The Best Time to Plant a Tree is… When?

Don't let "I wish I had" keep you from starting today.

By Kurt Rump

In a recent conversation with a friend following a long holiday weekend, I asked if he’d devoted any extra time to his usual weekend pursuits. “No,” he said. “I was in Iowa at a celebration of life for my wife’s aunt.”

“Oh,” I responded, ready to follow up with the normal “I’m so sorry for your loss” condolences, but he continued.

“Yeah, she’s – well, not meaning to be too blunt here – but she’s dying, and the family decided to have her celebration of life while she was still here to enjoy it.”

That made me smile. What a wonderful idea!

Not to be too blunt here (to borrow his phrase), but we don’t know what we lose when a relative passes away until they’re gone. The stories they could have told, the memories they could have shared… everything can go “poof” when the keeper of those stories and memories is no longer with us.

The family is left collecting pictures to make collages to have at the funeral, and many of those pictures will have them scratching their heads and saying “I wonder what was happening here,” but the person they really want to ask – the “keeper,” the person whose life is being celebrated – isn’t around to give them an answer.

Could we be more intentional about collecting the photos – and gathering the stories and memories that go with them – while the keepers are still with us?

And I’m not just talking about our elders. The fact is, anyone in a family can be a keeper, and anyone in a family can leave us at any time. Not a pleasant thought, but none of us know what tomorrow will bring. The one thing we do know is that, when it comes to death and dying, none of us get a pass.

So why not start capturing the stories behind your photos? Sharing memories? Asking questions?

How did you learn to cook? What was the most horrible mistake you made while you were learning? Oh, the stories a thread like that can spin up! Like my friend’s mother’s biscuit story – the directions said to dissolve the yeast in warm water, and she figured if warm water was good, hot water would be better. (If you can’t picture how the biscuits turned out, I’m guessing you don’t bake from scratch. 🙂 ) Or another friend who said, of his own cooking skills, that he could “burn Minute Rice.”

Where did your grandparents go to school? How did they meet? How did one propose to the other?

Uncle Arthur isn’t a blood relative but lived with Grandma and Grandpa. How did he become attached to the family?

Was your town famous for something? Were any of your family members involved? We have a friend who is from the town where the movie Peyton Place was filmed – and her uncle was in the barbershop quartet that sang during the festival scene. She literally took a photo of her TV screen when that part of the movie played so she could add it to her album along with an explanation of what was happening.

Every family has mysteries. Funny, though, that they don’t become mysteries until the people who can explain them are gone. How can you minimize the mysteries?

A celebration of life before a life has ended is certainly one way to get some of those photos, stories, and memories into the family conversation.

But why wait until someone is dying?

Based on our experience – and the reason we created TightKnit in the first place – the very best thing to do is to start gathering up photos, begin organizing them into TightKnit story albums, and invite the family to a virtual kitchen table where they can actually capture the stories and the memories that each photo inspires. Because it’s virtual, family members can conveniently participate – whether a little each day or a couple times a month. Before you know it, the memories multiply and the stories unfold.

Again, not to be too blunt about it, but we lost too many family members before we realized that we didn’t have answers to so many questions about our family and its history.

Which brings me back to the title of this post…

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

What’s holding you back?


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