AMHERST, Mass. (AP) — When Ralph Lowen and his first cousin stood before his uncle's casket at a wake three years ago, his cousin murmured something he had heard before from people in mourning.
"She said: I wish I had asked ..." said Lowen, a painter and former psychotherapist. "And I realized I had heard that countless times before. Loved ones die and those left behind are often left with so many questions, or so many things we wish we had said."
The comment gave birth to a very fledgling project Lowen launched recently by the same name designed to give terminally ill patients a chance to record their personal history.
"I Wish I Had Asked" appeals to Lowen's affinity for oral history traditions and history in general, plus as a scholar of emotional complexities in his former job as a therapist in New York City.
Lowen's own father died when he was just 3, and his mother, a mathematician, shut down emotionally, he said; not an entirely unusual response to grief.
"Everything sort of went downhill from there ... I have huge gaps in my memory. There are so many things I wish I had asked her," Lowen said.
"I Wish I Had Asked" has thus far been a self-financed venture, with Lowen buying his own equipment to conduct weekly audio recordings of cancer patients with varying prognoses. He records weekly discussion groups through The Cancer Connection, a support center across from Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
Executive Director Betsy Neisner said she has participants at her center who found the recording sessions moving, and even joyous.