Their photos sit side by side on my desk. I greet them every day.
“Hey, Mama,” I say, smiling, “hey, Daddy.”
My parents weren’t always happy. But they were in these photos and I’m glad to have fading images to remind me.
My dad is wearing overalls, grinning a lopsided grin, with his chin propped on his right fist and his left arm — paralyzed by a stroke — pressed to his chest.
My mother is dressed in shorts and a shirt, sitting on a blanket by a glittering lake, beaming at her grandkids playing nearby.
I love those photos. It’s odd to see them next to each other. My parents divorced when I was 2, and I have no memories of ever seeing them together.
They came to my wedding, but my mother kept her distance from my dad and refused to be in the photos with him.
I was never sure why. Did she still harbor resentment after so many years? Or could she just not bring herself to face him? Was he still in love with her? Is that why he never remarried?
I wanted to ask them those questions and countless others. But I never dared, never did.
After college, I left my family in the Carolinas, to marry and raise a family in California.
We kept in touch by phone and mail and occasional visits. But there was never time — or never the right time — to ask them things I longed to know.
And then, they were gone.
My dad had spent seven years in a VA hospital learning to walk again after his stroke. He swore he’d never go back. Years later, facing more treatment, he chose instead to end his life.
Suicide is hard to fathom. But every death is a mystery. And like other great mysteries — birth and love and joy and laughter — we can’t explain it. We can only live it.
In the two years my mother battled lung cancer, we shared some good visits and I spent three days by her side in the hospital before she died. But when I tried to ask questions, she would say, “I don’t want to talk about that. Just tell me stories about my grandkids.”
So I told her stories and she kept her answers to herself.
It’s been years since my parents left this world. But this morning, for some reason, I took a long look at their photos and began making a list of questions I wanted to ask them.
It’s too late for them to answer. But I plan to ask those questions of myself, from my own life, and give the answers to my children, while there’s still time for us to talk about them.
I call the list “Questions for Here and Now:”
1. If you could write your own obituary (as we all should do) what would it say?
2. Tell me about the time, place and family you grew up in.
3. What are your best and worst and funniest memories?
4. When you were young, what were your dreams? What did you want to do with your life?
5. When did you first (or last) fall in love? How did it feel?
6. What were the happiest and the hardest times of your life?
7. Tell me what it was like for you to go off to war, or to watch someone you loved go, knowing they might never come back.
8. What are you most proud of, and what do you regret?
9. Describe a decision that you made that changed, for better or worse, the direction of your life?
10. If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
11. Tell me a story about me, and what I mean to you.
12. Tell me a secret, something you’ve never told anyone.
13. Tell me things about you that you want me to remember.
14. What have you learned that you want your children, and all children, to know?
15. If I can tell only one story about you, what should it be?
Those are some of my “Here and Now” questions. What are yours? I hope we’ll all ask and answer them, while there’s time.
Randall is a longtime newspaper columnist who may be contacted at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or via her website, www.sharonrandall.com.