My heartfelt family project

I’M working on a project at the moment that started out (some six months ago) as a happy, joyous project and something I hoped would be a family-building project. Recent events have turned this project into a heartbreaking race against the clock and I’m terrified I won’t get it done in time…

In my family, my maternal grandparents are the glue that binds us. My grandmother is an extraordinary person who radiates nurturing love and caring. She is a grandmother to whom all others should look for guidance on how to be a wonderful grandmother.

My grandfather is a giant of a man, with a personality to match. He’s carved a successful life out of the granite-laden paddocks of southeast South Australia, and at times it was only through the sheer grit of his determination that he succeeded – where others would have failed.

Five generations of my family's womenfolk

Me (the infant), my mum, Jacqui, my grandmother Maureen (pink striped dress), my great-grandmother Anne and my great-great-grandmother Alice.

My grandmother was just 42 when I was born, the first of her seven grandchildren. She was young, by today’s measure, to become a grandmother, but back in the day, women had children young. My grandmother, Maureen, was 19 when she had my mother and my mother was 21 when she had me. Normal for those times, very young for today.

So for 40 years I’ve had wonderful, plugged-in grandparents who have been very involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Never a birthday passed by without a phone call and a gift in the post. Never, in my 40 years, has a Christmas day passed by without a call from her – even when I lived overseas.

Now, she is 80 and my grandfather is 87 and it’s dawned on me that they won’t be here forever. Even as I type these words, the thought of losing them fills me with dread and tears are sliding down my cheeks. It’s unthinkable.

So I started my project to be their biographer. I create hardcover memory books in my spare time. These books are the digital version of scrapbooking, I guess. I journal the year with my family, place all the photos and send it off to the printer. It’s a hobby very dear to my heart and I think the final products are beautiful, hard-wearing books that hopefully will be passed down through the generations.

I get my historian/family archivist tendencies from my grandmother, who is lovingly teased by everyone in the family for her happy-snap addiction. Never did a family visit pass without Maureen whipping out her camera and taking tons of photos. Now she has an enviable collection – hundreds and hundreds of photos, lovingly stored and captioned in dozens and dozens of family albums that are more precious than all the gold in Fort Knox.

In recent years she has started divesting herself of these photos, going through them and taking out photos of her grandchildren – from birth to their 18th or 21st birthday – and compiling them into a single album for each grandchild. She then presented the albums to us on our birthdays. It’s a breathtaking collection of our lives, witnessed and documented by an adoring grandmother.

Maureen and Finley in 2005

My grandmother Maureen with my son, her first great-grandchild, in 2005.

Back to my project, and about six months ago I talked to her about me creating a book about her and Pa. She agreed to it, even though she knew it would be tedious and time consuming. And so we began. We would have phone calls and emails (yes, my awesome grandmother, at 80 years of age, emails!) and talk about everything from their early courting days. I love hearing about the community hall dances they went to, the fun things they did before they were even married, with their young friends. I’ve stored all of my notes and the old photos she’s sent me. And as with many things, work and family life got in the way and my project stalled. No progress was made for a couple of months.

And the universe gave me a nudge and pointed out that even though I wish it, I did not have all the time in the world.

My grandfather was unwell for a couple of days and tests revealed he was very sick. And just like that, my happy project has become a race against time. I need to get down to South Australia to spend some time with him so I can hear his memories and get everything I can from him before his mind starts to go. The very thought of it has paralysed me. Plus, Christmas is a busy family time and with three children and school holidays coming up, there are all kinds of pressures – financial pressures, time pressures and emotional pressure to make this holiday perfect. But I must find a way and push through.

The project, if done well, can bind a family that is fracturing. I would like all of Maureen’s children and grandchildren to contribute to the book, so it can include memories of Maureen and Cliff that we can all share, and keep forever.

My cousins, all of Maureen's grandchildren

My cousins, all of Maureen’s grandchildren, in 1995.

The generation of cousins, Maureen’s grandchildren, have drifted apart and the squabbles that blight so many families have put an end to previously close and harmonious relationships. Divorces and family drama have taken on too great a prominence in recent years. I want this book to bring us closer and remind us of a happy childhood and the warm, caring and close extended family we once were. Maybe my hopes are too high, but I’m optimistic.

Really, the thing I’m mindful of as we head into this Christmas, is that time is fleeting. Whether it’s watching your children grow up, or sharing precious time with your parents or grandparents – it’s not permanent, and it doesn’t last forever. Take a moment today and call someone you love, who you haven’t called for a while. Or maybe send someone an email – or even a letter! Be mindful that nobody lives forever and things can change in an instant. And if you spend a few moments with loved ones now, hopefully you won’t be living with regrets when they’re gone.

3 comments for “My heartfelt family project

  1. November 29, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    What a lovely story Felicity! I wish you all the luck in the world. Our family historian and storyteller, the last and youngest of my Grandmother’s 8 siblings, died last month. I always wanted to collect and write down his stories – but he was in Ireland. I think my Uncle started collecting his stories in the last couple of years – here’s hoping, because it would be sad to have lost them all.

  2. Nicole
    November 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    What a wonderful story Felicity. What an amazing book for future generations to read and treasure. Love this idea. May have to start writing stories from my own family. Thanks for sharing

  3. jennifer
    December 4, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Sending good wishes for strength, courage, miracles, and people coming out of the woodwork to help. It IS important.

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!