Today is my mom’s 73rd birthday. Or, it would have been, I guess; she passed away from breast cancer almost two years ago, when my older son was just two and my younger son wasn’t yet two months old. While I continue to miss her tremendously, it’s more upsetting to me that my sons will never get to know her in person—and that she’s missing out on the joy of the grandkids she was so delighted to meet. But, while I can’t change the fact that she’s gone, I can try to help keep her memory alive for my kids. Allison Gilbert, author of the new book Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children and a mother of two who has lost both of her parents, offers some creative ways to do this.
Plus: Read an excerpt from Parentless Parents
Gilbert, who lost her mother before her children were born and her father when her first child was just 18 months old, writes about how many parentless parents struggle to convey who their parents were to the grandchildren who miss them or never even knew them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as telling stories about your parents, listening to their favorite music, or cooking their favorite meals (luckily for us, we inherited my mom’s extensive collection of jazz albums and hundreds of cookbooks from which I remember several special dinners). You can even take it a step further; In Gilbert’s family, she writes that her parents’ professional selves were key to how she saw them during her childhood—and so to try to communicate some of that to her kids, she took her son and daughter on a “Grandma and Grandpa Tour,” where they visited her parents’ offices and not only got to see where they worked, but also got to meet several people who shared their own memories of Gilbert’s parents with her children.
Of course, such a trip isn’t always possible, so Gilbert also offers other ideas like:
- creating a scrapbook of your parents’ lives (either for or with your kids, depending on their age)
- making a quilt (even just a tiny one) from your parents’ clothes
- transforming a keepsake (almost anything from a coin or a button to a piece of an old map) into jewelry
- making a cookbook including your parents’ favorite recipes and stories that go along with them
- creating a special experience, like doing charity work related to your parents, going on a trip to a place somehow connected to your parents (like their old neighborhood or where they went to school), or doing an activity your parents loved, like fishing or painting
- writing a letter to your children, possibly as if it were written by their grandparents
For more ideas on helping to connect your kids to memories of their grandparents, check out Gilbert’s blog Keeping Their Memory Alive on her website, allisongilbert.com. And to connect with other parentless parents, check out the group on Facebook. Finally, for more about Gilbert’s book, check out the Parentless Parents trailer on YouTube.
If you've lost one or both of your parents, how have you shared your memories of them with your children?