The Legacy Of Their Life: Saving The Life Stories Of Our Loved Ones

How did your parents meet and fall in love?

What was it like for your dad to grow up with 9 brothers and sisters?

Why did your grandmother emigrate to the United States at 18 without any other family?

Are these questions, or others, on your mind to ask your parent or grandparent? Or do you find your loved one reminiscing more and more about days long past rather than focusing on the present? Either way it may be time to ask those questions, to listen, to write down or record, to share, and to keepsake the legacy of their life.

Recent studies have shown that the practice of sharing life stories has not only emotional benefits for seniors but also physiological benefits. Dr. Robert Burton, founder of the International Longevity Center, was quoted as saying, “I was struck some years back by the fact that older people tended to review their life. At that time, whenever people reminisced it was regarded by psychologists and psychiatrists as possible early signs of senility. But because we were studying vital, healthier older people, it struck me how important it was for people to come to grips with the kind of life they had led.” And, a 2012 Allianz American Legacies Pulse Survey found that what mattered most to seniors as they considered their legacy was the passing down of family stories. According to the survey, the order of importance in leaving a legacy came as a bit of a surprise with values and life lessons at the top and financial assets and real estate trailing far behind.

The history of storytelling is as old as the words we use and as important as the relationships we have. According to National Geographic, “one reason may be that it (storytelling) helps us feel in control. That is, it helps us to find order in things that have happened to us and make sense of the events of a random world. Stories can also let us see how others think and feel. In other words, they can allow us to empathize with the people around us. In fact, studies suggest that the more compelling the story, the more empathetic people become in real life.”

It may feel overwhelming or even awkward to capture the story of one’s life or you may be asking someone to share who is hesitant or even refuses. There are different reasons for our loved ones to feel hesitant or awkward in sharing their life story – humility, feeling that no one would be interested, not knowing how to start or who to share with, or procrastination as it can be associated with the end of life. Luckily, there are many options to support this process that can bring a sense of connection, purpose, and control to seniors who often lose these feelings as they age.

Here are a few options from simple steps during your next visit to formal plans and tools:

  • Create a list of questions to ask or topics to discuss and pick one for your next visit or call. Choose a new question or topic each week. Be sure to allot a little more time than your usual to accommodate for the story and where it may take the conversation. Consider having your kids create some of the questions or topics and let them ask. Aging Care has a good list to get started.

  • Write a legacy love letter to your loved one or help them write theirs. Sometimes it is hard to find the words or to share the feelings when face to face. Writing a letter can help bring out all the things that you or your loved one might want to say or share in a safe place and time and for the recipient to read and react in their own safe place and time.

  • Put the pen (or keyboard) in the hand of your parent or grandparent with a Storyworth gift. Storyworth has created a service where you or your loved one receives an email each week for a year with a question prompt to write about. At the end of the year, Storyworth assembles the “stories” in a beautifully bound book. You can even add photos to accompany the stories.

  • Evalogue.Life can take your legacy story to the next level with their staff of trained interviewers, writers, and coaches to pull out the richest memories and sweetest details. Services range from interview preparation, recording, and digital file products to hiring a writer to scribe your memoir. Additional services include photo restoration and digitation.

It may be that you are your loved one’s care giver, and it is challenging and exhausting enough to ensure they are taking their medications and managing their day-to-day activities, let alone sitting down for story time. Or you may live away from your aging parent and do your best to squeeze in a weekly phone call or video chat between dinner and soccer practice and homework help and… and…and... And haven’t we all heard that story about that “sweet, cherry red GTO grandpa restored and cruised around with his buddies catching the eyes of all the ladies” a time or two or twelve? It is true that time is short, and lives are busy, but what might we be missing by not listening? And what might they be missing by not sharing?

Time is finite. Love is eternal. Forgiveness is everything.


Laura Olson

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