I’ve always loved the year-end holidays; some of my best memories are of Christmas when I was young. My parents made sure we kids had fun—lots of presents, big family get-togethers and never any stress or conflict. I did—I still do—the same for my kids. Which means that, for me, Christmas shopping starts in August. By the time the holiday crowds are rushing the stores, I’m down to just a few remaining gifts and, instead of fighting the retail masses, I can happily focus on planning the food and decorating.
Dad’s failing memory grew worse as his Alzheimer’s progressed and there came a time when we kids began to feel the loss that he was so blissfully oblivious to. And we weren’t ready to let him go, or to let the memories of so many wonderful family moments die. So we put them in a box.
It was an idea I found in a magazine. I bought a large package of 4×6” index cards and a cute box to hold them, then emailed my siblings. Each of us wrote up 50 memories, moments and anecdotes that we each held dear. My brother wrote about fishing trips with Dad and their tennis matches with his buddies. My sister told anecdotes of things Dad did or made that made her feel special—like the wooden stilts he made for her when she was in 4th grade. I included stories from my youth, but also of when my kids were young and the things he did that made him such a great granddad. We put a separate memory on each card so they were easy to handle. We tied a bow around the box and gave it to Dad for Christmas.
Never has a family project had such an impact! Mom told us she and Dad would open the box several times a day. Sometimes she just held the box in her lap and she and Dad would make an evening out of reading memories, savoring each story one card at a time. When they had read every memory in the box, they just started over and renewed the same forgotten memories all over again. Mom said the two of them would always comment on how much love was in that box. Dad would smile to think he’d been such a good father or grandfather, even if he had no recollection of the particular story.
Mom commented for years that our Box of Memories meant more to her than she could say. I understood, but was unable to explain to her the incredible effect that writing those stories had on us kids. It was truly a blessing for both the givers AND the receivers. Best. Gift. Ever.