Gifts from those who are living with a serious illness

gathering oral biography from people we love

To Our Children's Children, Preserving Family Histories for Generations to ComeMany years ago, a friend gave my mom a book as a gift— I recently read the inscription on the inside title page “You will undoubtedly have many colorful answers to the following dialogue! Merry Christmas 1997.”  I found this book on my mom’s shelf after she was told her cancer was terminal. In the end, my mom was in the hospital for several months and then eventually moved home to be under Hospice care. The book is called To Our Children’s Children, Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene and D. G. Fulford.

This book proved to be a complete gem.  It is a book full of questions about family and ancestry, the house someone grew up in, neighborhoods, elementary school, holidays, high school, college, career, romance, parenthood, favorites, food, politics and community.

I tucked this book in the bag I took with me to the hospital and then later, I took it with me to my mom’s home.  When there was open time, I used this book as a game, a conversation opener, to talk about anything other than the daily, or hourly, health crisis.  I used this book as an excuse to ask my mom questions I would never have thought of, and some I would never have had the nerve to ask, but because I was reading out loud from a book, I asked and she answered.

Many of our conversations were captured in emails or diary entries I wrote that same day which later formed the basis for my memoir The Tiffany Box.  Because of those questions, I learned things about my mom I would never have known had I not found that book and asked.  Some answers I remember.  Some I don’t.  Fortunately, I took some notes.

My thought today is this:  interview people you love, break the usual, routine conversations.  All families have subjects they discuss often—which is fine and lovely, but as a culture, I believe we often miss stories from our most beloved people, the stories that made them who they are now and the ones that offer us wisdom as well as an opportunity to feel compassion for rough edges or quirks we might have previously judged.

My suggestion: take a risk.  Stop talking about the weather or football or health issues for one visit, and ask someone you love what they remember about their first home, their first job or their first date.  The surprising thing about asking is that it’s possible to know the people we love far better if we make time to ask questions and then listen.

xo Kathleen




When someone you love has terminal cancer… What is love? Listening.
When someone you love has terminal cancer…
What is love? Listening.

The author

About Kathleen Buckstaff: Kathleen Buckstaff is an award-winning author, columnist, performance artist, cartoonist and photographer. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and wrote regularly for the Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Republic. Kathleen performed her one-woman play to sold-out theatres in CA, AZ and NYC and expanded the play into a book called The Tiffany Box, a memoir which was honored in 2013 as a USA BEST BOOK AWARDS finalist. Kathleen’s book Mother Advice To Take With You To College: Humor, Inspiration and Wisdom To Go was released in March of 2014. Kathleen’s abstract photographs of lilies were exhibited for the first time in April of 2014. Kathleen has a BA in Creative Writing from Stanford and a MA in Journalism from Stanford. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their three children and their dog Lily.