want to hear her voice afterward, so you need her to record something for you ... some moms would genuinely find that kind of creepy.
CREEPED: Of course, which is why we're talking about different ways to frame it, but any time I can encourage us all not to get creeped out by our mortality, I will.
RE: REGRET: That's what bothers me about this discussion — it presumes Mom has to be tricked into this, or that she can be, or that she needs to be forced to face her own mortality — of which, by every indication, she is well aware, she just doesn't want to talk about it. Why are her needs and desires subordinate here?
BOTHERED: Her desires are not subordinate: We're discussing ways to invite her to participate that respect her desire not to discuss her mortality. And if she refuses to be recorded, then, end of story.