It’s the season of school vacations, travel that is less limited by weather; a time that we often use for reunions, visits and just reconnecting. Families sit around a table or on chairs at the beach and share stories and recollections, and the conversations are often peppered with “Remember the time?” Older adults are often a great source of these stories, telling tales of their own lives, their children’s youth and even what they remember being told by their own parents.
We listen to those stories and they may entertain, amuse or intrigue us but what we sometimes forget is that these stories are our history and our family’s history. Often we are not fully attending to the story, thinking about the million competing priorities in our own lives or our impatience with a story we may have heard on more than one occasion.
As our loved ones age and, perhaps, experience a decline in their abilities, the stories can be lost and that piece of our history may vanish forever. We won’t have those stories to hand down, we won’t have that rich legacy to share. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can take some time, ask the questions and capture the memories—memories we can pass down to the next generation and beyond.
There are some great online tools that you can access to help you capture life stories. You can also just do it on your own. Ask the basic questions about where your loved one was born, about their siblings, what they remember about growing up. Their education, career choices, families, community roles and more are great fodder for dialogue and triggering stories. You can pull out those photos albums or boxes of old photos and ask questions and build the story from there.
You can take it even further by asking about lessons life has taught them and what their values are and why. When you ask people what they are most proud of and what has meant the most to them, you are really gaining an understanding of who they are as individuals. Recording these can be done in myriad ways, from pen and paper to videotaping, whatever meets your needs and the needs of your family. You can incorporate photos or other mementos, in the way that suits you and your loved one. And the finished product may be something your loved one enjoys as well as something you will cherish.
Recently someone told me that she didn’t know where her father was born, that he never talked about his roots or early life experience and that she wished she knew more. He’s no longer here to ask and she feels as if that is a hole filled with unanswered questions. Take the time to hear the stories, take the time to capture the memories, create a legacy for the future—you will be grateful that you did.