Carol Silver Elliott

Sharing our Words

I had the joy of being away for a few days last weekend and was happy to have some downtime and a little time in the sunshine that we so miss here in northern New Jersey this time of year. While sitting by the pool one afternoon, I had the time to finish a project I started months ago. It’s a little book, called “Letters to my Grandchild,” and it is part of a series of books that give you the opportunity to write a letter, answering a specific question or memory prompt. There are twelve letters in the book and they are designed to fold out, be written on and then fold back in and seal and you can indicate the date on which they should be opened.

It’s not a huge undertaking, to write these 12 letters in response to the prompts on the page. Yet, somehow, it took me the better part of a year to complete it. In part, because each question or prompt really caused me to reflect, both about the thoughts and memories they triggered as well as which one I wanted to share. I hope that my words will help my grandchild to have a better understanding of who I am, to understand elements of his and his father’s history in new ways, to get a glimpse into all that has shaped me into the person that I am and, to an extent, his father as well.

I often think, speak and write about the importance of understanding the stories of our elders, to not losing those precious memories that, once gone, can never be recaptured. And I still believe that’s so important, that those of us with older adults in our lives, should make that effort and preserve what we can of their lives and their histories and, above all, their essence.

But as I did this little book, I also thought about how meaningful it is for all of us to share our stories, for all of us to take a few minutes and write down the things that matter to us, the lessons we have learned and the values we want to pass on to the next generation. There are many prompts for this exercise that you can find online or you can invent your own. Some thoughts include “what is the best advice you have ever been given,” and “what’s the most important lesson you have learned,” as well as “what’s your favorite memory.” The list is, in truth, endless but what matters is starting somewhere, regardless of how much or how little.

Most of us know too well that life can change, as I always say, in the space between one heartbeat and the next. Having lost my own mother when both she and I were far too young, I wish that I had even a few of those thoughts to hold onto. It might not answer all the questions I wish I had asked, it might not tell me everything I long to know, but it would be comforting, I think, to hold onto her words and memories, her handwriting on a piece of paper, her thoughts that she wanted me to have.

As we make our resolutions this New Year, perhaps we can each resolve to take a few minutes, even once a month, to write some notes, to leave some history, to create some words that will endure, that will hold our children and their children in an embrace long into the future.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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