What do you wish you could ask a loved one who is no longer alive?
Michael McQueen gave his father a notebook for Father’s Day one year, along with a list of questions. He wanted his dad to write down “stories and explanations from his life that had never come up in conversation.” But after presenting this gift, he quickly forgot about it—until just over a year later, sorting through his dad’s belongings after he died of an unexpected heart attack. McQueen turned to this notebook often for “guidance, advice, and hope,” finding it to be a link between generations. It was a remarkable gift left to him by his father, and it inspired McQueen to encourage others to do the same.
Memento: My Life in Stories is a sort of journal, with questions arranged in a few categories: My Younger Years, My Family Heritage, What I Value & Believe, What I Have Learned, and My Hopes & Dreams. There’s room to construct a family tree and a personal timeline, and there are some pages of quotations and a few illustrations scattered throughout. But mostly the book is blank pages, each with a question at the top. It’s an attractive book, but the real value comes from what’s written in it. McQueen’s hope is that this book will become a family heirloom, the sort of thing that your kids’ kids will look at and have a better idea of who you were, what you cared about, what you stood for.
I really love the idea. When I’m reminded of my own mortality, whether because of some close call on the road or while paying my life insurance premiums, I think about what I’ll leave behind. Sure, I want to make sure that my family is provided for financially, and it’d be nice to have instructions about what to do with all the stuff so that my heirs don’t have to deal with a bunch of junk they really don’t want to think about. But what I really would like is to be sure that my kids know who I was—that I’ve passed along any wisdom I have and given them the advice that they need to grow up and find their own way in the world. I’ve sometimes wondered: if I knew I had a certain amount of time left, would I pull something like Michael Keaton’s character in the film “My Life”? (Yeah, it’s a sentimental movie that tries really hard to pull your strings, but it does hit home in parts.)
Memento is one way to do this. Of course, it’s not necessary to buy this particular book; any notebook would do, really. But one nice thing about the book McQueen has put together is that the questions are thought-provoking, personal, specific. It’s a little less daunting to be able to turn to a page and say, “Hey, I can fill out this question today,” rather than being faced with a blank notebook and no idea where to start.
Whatever method you choose, consider this the other sort of life insurance: leaving behind your thoughts and memories for your family is going to be a much more valuable treasure than your mint-condition collection of comic books or your closetful of board games.
Get a copy of Memento: My Life in Stories on Amazon or your local bookseller.
Disclosure: Chronicle Books provided a sample copy of Memento for review.