After having lived through several decades on Earth and being witness to major transformations in history, culture and technology, you may want your children and grandchildren to hear all about the stories from the past that dwell in your heart and soul. These life stories not only help you to bond with your family but are a way of resuscitating loved ones from the past and keeping them alive in the minds of future generations. By sharing your life history with future generations, you are one step further in your journey towards improving your emotional and social wellbeing.
Narrating life stories has numerous benefits for both older adults and their children. Children and grandchildren are able to better understand where they come from and gain wisdom and appreciation of life through the experiences shared with them. As for older adults, there is a growing list of scientific and anecdotal evidence which shows that sharing life stories is extremely beneficial for their well being. Storytelling is a powerful tool for reducing symptoms of depression and boosting self-esteem amongst older adults. By recalling how you overcame struggles in the past, you are better equipped to tackle new challenges and are more likely to forgive yourself for past mistakes. According to Anne Basting, founder of the TimeSlips Project, storytelling not only stimulates the mind to remember but also opens up various avenues for imagination. It allows the individual to conjure something new that accepts who they are and where they are in the moment.
To help you get started, we compiled a list of methods and tools that you could use to share and record your life stories.
- Archiving – Scrapbooking is a great way to help you to keep your treasure trove of memories and life experiences accessible and organized. It is also an incredible opportunity to take a trip down nostalgia lane as you rummage through photo albums, old letters and mementos from the past. You could also include your child or grandchild in this special journey by having them help you cut out and paste photographs or doodle over the pages. If you are more tech savvy or have a relative/friend who is willing to lend some of their expertise, you could take a look at vendors such as com, Shutterfly and Michaels to create a more professionally designed scrapbook. These cost-friendly vendors allow you to choose from a selection of more than 40 layouts and preset backgrounds and provide easy to use tools to curate the scrapbook of your dreams. If you want to translate your memories into larger works of art and share them with the greater community, check out DearPhotograph.com. The idea behind this website is to take a snapshot (usually featuring people from the past) and holding it up against the original setting, thereby integrating the past and present into a new work of art.
- Interviewing: Ask a loved one to interview you about your life history. Some examples of questions to ask are “What were you favorite memories from high school?” and “Who was your best friend while growing up?”. Interviews could be structured in a manner that allows for a two way interaction between both individuals, as it helps to trigger long forgotten memories and emotions and allows your loved one to gain more insight into your personality. You could also make use of structured interview guides like this one. Music you used to listen to in the past could play in the background during the time of the interview, as it might help in better memory recall. If you are open to being recorded, you might consider making a audio or video recording of the interview. One great example of such a tool is EveryStory, which is a service to allows you to create your very own heirloom video memoir.
- Writing: Rather than simply sitting down and reminiscing about your days of yore, you should allow these thoughts to flow on paper and piece them together to form written narratives. According to Hope Levvy, founder of There’s Always Hope, a San Francisco-based geriatric consulting firm, writing one’s story is a powerful way for older adults to visualize and create their future. She cites the example of a client, a woman in her late 70s who felt depressed and anxious due to the perceived belief that she hadn’t accomplished much in her life. After writing a letter to her younger self, upon Levy’s suggestion, the woman experienced a sense of achievement and rejuvenation, as she completed the task all by herself without anybody’s assistance. If you are suffering from writer’s block and are unsure about how to start, you could look at a photograph taken during a particularly eventful moment. As humans, we are strongly visually oriented creatures and photographs are quite powerful in triggering deeply sentimental feelings. If you require additional guidance from a writing mentor, you could look at Guided Autobiography (GAB), which organises writing sessions that are generally led a facilitator who uses themes such as “Life’s Work” and “Money” to gather information and stories. Online sessions, facilitated by GAB’s world wide network of instructors, are also available.
- Guided group workshop: If you wish to share your life stories with other older adults, you might consider attending a guided group workshop. One such example is Time-Slips, an improvisational storytelling community which holds weekly, hour long group sessions that are carried out by trained facilitators and are designed to engage older adults in senior centres, day centres and long term care facilities. Joining such workshops helps you gain more confidence in your communication abilities as you are in charge of driving your own narrative in front of an audience that is eager to hear you out.
Do you have any more suggestions ? Let us know in the comments!