Recording a Life Story

Posted by on Feb 24, 2011 in Caregiving, Planning | 0 comments

This edition of Info is written by ElderWise co-founder, Mara Osis.

It’s ironic that our curiosity and interest in the lives of the older generation often doesn’t take hold until that generation is gone. Or, we have a keen interest, but other responsibilities distract or prevent us from knowing our elders’ histories.

My mom has always been keen to write down her story. For many years, I watched her begin her ‘life story’ project, only to abandon it after a few pages, saying that the writing “wasn’t good enough.” Fearing that if this went on much longer, we would run out of time, I took the following steps:

I began with getting her to see the project differently. I suggested it would be more interesting to read something in a spontaneous, un-edited voice, and that this would help communicate her authentic personality to future readers.

For further encouragement and guidance, I suggested some books, including: Saving Your Life, Glenys Stow, 2001, Ginger Press and How To Write Your Own Life Story, 4th ed., Lois Daniel, 1997, Chicago Review Press.

I bought several attractive, high quality lined journals, bound in such a way as to prevent pages being torn out. Buying several books allowed my mother to see her life as a series of chapters – childhood, wartime refugee, new immigrant, wife and mother, widow. To concentrate on one chapter at a time broke the project into manageable pieces.

My mother was lucky to be in touch with friends of her childhood and youth. Reconnecting with them brought other stories to mind and fleshed out details she had forgotten. Mom hasn’t completed her project yet, but she has so far filled three books and has recorded events to the time of my birth.

Encouraging your family’s elders to set down life stories can provide purpose, structure and diversion during times of stress, low mobility or convalescence. It may also encourage re-connection with pleasant memories and old friends. It certainly provides a cherished, permanent record for future generations.

Vol.2, No.6; © ElderWise Inc. 2006

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