The Five Questions People Wish They’d Asked a Loved One Before it Was Too Late

April 21, 2015
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When Michael McQueen’s father died suddenly from a heart attack in 2004, the author discovered the true significance of written memories.

Heartbroken at losing his confidant, a then 22-year-old Michael was shattered at having never asked his father some of the most important questions in life.

However while sorting out his beloved father’s belongings in the days after his death, Michael found his 51-year-old dad Bill’s journal, filled with heart-wrenching and inspirational anecdotes to keep his memory alive.

Now the 33-year-old Wollongong man, who lives in Sydney, wants to inspire other parents to write down their memories, to ensure their stories and wisdom are passed on to the next generation.

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When Michael McQueen (pictured) lost his father at the age of 22 he realised exactly how important a written memoir really is 

When Michael McQueen (pictured) lost his father at the age of 22 he realised exactly how important a written memoir really is

Armed with his own past and a huge interest from numerous of his friend and acquaintances, Michael created Histography, an online tool aimed at giving people the initiative to recall their most personal experiences.

While researching the site, Michael jotted down the top five questions people wish they had asked their loved ones before they passed away.

The number one question was: What is you greatest regret?

‘I guess the idea being that there’s a lot of wisdom you can gain from just knowing what people wish they’d done differently in their lives, particularly older people,’ Michael McQueen told Daily Mail Australia.

The award-winning speaker went on to reveal that the second most desired question people want to ask would have been about their parents hopes and dreams as a child.

‘As kids your parents are always asking you that,’ Michael said.

‘What are your hopes? What are your dreams? What do you want to do with your life? But we very rarely stop and actually ask our parents that question.

Pictured here on a family holiday (from left to right: Michael's dad Bill, his mum, his brother David, Michael, his brother Peter and his brother Geoff)

Pictured here on a family holiday (from left to right: Michael’s dad Bill, his mum, his brother David, Michael, his brother Peter and his brother Geoff)

Michael and his brothers were all close to their father Bill, who was a teacher. Here they are pictured while out on a hike. (From left to right: Michael, David, Bill, and Geoff)

Michael and his brothers were all close to their father Bill, who was a teacher. Here they are pictured while out on a hike. (From left to right: Michael, David, Bill, and Geoff)

Michael said that the interesting thing would be asking them what changed in their life.

‘Did they change or did life change? Were there things they figured out that you could actually learn from? Were they a really different person when they were younger?,’ Michael said.

In a philosophical turn, the third question would probe into their parents’ perspective on the future, asking what they would like to see change in the world over the next ten years.

‘It gives you a sense of what their values were and what were they really passionate about,’ Michael said.

‘And also ideas of what some of the things are that you could pick up on and contribute or carry on their legacy. If it was something they were passionate about you could almost become part of making that change happen, which is special.’

The fourth and fifth questions were more playful, with people wanting to know about their parents’ rebellious side and what their first kiss was like.

‘We can often not picture our parents or grandparents being a kid, they’re old or they’re our parents so it’s sort of nice to imagine them being teenagers or adolescents themselves,’ Michael said of the question posed about their rebellious adventures as kids.

In terms of what their parents remember about their first kiss, Michael said people could relate to this and it would be good to picture your parents as young people themselves.

Now a four-time best-selling author, Michael was blessed that his father, who was a teacher, decided to jot down his tales, unbeknownst to his family.

Because of this, he has become a huge inspiration for Michael.

On Monday October 11, 2004, Michael called his father for a quick chat and told him he would drop by later.

Little did he know he would never be able to honour his promise as later that afternoon he received the worst phone call of his life from his older brother.

His voice trembling on the other end of the phone, he told Michael to get to the hospital as their father had suffered from a massive heart attack.

When he gave his surname to the hospital warden, the look on her face said it all and his life changed forever.

Bill sadly passed away from a shock heart attack in 2004. A few weeks after his death, Michael found his memoir.  (From left to right: David, Michael, Matthew, Michael's mum, Michael's dad Bill)

Bill sadly passed away from a shock heart attack in 2004. A few weeks after his death, Michael found his memoir.  (From left to right: David, Michael, Matthew, Michael’s mum, Michael’s dad Bill)

In the journal were small anecdotes from Bill's 51 years on the earth. Here they are pictured on Christmas morning opening presents. (From left to right: Michael, his older brother Geoff,  dad Bill, brother David, brother Matthew, and his mum)

In the journal were small anecdotes from Bill’s 51 years on the earth. Here they are pictured on Christmas morning opening presents. (From left to right: Michael, his older brother Geoff, dad Bill, brother David, brother Matthew, and his mum)

In the weeks that followed, he had the gruelling task of sorting through his father’s belongings, where he stumbled across his journal.

‘We found a notebook in the bottom drawer of his desk and in this notebook were all of these stories that he had been writing down,’ Michael said.

‘Memories from his childhood and a lot of them were stuff that we’d never heard before and would never have heard except that he happened to be writing these things down and we didn’t know it.

‘It was just such a cool thing to have as a family heirloom and then when I was telling people about it in the months that followed it really seemed to touch a nerve so I thought how do I create something to help parents to do the same thing. To make sure they’re writing their stories down for the next generation to have as a record.’

Michael said his father’s journal was endearing to him as he got a glimpse into of a new side to his dad, one he had never seen before.

‘One of the stories was of when he was walking home from school as a kid and there was a stray dog in the street and he felt really sorry for it, so he took his laces of his shoes and made a leash and brought the dog home,’ Michael recalled.

‘He got in massive trouble from his parents but his parents couldn’t say no and that became the family pet.

‘And I didn’t even know about that so I found it kind of sweet. It was the kind of thing I could imagine me doing as well, it’s funny seeing yourself in your parents.’

Another story from Bill McQueen’s memoir was of his trip home from the hospital after becoming a father for the first time.

He was expecting to feel excited but actually felt terrified and overwhelmed.

Michael who has five brothers said it was wonderful to see the honesty of the situation and not a ‘Hallmark card view’.

‘He Is the inspiration behind this,’ Michael said.

‘He was the type of person who was quite organised and thoughtful anyway so it was sort of in his nature to think I should write down some stories.

‘I remember when we were trying to sort everything out after he had passed away we found a file on the computer where he listed every account, every superannuation document, all the password and logins just so if we ever needed to find anything it would be easier.

‘I’m so glad he wrote his stories down but a lot of families wouldn’t and then it can be too late.’

Michael said his father Bill (pictured on a holiday in Currumbin) was a huge inspiration for his new online tool

Michael said his father Bill (pictured on a holiday in Currumbin) was a huge inspiration for his new online tool

Now the 33-year-old Wollongong man, who lives in Sydney, wants to inspire other parents to write down their memories, to ensure their stories and wisdom are passed on to the next generation

Now the 33-year-old Wollongong man, who lives in Sydney, wants to inspire other parents to write down their memories, to ensure their stories and wisdom are passed on to the next generation

The international speaker said he is blessed that his father took the initiative to record his thoughts but he still wishes there were things he could ask him.

‘I have often gone back to his journal to find guidance, advice and hope,’ he said.

‘It’s like when you lose a grandparent of a parent, all those things instantly you think I wish I could ask them about that but it’s too late.

‘There’ll be parents in the next few years that will write down parts of their life story that otherwise they wouldn’t have written and there’ll be generations that will be the beneficiaries of that.’

Michael believes most of the older generation have a belief that noone is interested in their story, but said the reality is that they would be surprised at how many people would love to know about their lives.

‘It’s not stuff you want to bring up in conversation over the dinner table but it’s nice to have as a record to be able to refer back to,’ he said.

‘Often the time you want to ask the question will be the time when your parents are no longer available to answer it.’

Histography allows users to jot down their memories in an email each week and at the end of the year a hardback book will be delivered to them

Histography allows users to jot down their memories in an email each week and at the end of the year a hardback book will be delivered to them

Michael launched his Histography site last week, a feat he is extremely proud of.

The site asks users one question each week which are then collated into a hardback book at the end of the year, along with whatever pictures you have added.

There are 200 questions covering six sections, including your younger years as a child, relationships and friendships, values and beliefs.

‘There’s a whole range like some that are really fun and flippant like: What do you remember about your first kiss? or your honeymoon? or your first car? or the house you grew up in?

‘Some are a bit more probing and philosophical like; Have you ever felt lonely in life? and what have you learned from that experience? or have you ever let down a friend or done something to damage a friendship and what did you learn from that?

‘It’s not just about memories but passing on some of the wisdom you’ve learned as well as a parent,’ he said.

[H/T: Daily Mail]

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