Carol Silver Elliott

Capturing the Past

For Mother’s Day this year, one of our very thoughtful children gave me a gift that surprised me.  It was the gift of a story project that is a year-long effort.  Each week I receive a different question, chosen by the giver, about my life and my history.  I write and submit the answers and they are shared with both the gift giver and anyone else I choose to include.  I can change the question if I like or even create my own.  And, at the end of the year, these answers will be in a bound volume for each of us to keep.  It’s a lovely and thoughtful gift and I’ve been dutifully answering the questions every week, sometimes sharing memories that have long been buried and stories that I have really never told.

As children of older parents, my parents were both gone by the time my brother and I were in our early 30’s.  There are so many questions we never had the opportunity to ask and so many stories we never heard.  There are things that I wish I knew but have no way to learn.  And that is a loss.

I think about the elders with whom we work and how many stories each of them has to tell, how many memories they could share.  Some of our elders no longer have the ability to communicate but many do.  What a wealth of information they have to offer and how seldom we take advantage of that.  It is easy to visit an elder and ask about how they’re feeling and what they’ve done that day.  And it is easy to then shift the conversation to all the things going on in our lives and the lives of our families.

But what if we took a moment and asked a question that only they might be able to answer? Something that we really don’t know or don’t know fully but would like to know. We might ask what their parents were like when they were growing up. We might ask about what their first job was and what it meant to them.  We could pose questions about what their grandparents were like and what impact that relationship had on their lives.  And we could preserve those answers, both for ourselves and for the future.

There is a lot to learn from our elders and their history.  And there are lessons in our own history as well.  Imagine creating a written, or recorded, account for future generations in which both the elder and their adult child answer the same question.  Maybe that is a conversation they have together, maybe it is two parts of a whole.  But the richness of the past can provide learning for both the present and the future.  What an opportunity to capture that for posterity.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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