Questions For Your Parents: Encouraging Their Reflections On A Life Lived

By Larissa Dann.

(printable version of questions here)


For me, the day my father celebrated his 85th birthday was particularly poignant.  He had had metastatic cancer, two hip replacements, pneumonia and numerous other hospital stays over the last 18 months.  I did not think he would make the distance.

In a country hall clad in peeling pressed tin, we festooned the interior with streamers and balloons.  Australian wildflowers decorated the white-clothed tables, while blue pews, waiting to be filled with partygoers, lined the edges of the wooden floor.  My daughter had compiled 150 photos into a movie slide show, which looped continuously as my father’s life was projected onto the wall.  My son played music to the gathering crowd. The aroma of hot sausage rolls and pastries drifted in from the kitchen.


On a table to the side, I stacked printed sheets of ’65 Questions To Help Remember, And Share The Wisdom Of, A Live Lived’ - a list of questions to prompt reminiscence, and relate wisdom gleaned from a person's life.


I wanted to share these questions with Dad’s friends because, over the years, my father has loved answering them. He’s relished the opportunity to reflect on his life, and to pass on his thoughts and wishes to his grandchildren. Each time I asked a question, I listened carefully to encourage him to talk further, (ironically, employing the communication skills from my parenting approach!).


I recorded his answers on voice memo, and am now videoing his reflections.  In the future we can look back at his eyes twinkling mischievously under his bushy eyebrows, listen to his delighted laugh.  And we can remember.  And love fondly.


Dad's friends thanked me for providing this list, and I realised that I had to share more broadly. So many people are in my position – caring for, or concerned about, aging family and friends.  Wanting to make the most of the time that is left.


I’ve particularly enjoyed asking my father about his favourite books or movies. He is a prolific reader, often reading a favourite book several times.  When I finally  read his favourite book (The Far Pavilions by M.M.Kaye), we spent many an hour discussing the vivacity of the writing, the history behind the story. I will think of Dad when I re-read that book. Or when I watch that movie. Or listen to that song.


I put together this list of questions from two moving posts on Facebook: ’32 Questions to ask your father before he dies’, by Brendon Burchard and then, Rachel Macy Stafford, and added questions that I'd asked my father along the way, and which he's enjoyed answering.


Saying 'Thank You' To Your Loved One

If you are asking these questions, you will be with someone you care about. Perhaps you could also let them know how they have impacted on your life, to thank them for being who are they are.  In this compilation I have added prompts to say ‘thank you’ to your loved one.


Declaring our love and our gratitude may  be emotional, and difficult. The words may be hard to say, and hard to hear.  But when things are left unsaid, to never be heard – this can be harder. 


Ideas On Using This List

I see this list being useful in many ways:

  • To simply begin the conversation between older and younger members of the family
  • As a handout at an older person’s party
  • At a funeral.
  • To have on the dinner table to kick start family discussions – no matter how old you or your children are
  • As a prompt for writing family memoirs (your own, or someone else’s)

Not For Everyone

Sadly, for many of us these questions come too late.  Our loved one may have died, or be suffering from dementia, or be afflicted by the side effects of medication and are cognitively impaired. Or, our relationship with our parents may be broken irrepairably.


My mother passed away from dementia.  I ache to hear her strong voice, her laughter, even her scoffing, as we go through the list, one question at a time.  This will never happen.  But perhaps, with this list in hand, I can imagine her answers. 


There are many ways our parents, our grandparents, or those special people in our lives, will continue to live on for us once they have departed. We will remember their sayings and their values. We might see them in a gift they gave us, or in a crotcheted doily. 


These questions will remind us of those precious moments we took to know and love the ones that shaped our lives.


They are questions to begin the conversation with those still living.


Postscript: Photobooks - Compiling a Life Story in Photos

My father and I have just completed another long-term project of mine. In 1960 my young parents rode a motorbike from Australia to London and return - a trip virtually impossible today.


Dad's photos are stunning - memories preserved on Kodachrome slides, vivid and fascinating. History in my loungeroom. I scanned a selection of the slides, then sat by his bundled form as he recollected, in astonishing detail, the place and the story behind each photo. Together, we formatted a photobook, so my father will have an accessible memory of a defining period in his life.















65 Questions To Help Remember, And Share The Wisdom Of, A Life Lived.

Larissa Dann

(Acknowledgement: I was inspired to create this list from writings on the topic by writers Rachel Macy Stafford(*) and Brendon Burchard (**) and , with their questions forming the bulk of the list below, and individually identified by asterisk)

Your Early Life

  1. How did your parents come up with your name? *

  2. What comes to mind when you think about growing up in [hometown]? **

  3. What did you love to do as a kid, before high school? **

  4. Who were your best friends growing up? *

  5. Did you have a favourite teacher at school? What was it about that teacher that you liked? Did they have an impact on your life?

  6. What did you love to do in high school? **

  7. Did you have a favourite pet when you were a kid? *

  8. What were you like as a child? How are you still like that now? *

  9. Did you ever get in trouble when you were a child? What for? *

  10. What was your favourite meal growing up? *

  11. What do you remember most about your childhood or teenage years? **

  12. What’s the biggest difference about today’s world compared to the one you grew up in?

  13. Was there a best/worst Christmas or birthday?

The Family In Which You Grew Up

  1. What do you remember most about your mother? *

  2. What was most important to her? *

  3. What do you remember most about your father? *

  4. What was most important to him? *

  5. How did they influence your life?

  6. What parts of your parents do you see in yourself?

  7. Do you see anything of your parents in me, or your grandchildren?

  8. If your parents had a message to you and their grandchildren, what do you think it would be? **

  9. Who were other people in your family that were important to you (such as grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles)? Why were they important? What do you remember about them?

  10. Was there an inspirational person in your life? Who was it? How did they influence your life? (parent, grandparent, friend, teacher, guru etc)

  11. When you think about [sibling] how would you describe him/her? **

  12. What message do you have for [sibling] that you want him to always keep in mind? **

The Family You Made

  1. How did you meet [spouse] and know (s)he was the one? **

  2. When you think about [spouse], how would you describe her/him? **

  3. What was a quality of my other parent that you liked (if you are now separated)?

  4. What message do you have for [spouse] that you want her/him to always keep in mind? **

  5. What do you remember when each of your children born? **

  6. Were you ever scared to be a parent? **

  7. What three words would you say represented your approach to parenting and why? **

  8. What did you love the most about being a parent?

Your Working Life

  1. How did you choose your career and what was your favourite part about it? **

  2. What made you successful at work? **

  3. Do you have advice for your grandchildren on work?

Your Creative Life

  1. What was your favourite book/movie/song/piece of art? What did you like about that book/movie/song/piece of art?

  2. Was there a life-changing book/movie/song/piece of art that you've read? How did it make a difference in your life?'

  3. Have you created anything you’re most proud of (besides us!)?

What Shaped Your Life?

  1. Did you have any adventures in your life? What were they? How did they shape your life?

  2. What other events most shaped your life? **

  3. What times in your life truly “tested your mettle,” and what did you learn about yourself by dealing (or not dealing) with them? **

  4. Along the same theme, what was the hardest obstacle you overcame? *

  5. What did you believe about yourself that helped you become successful and deal with hard times? **

  6. What were the three best decisions you’ve ever made? **

Moments In Your Life

  1. What were some of the happiest moments in your life? *

  2. What were some of the most positive moments of your life? **

  3. What were some of the funniest moments in your life? *

  4. What were some of the saddest moments in your life?

About You

  1. What three words would you say best describe who you tried to be in life and how you want to be remembered? **

  2. What are you most proud of in life? *

  3. In what ways do you think you have touched another’s life?

  4. What brings you the greatest sense of comfort and peace? *

  5. What are you most thankful for? **

  6. How would you like to be remembered? *


  1. If you could change anything in the past, what would it be? *

  2. Are there any relationships you want to repair? *

  3. Is there anything you wish you’d done when you had the chance? *

Before You Die

  1. Are there any tasks you need to complete before you die? *

  2. What is most difficult about leaving your loved ones behind? *

  3. What is on your bucket list? (experiences you’d like to have before you die)

Words Of Wisdom

  1. What do you think the world needs more of right now? **

  2. What do you believe people want the most in life? **

  3. Is there any advice you’d like to give me/us? *

  4. What message would you like to share with your family? *

 Prompts for Your Reflections To Your Loved One

1.     Thank you.  I am grateful for . . .

2.     What I most remember and cherish about you is . . .

3.     These are some of the approaches to life that I think you have passed on to us . . .

4.     Here are some ways we will remember you by (sayings, humour, etc) . . .

5.     I love you . . .


Further reading: A Personal Reflection on Intergenerational Parenting – my blog on aging parents.


Original lists from authors Brendon Burchard and Rachel Macy Stafford:



 First published, 1 April, 2017. Updated 21 December, 2017 , September 2018

© Larissa Dann. 2017.  All rights reserved

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