Writing down one’s life story is a great way to pass on the lessons we’ve learned to family, friends and future generations.
Author Kathleen Adams writes, “One of the markers of a life well lived must surely be the stories, experiences and memories that are told, retold, remembered and re-experienced throughout a life span. (A memoir or “life review”) captures the priceless and the poignant, the truly memorable and the quirkily remembered, the historic and the unique. It leaves a legacy of living history for future generations. And it can bring enjoyment, satisfaction and closure in the last stage of life.”
It’s interesting to know where someone was on an important day in history such as the day man landed on the moon, President Kennedy was shot or the 9/11 attacks happened. More compelling still is an account of how it affected them…
Unfortunately, most people either lack the knowledge to put together a life story in a written form that can create a family treasure or they procrastinate, figuring there’s plenty of time left to get their stories down on paper. For seniors, it can be a useful way of reconciling the past, putting regrets to rest and overcoming feelings of isolation by engaging in storytelling. There’s a powerful cathartic release in finally sharing something you’ve held inside for many years.
John Kunz, a member of the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review, notes that recording life stories assists with the grief process, increases emotional support, decreases depression and anxiety, and develops interventions for individuals with dementia.
Personal histories can be meant for immediate family members yet end up becoming useful genealogical tools for historians and descendants up to hundreds of years from now.
For those who want to write their own life story, the website Lifebio provides a template and online questions. An organization called StoryCorps also has a memory loss initiative that encourages people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations.
Great stories are often sparked by memories triggered by thought-provoking questions such as…
- How would you describe your mother to someone who had never met her?
- What is a key lesson you learned from your father?
- Describe your childhood home, inside and outside.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What were your most memorable experiences from high school?
- Have you found true love? Describe what true love means to you.
- What is the hardest part of being a parent?
- What is the greatest invention that has come along in your lifetime so far? Why was this invention important to you?
- What does it take to succeed in life?
- What was the best time of your life? Why?
- It’s been said that, “The best things in life are free.” Is this true?
This is storytelling where the senior is in control, deciding what stories to tell, what information to put in or omit and who it is ultimately intended for.
“It’s never too early or too late to begin, says Hope Levy of There’s Always Hope, a Geriatric Consultancy. “Writing out your thoughts has so many more benefits than simply sitting down and thinking them. Writing one’s story not only boosts self-esteem, reduces stress and anxiety, it is a powerful tool for a senior—or anyone—to visualize and create their future.”