I often ask in my office if anyone in the family has passed away recently. The parents often say, “No,” and their child will pipe in, “my uncle.” Their parents will look confused and say, “you were only 2…you didn’t really know your uncle.” The child will sit silent, or sometimes she will give me a whole list of family members, close or not, who have passed away during their lifetime or a little before, as their parents look on, surprised at how much information their children have gleaned about the members of the family who are not around anymore. Is it possible that this is a testimony to how often children are listening and paying attention to the talk of adults in their family who did know the deceased, and so they ascribe major importance to that person?
Another interesting response I have noticed is the quiet, non-sound of ears perking up when a child’s earliest years are discussed. A boy may be playing with Legos on the ground, but his hands becomes still and his face turns toward his mother as she tells about his delivery, his walking, and talking, and potty-training. Sometimes I think it may be the first time he has heard this information, or he is enamored with his mother’s remembrances of him as a baby. I hear the same interesting silence when family history from years gone by is mentioned, about aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents who are connected with the child, especially if the story reveals something about how that child ended up living with whom he is living with, and having the life that he has. Children instinctively seem to know that this kind of history is important, and many parents have, whether due to discomfort, poor engagement with the child, or lack of understanding of its importance, neglected to share these stories.
What are your thoughts on the importance of legacy to the next generation?