Remembering Dad


I got the call that no one ever wants to get four years ago at 2:52 on a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon in early September.  Writing a news release on deadline, I didn’t appreciate the interruption but I answered the phone anyway.

In the next few seconds my mother quietly told me that my father had just died of a massive heart attack.  The idea that my 74-year-old father, a strong and vibrant man, had died was beyond shocking. 

I called my husband and son and immediately started packing.  I dashed off an email to clients to let them know I’d be out for a week.  The importance of everything I was working on had evaporated in the flash of a moment, and despite looming deadlines there wasn’t a thing in the world that could have kept me here.  It was a four hour drive to Kankakee, IL, so we had to get moving.  Driving there, in the gathering darkness, I felt compelled to start composing what would become his eulogy. 

Anyone who has lost a parent understands the seismic and unfathomable loss … nothing will ever be the same.  But there were moments during that week, despite the pain and piercing grief, that sparkled like the brightest stars in the universe.  The kindness of people, an endless procession of friends bearing baked goods, expressions of heartfelt sympathy, the odd appearance of hummingbirds at the window while my niece talked about her beloved Grandpa.  Our family brought together, supporting each other, the deep bonds of love and affection rekindled  Together, like it or not, we were starting on the next chapter, Life Without Dad. 

In the midst of all this, my brother found an old newspaper clipping tucked in a cubby in my dad’s roll top desk.  I hadn’t seen it for years; it was a column I’d written for Father’s Day 1989, headline: Thanks Dad for everything. I hardly remember giving it to him.  But here it was after all those years, laminated and precision cut on a bright blue background.  Reading it, I was overcome with emotion.  It seems fitting to revisit it in memory of his passing, a tribute to the wonderful man he was and will forever remain in our hearts.


Sorry Dad that this letter is long overdue.  Somehow we never get around to saying the things that are really important, so here it is, in black and white.

We’ve had some rough times, you and I.  Remember the agony of my adolescence, when I was a jerk and didn’t even know it?  When you grounded me for two years and caved in after six weeks of my moping around the house? Or how about the time you caught me smoking, and my punishment was to smoke several Salem cigarettes in front of you while you glowered, “Still taste like a breath of springtime?”

Fifteen years ago I thought you were the most insufferable ogre in the world.  At the dinner table, scene of some of our most heated family arguments, you would tell me, “I wish I were 18 years old.  Because when you’re 18 you know everything.  It’s when you get a little older that you realize you’re not so smart.”     Father's-Day-Column-400x400

I used to hate it when you said that.  Fifteen years later (and dumber, according to your prediction) I smile at the memory.  Of course, you were right.  You were right about a lot of things.

One of the things I regret most about our relationship over the years is that for many of them I didn’t realize what a terrific father I really had.  You were always there, never ducking out on your responsibility to me or Mom, our family, your job or friends.  You taught me things about character and responsibility, things I hope I will impart to my children.

In honor of Father’s Day, a trip down Memory Lane:  

I remember when you took me fishing, long before you had a son with whom to share such things.  To this day I take most of my vacations in northern Wisconsin because of you, Dad, and all the good times we had on that lake.  I’ll never forget how excited you got the day I caught a 12-inch northern pike on the Couderay River.

I remember when you used to take us for walks in the woods to look for Indian arrowheads and fossils.  Or when we had to cover ourselves in mosquito netting to explore an old logging camp site.  That was right after you bought the metal detector, talk about grown boys and their toys! 

I remember when I starred in our school play, “The Wizard of Oz,” in fifth grade and came home to find a big wooden star with my name in glitter tacked to my door.  Like everything you made, and you made a lot of stuff, it was perfect. I still have it.

I remember when I was in high school you used to put the ironing board under the covers in my bed if I forgot to put it away.  One time I found the broom in there.  My best friend Debbie thought you were pretty funny. 

Most of all I remember when you met Mom, and you didn’t care that she had an obnoxious 5-year-old daughter (me) who needed a father because hers had gone away.  You never blinked at accepting a responsibility that would have sent many men running for the nearest exit.  You adopted me and gave me your name.  You always hated the word “stepchild” and never, ever treated me any differently than your other children. 

I remember the day your mother died, when you didn’t look so strong any more, and I was afraid.  A few days later, you pulled me away from the dinner table to tell me that your father had been diagnosed with cancer.  I’m sure it was the most wretched time in your life; yet in the midst of my great sadness I felt honored that you shared your grief with me.

So these are the reflections of a grown daughter on Father’s Day.  Some are happy, others sad.  Together they form the wonderful mosaic of our lives together.  Happy Father’s Day.  I love you.    

-Linda Abbott



Join Me March 31 to Learn How to Preserve Your Loved Ones’ Memories and Stories

Our memories and stories are one of the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones.

The stories we share connect us more deeply to one another, spark joy and laughter when our families gather and importantly, help us remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

Simply put, memories get more precious with each passing year.  The older we get, the more we know this to be true.

Most people see the importance of preserving memories, but don’t know how to get started or see it as an impossible task.  That’s why I’m bringing my “Joy of Life Story Writing” presentation to the Verona Public Library, 500 Silent Street, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 31.  This is a terrific opportunity for people of all ages to learn how to preserve their loved ones’ stories, or write their own.

You’ll get tips, tools and resources to help you get started.  You’ll learn how to create timelines to organize your memories, and use memory sparks to recall more of the past.  I’ll cover writing tips and publishing options.  I’ll also share the many benefits of life story writing.

Most people find the journey of reminiscing is a joyful experience.  Think about it: How many older adults have someone express a sincere interest in their lives, spend time with them and really listen to them talk about their childhood, growing up, getting married and having children . . . and all the history they’ve lived through?  Just spending this special time with a loved one is a wonderful gift in itself.

When people look back over the arc of their lives, relive happy times and even the tough times, they often come away with a renewed sense that their lives had meaning and purpose.

Life story books – or legacy books as they are sometimes called – also are a great way to pass on values, wisdom and faith traditions to our children and grandchildren.

I’ve given this presentation at the Middleton Public Library, the Middleton Area Historical Society and at retirement communities, and every time there is keen interest and lively discussion.  And I always hear some great stories!

The public is welcome to attend this free presentation.  You can register online at or call 608.845.7180.  If you’d like more information, call me at 608.826.6215 or email me at  Hope to see you there!


Linda Abbott is the founder of Never Forget Legacies & Tributes.  She helps individuals and families capture and preserve their memories and stories in heirloom-quality legacy books.  An award-winning journalist, public relations consultant and author, Linda recently published her debut novel, Ten Days In Paradise.  She is a member of the Middleton Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Personal Historians and the Middleton Area Historical Society.

12 Questions to Ask Grandpa This Christmas

resize-fish-500-px-high---Copy-smaller-Oct-30On Sunday, Dec. 6, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a story about a legacy book I worked on with World War II veteran Larry Landgraf.  It was an honor and privilege to work with Larry on his book, From the Northwoods to the South Pacific.  He wrote the manuscript, I did the editing and layout and design for the book.  From his wonderful boyhood memories of growing up in Hayward, Wisconsin, to his riveting experiences serving on a hospital ship in the South Pacific, it is an enjoyable and compelling read.

It’s great to be featured in a major newspaper and see this recognition for Larry.  I’m also excited because this story has the potential to plant a seed in the lives of thousands of Wisconsin families about the importance of preserving the stories of their loved ones.

The holidays are a great time to get started.  Here are twelve great conversation-starter questions to ask Grandpa, Grandma or your parents:

  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Where did you grow up? Tell me about your mom and dad.
  • Who were your childhood friends and what did you like to do together?
  • What do you remember about Christmas or other holidays when you were growing up? Favorite gift?
  • Who helped you develop your sense of right and wrong?
  • Where did you go to school and did you enjoy it?  What subjects interested you the most, least?
  • What were the circumstances that led to meeting your spouse and what do you remember about your wedding?
  • Where did you work after you got married? What was the hardest part of your job?  What did you like?
  • Do you have any favorite stories about your children?
  • Where did you go on family vacations and what are some memories from those trips?
  • What are some of the most important lessons or values you want to pass on to your children and grandchildren?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and much joy in the New Year!

Linda Abbott is the founder of Never Forget Legacies & Tributes, which helps individuals and families capture and preserve their memories and stories in heirloom-quality legacy books.  An award-winning journalist, public relations consultant and writer, Linda recently published her debut novel, Ten Days In Paradise.  She is a member of the Middleton Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Personal Historians and the Middleton Area Historical Society. 

Sunday night at the war memorials


It was a cold brisk night in Washington D.C., when I boarded a bus for an illuminated tour of the nation’s war memorials.  Walking in the darkness on this sacred ground the night before Veteran’s Day, the tour took on even more significance.

As we pulled up to the World War II Memorial, we knew we were in for something special.  I’m sure it’s lovely during the day, but at night it is breathtakingly beautiful.  The size, grandeur and emotional impact of those pillars, gold stars and the rush of water from the fountains are overwhelming.   We walk quietly around the colonnade, dwarfed by those granite columns, silent tributes to the thousands of young men who died on the beaches of Normandy, farm fields of Germany, islands of the Pacific.  We speak of the passing of this great generation, and there is a catch in our throats.  The sadness lingers.  They were fine young men, decent, courageous and humble. 

On the tour a woman tells me of her father, who passed away two years ago.  A WWII veteran, he looked back on the war with regret because he only served a few months before the armistice was signed and didn’t feel like he contributed enough.  Yet his job was to help transport thousands of wounded soldiers to medical facilities and he did so with compassion, always trying to lift their spirits and give them hope.  “He would have so loved to have seen this,” she said wistfully.

At the Vietnam Wall the emotional impact intensified.  There is no brilliant lighting or soaring columns, just a somber and lingering darkness and all those names.  More than fifty-eight thousand of them, engraved in the black gabbro stone.      

Unlike the World War II Memorial where the numbers of war dead are represented by gold stars, here you see the name of every young man whose life got caught up in this terrible conflict … and you wonder where would he be, would he have had children, what would have become of all those lives that were snuffed out.  And although they are gone, they’re still living in the hearts and minds of their loved ones … because at the base of the wall are flowers, notes and other mementos left by people who came here to pay tribute.  There are the names of eight women here as well.

The wall starts low but rises as you reach the apex, until you suddenly realize it is towering over you.  And that is its power.  It pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. 

Our tour guide tells us about the controversy over this design but tonight those are distant concerns.  After being riveted on the names for several minutes I look up, and it is as if there is an invisible thread from where I am standing to the Washington Monument.  A luminous half-moon completes the canvas.  We realize our time is running out and we need to move on.  Even though it is getting very cold, we are reluctant to leave.

Darkness also reigns at the Korean War Memorial, where nineteen sculptures depict solders on patrol in rough terrain in a combat zone.  Tiny spotlights in the bushes cast an eerie glow, giving them a ghost-like appearance.  Like many people, I have little knowledge of what is known as “the forgotten war,” where more than 54,000 Americans lost their lives in the span of three years.  On a wall flanking the sculptures, more than 2,000 photos of the personnel and equipment engaged in this bloody conflict provide a window into the enormity of this war that tragically began and ended at the 38th Parallel.  A Pool of Remembrance, strewn with golden leaves, pays tribute to the dead, missing and prisoners of war.  Etched into a wall of granite are these words:  Freedom is not free.

In a grassy area in the midst of these memorials, several large wreaths lie on the ground and a stage has been set up.  Tomorrow there will be dignitaries, solemn ceremonies and people coming to pay their respects in the brilliant light of day.  But tonight, it’s just us and these soldiers.  We will never forget.

-Linda Abbott


Hundreds Welcome Badger Honor Flight Veterans


After more than six decades, finally, a hero’s welcome.

The Dane County Airport was the scene of a jubilant homecoming for 86 World War II and 17 Korean War veterans on Saturday night.

My husband and I arrived at 9 p.m., not knowing what to expect.  The veterans, many who are in their 90s, had arrived at the airport at 4:30 a.m. to board a flight to Washington, D.C.  They spent the day touring the World War II, Korean War and several other memorials established to honor their courage and sacrifice.  They were due back at 9:15 p.m. 

Several hundred well-wishers lined a cordoned-off walkway running the entire length of the ticket counters, waving flags, holding homemade signs, anxiously awaiting their first glimpse of the heroes.  Many were heroes themselves, representing all branches of the U.S. military, including the man standing next to me, who served as a Green Beret in Vietnam. 

While we waited, entertaining the crowd were a band, Bucky Badger and “Rosie the Riveter,” who danced with some of the guys down the center aisle.  Her hair wrapped in a red-polka-dotted bandana, Rosie is symbolic of the millions of women who worked in the factories during World War II.  Volunteers sat at tables offering cookies and soft drinks.

A sign held by a volunteer told us the plane had touched down.  Anticipation mounted.  About fifteen minutes later, a huge rush of cheers went through the crowd, and hundreds of heads craned to see the first of the veterans coming down the escalator.  Wearing bright red shirts and hats, one by one they made their way down the aisle.  Many were pushed in wheelchairs by loved ones or by volunteers.  Others were able to walk.

Smart phones held high over the crowd tried to capture the magic of the moment.  Wave after wave of spontaneous applause cascaded through the crowd.  People held children on their shoulders for a look, and veterans, many looking amazed at their homecoming, shook hands with well-wishers along the way.  Family members greeted their loved ones with hugs and photos.  Smiles with the brilliance of Fourth of July fireworks lit up the room.  There were a few tears.  It was inspiring, joyful and unforgettable, one of those rare moments when all you can do is thank God for the inherent goodness in people. 

DSCN4269The veterans before us had displayed courage, honor and valor during the horrific conflicts of World War II and Korea.  They answered the call of their country and faced unimaginable hardships to protect their fellow citizens.  The fact that hundreds of people filled this airport told me their sacrifice and their legacy has not been forgotten.  I only wish every veteran could have that welcome when they come home. 

This was the 15th Badger Honor Flight.  What better way to say thank you to these courageous men and women than to support these trips.  You can visit to find out how you can help.  Or participate in Culver’s Day of Giving on May 20 when 10 percent of sales will go to local Honor Flight hubs in Wisconsin, Illinois, Northern Indiana and Michigan. 

–Linda Abbott


The Gift of a Life Story Book Will be Treasured Forever

The clock is ticking.  It’s nine days until Christmas, and you still don’t have a gift for your mom and dad and what about grandma?  You’re dreading the trek to the mall, jostling through crowds and festively decorated mountains of potential gifts that they don’t want or need.  You want to get them something really special, but you’re out of ideas.

The solution:  a beautifully-written and illustrated life story book that captures and preserves their memories and unique personal journey.  Legacy books are a wonderful way to celebrate and honor your loved ones, ensuring that ten, twenty or fifty years from now their life and legacy won’t be forgotten.   These books bring great joy to the storyteller, allowing them to reflect on the past, revisit the special moments of their life and share life lessons and values with their children and grandchildren.

Never Forget Legacies & Tributes is offering special holiday packages and gift certificates.  Holiday packages include a customized framed “gift” you can give your loved one announcing the book.  Call or email Linda Abbott at 608.826.6215 or to learn more about holiday packages and gift certificates.

Visit for more information on our heirloom-quality life story books.

Six Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Ever

pic-photo-for-thanksgiving-postThanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  A feast of turkey and fixings and getting together with family, it’s like Christmas without the presentsand that’s the best part!  No frantic treks to the mall to find meaningful gifts for loved ones, no schlepping around bags of presents, hoping you didn’t forget anyone.  For me, it’s all about food, family and celebration, so the pressure is off.

But some people find that the holidays are stressful or never quite live up to expectations.  Family gatherings can bring long-simmering tensions to the surface, and instead of Norman Rockwell you get Norman Lear (All in the Family for those of us old enough to remember).  So here are a few ideas for your best Thanksgiving ever:

Relax:  Focus on what’s important, not the sweet potatoes.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  No one cares if the gravy isn’t at chef-grade viscosity.  One of my favorite holiday memoriesone my family still gets a chuckle out ofis the year I was helping my mom make the gravy, and instead of adding corn starch as directed I added baking soda.  Voila, a volcano-like eruption ensued on the stove and I was banned from gravy patrol for a year.

Pitch in:  Wherever you are, help out your hosts.  Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is a big undertaking, especially for larger families.  Be attuned to the needs of your hosts, especially right before and after the meal.  Pitch in with the cleanup; the sooner you get done the sooner the pumpkin pies come out.  Offer to bring something to contribute to the feast.   

Engage:  Get beyond the superficial and truly take an interest in people’s lives.  One of things I love about the holidays is that it’s a chance to talk to people in person.  My family is more than three hours away, so these are great opportunities to reconnect.  If you have elderly family members, go out of your way to talk to them.  A lot of older people have trouble hearing, or have difficulty talking in a room crowded with people and children.  Take them to a quieter room and talk to them … you will be surprised what you can learn. 

Share stories:  I’m an evangelist for storytelling in families.  Our stories are the bonds that hold us together and a gift to the next generation.  But all too often we fall into the trap of “we’ll do that next year” and it never happens.  Family holidays are a great time to interview elderly family members about their lives and childhoods.  Take a digital recorder, or just take notes.  This is a golden opportunity to learn more about your grandparents and loved ones.  Don’t miss it, they won’t be around forever.

Find coping strategies:  Okay, so your family isn’t the Brady Bunch.  If there are people who just get on your nerves, you might want to try playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo.  Write a list of what really drives you crazy: for example Aunt Alice asking you for the 100th time “when are you going to get married?” or your sister wondering aloud you if you’ve gained a few pounds.  When the dreaded remarks or events materialize, mark it off on your Bingo sheet.  It’s best to play this with a trusted partner.  The things that annoyed you will now make you laugh.

Be thankful:  I’ve saved the most important for last.  Think about the blessings in your life.  The ones you take for granted like waking up every morning and being able to see.  Your loved ones, your health, your home.  The work you do.  I believe a spirit of gratitude is the most important thing we can possess in our lives.

Author Melody Beattie sums it up beautifully: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Linda Abbott

Unraveling the mystery of a woman in red … Jeanne Bachrach Kimball’s legacy shines brightly in Music City

DSCN3423---Kimball-fixArriving at our vacation rental in the beautiful Green Hills area of Nashville on a crisp October evening, it was clear that in addition to finding comfortable accommodations we’d stumbled into a treasure trove of memories.

In a large bookcase spanning the entire wall were dozens of scrap books, several very old, looking like they should be under glass in a historical society or museum. In the dining room, a stunning almost life-size gilt-edged portrait of a young woman hung on the wall. Wearing a beautiful red dress and elegant corsage, she was young, dark-haired and beautiful, and apparently from a family with the means to immortalize her on canvas. I immediately wanted to know more about her.

I found out Continue reading “Unraveling the mystery of a woman in red … Jeanne Bachrach Kimball’s legacy shines brightly in Music City”

Every life has a story to tell

As a legacy writer I’m passionate about helping people share their stories.  I hope this blog inspires you to start writing.  About yourself or perhaps a loved one … a journal, a chapter, even a page.  Because the memories we capture are the greatest treasure we can give ourselves and the next generation.  Put on a pot of coffee, sit down and have a conversation with your mom, dad, grandma or grandpa about their life journey.  You’ll be amazed  Continue reading “Every life has a story to tell”

The best present you’ll ever get Mom

Another Mother’sUSEshutterstock_72347347[1]Mom&daughter Day is upon us.  No matter how much we love our mothers or look forward to celebrating the day, a perennial worry sprouts like the first daffodils of spring:  what to get Mom?  And even though she says she doesn’t want anything and is happy with a visit or call, a slender thread of guilt prompts us to start The Search.

True, some people are born with a genetic disposition for buying the perfect gift … but most of us aren’t so lucky.  We’re doomed to repeat the trek to the mall, wandering around the pricey perfume counters like nomads in a retail jungle or we venture off to Barnes & Noble, where, with a latte in hand, we peruse countless books, rejecting one after another unsure of mom’s literary predilections … will she really like it?  Few things pass the test, because the truth of the matter is Continue reading “The best present you’ll ever get Mom”