My paternal grandfather was an exceptional gardener. He had a huge property in a suburb in Johannesburg named Linden where he had fruit orchards, vineyards, rose gardens and vegetable gardens. He even had a room in the house dedicated to plants. I showed absolutely no interest in the gardens whatsoever, and my only real memory of an interaction between my granddad and myself regarding his garden is when he gave me a hiding because I picking mulberries and then walked all over his house with my messy shoes, leaving bloodlike imprints all over the wooden floorboards. I so wish that I had paid more attention and learnt from him. Now, at age 51, there is so much I want to ask him, not just about his garden,

but about him and his parents and why he married a woman so many years older than him? I have 25% of his DNA and there is so much I do not know about him.

A friend of mine lost her mother suddenly and although she knows all the big stuff, she often wonders about little things and grief hits her afresh when she realises only her mom could have answered her questions. Silly things like, did she like her sister, why did she hate oats so much or why did she decide to buy a sportscar that was totally impractical? It is totally irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, but somehow the unanswered questions are a continual kind of loss and fresh grief.

Last week we had a list of questions about  difficult topics and things we should consider when our loved ones, or we, are facing the end of their lives so this week, I thought we could talk about a few questions to ask the people you love. These are not questions about the end of their lives, but about all the rest of it. It is a wonderfully enriching experiment for those we love toreflect on their lives and to be reminded of the full, purposeful life they’ve led.


Tell me about your roots:

  • Where did your parents grow up?
  • Do you know how your parents met?
  • Were your parents happily married?
  • Did you know your grandparents, and do you have special memories of them?
  • Were there any family members you particularly disliked?
  • Were there any family members with whom you had a great relationship?


Tell me about when you were little.

  • What was your earliest childhood memory?
  • Did you like school?
  • Which subjects did you like and why?
  • Did you have any hobbies, like playing a sport or a musical instrument?
  • What chores did you have to do?
  • Did you have a favourite toy?
  • Did you have a pet?
  • Who was your best friend?
  • Were you ever naughty?
  • How did your parents punish you?
  • While you were at school, what did you dream of becoming one day?
  • What did you have as a child, that children do not have today?



Tell me about what happened after school.


  • When did you leave home and where did you go?
  • If you went to study further, what are your fondest memories of that period?
  • What was your first job and how did you get it?
  • How did you decide on a career?
  • If you could have chosen a different career or to study something (else) what would you have chosen?


Let’s chat about your love life.


  • Did you have many boyfriends/girlfriends?
  • Was there “one that got away”?
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • How did the proposal go?
  • Were you accepted by the in-laws?
  • Tell me about the wedding, did it go smoothly or were there hiccups?
  • Did you have a honeymoon and if so where did you go?
  • If you knew then what you know now, would you have chosen the same life partner?



Let’s talk about family matters.


  • Did you want children?
  • Did you want to stay home and raise children or do you feel you missed out on a career?
  • Was there a pet you particularly loved or disliked?
  • What was your favourite family vacation?
  • Did you want more or less children than you had?
  • What was the most rewarding thing about raising a family?
  • What was the most challenging thing about raising a family?
  • If you could have done it differently, what changes would you make?


Some random things.


  • Did you ever do anything crazy, like something impulsive or a practical joke?
  • What was your first car like?
  • What was the happiest time in your life?
  • Were you ever given good advice that affected how your life turned out?
  • If you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?
  • What or who broke your heart?
  • What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
  • Did you ever lose a job or face financial ruin?
  • Did you ever have recurring nightmares?
  • What was your favourite meal?
  • If you look back, who were your best friends?
  • What was your favourite movie?
  • What was your favourite book?
  • If you could go back in time to any given day, which one would you choose?
  • Was there something you always wanted, but never had?
  • Are you afraid of anything?
  • How would you like to be remembered?