What to do??? Collective wisdom sought

I come from a very, very small family (grew up w/one set of grandparents, no aunts/uncles/cousins), currently all that’s left are: Dad, my two siblings and I, each of my siblings have one spouse and 2 children, and my son and SO.

Anyhow, as the family archivist, it’s fallen to me to keep the family photos (I did a thread about having my dad’s photos - he was a custom jeweler and has photos of a bunch of neat things he designed), and of course, the family stories. A couple of years ago, I did a thing for each of the grand kids where I wrote up a bunch of memories of my grandparents, gave it to them along with copies of photos of them and a tatted pillow case for each from great grandma.

I’ve been working for the past year (off and on) on a follow up, stories about our childhoods - from my brother shooting Shirley Temple, to my sister carving her name in the door and blaming 4 year old me (naturally I was a saint). It’s now about 24 pages long, has stories about dad and mom’s early days, our neighbors, pets, vacations and so on.

Except one thing.

I had another sister, who died just before I was born. She was 5 years old. Neither of my parents (IMHO) recovered at all from her death. Neither could even speak of her - I recall dad swearing and demanding the TV station be turned off when there was a show about the disease she died of. (that wasn’t so long ago).

Now, to me, Susie was an important part of our family. But my concern is that my dad still cannot stand to talk about her to anyone (the most I"ve ever gotten out of him was him mumbling something about ‘and there’s some stuff of Susies in there’ when handing me a bunch of papers that included the memorial booklets from her funeral some 40 years ago).

I’m concerned that the younger generation, for whom this is intended, may bring up the subject with dad. And, given his responses to me over the years, I’m concerned how he’ll react with them (and they range from 22 to 8 years).

I sent off an email to siblings asking their input. Bro suggested I ask dad. I don’t want to ask dad. He seems to feel pain anytime her name is mentioned, in any way. He’s 80 and frail. I don’t want to cause him further pain.

(another thing is, of course, that we’re all in Michigan, he’s in Florida, but there’s a liklihood of contact this year since -crossing fingers wildly- my son’s due to graduate from high school in June)

I suggest you approach your father again and solicit any memories or stories of your sister. Perhaps when you or your siblings visit him with your children you can have him share with them some stories of when you and your sibs were kids. Grandkids love to hear about the foibles of their parents as kids. Hopefully the subject will get around to your older sister who died.
If you appeal to him in your role as family archivist, you can explain that once he is gone, there will be no one with any memories of her, so you’d like to pass on something to your kids before all memories of her disappear forever.
I would also suggest that you try to videotape him telling these stories to the grandkids. That will be a way they can keep him alive in their memories.
Both of my parents died when my kids were very young, 5 and 2. They lived completely across the country, so my kids only got to meet them once when the oldest could just barely remember them.
I will forever regret not sitting my parents down and videotaping them as they reminisced about their childhoods, my childhood, etc., so my kids could see and hear their grandparents relate family lore.
Do whatever you have to do to capture this bit of history before its gone.

I’d sit down and talk with the kids about how much your father is still hurting about Susie’s death and ask them not to bring it up. I might talk about how badly the death of children and grieving was handled forty years ago :(.

The most I would do with your dad would be to ask him if there is anything he wishes to tell the next generation. I know it’s sad that the memories of Susie might disappear from the family archives but I don’t think putting your dad through pain like that is kind or necessary. I don’t think that the next generation have a right to discuss this, not at the cost of your father’s grief. There’s ABSOLUTELY NO way I would solicit stories from someone with this kind of grief. It may be that as he comes closer to death he’s ready to talk but maybe not.

I’m the parent of a child who died. My own father would have died in that child’s place and yet he cannot bring himself to talk about my son. He leaves the room, changes the subject, is totally unable to cope. No, I don’t think it is healthy but it is how it is and I can’t fix it. I view your situation in a similar light.

Another parent of a young child who died checking in. My son’s life was short, but he was intensely loved and until he became ill it was full and happy. I would want memories and photo’s of him included in any family history project.

I think a frank discussion with the younger set about how everyone grieves differently (and some in ways that don’t seem healthy) and we must allow everyone their right to grieve however they are capable (as long as it doesn’t include hurting others and lashing out). A reminder that hearing and speaking of Susie is extremely difficult to Granddad seems appropriate to me, even the youngest eight year old can be asked to not speak of it with someone other than Granddad if they have questions.

Another tact is to very gently broach the subject with your father. Ask him to tell you something, anything about Susie, just one happy little ancedote, something so that future generations can have something personal to identify with. Instead of the daughter that passed away and that’s all we know about her, to she just loved strawberry ice cream.

Maybe you can do the above without opening up the open wounds that are there. Does your father write letters? It might be easier for him to write a reply. If so, a letter explaining that you would like a personal link to Susie. Not to open up wounds or to make anyone uncomfortable, but by the depth of grief obviously Susie was much loved. So, barely open the lid and give a loving moment to share Susie with the whole family, and that you would be satisfied with only as little or as much as he can share, and not bring it up again.