As our loved ones get older, memories become even more precious—both as a source of comfort and identity for the elder and as chronicled family history for the younger generation. This is an opportunity for you to bond, and it is also a joy for them to tell about the events they know so well. The memories transport them back to exciting and meaningful moments, and their faces and voices will reflect their engagement.
In 2015, Boston honored the importance of memoirs through collaboration between the City of Boston Elderly Commission and Grub St. Writers. They interviewed and gathered stories from all over the city to create several books of stories from different regions of the city. You can read some of the memoirs at the Boston Memoir Project. This project can easily be adapted to an individual family and serve as inspiration for your interviews.
And what better time to do this than August? If you have a family reunion or vacation coming up, it is a great time for children and grandchildren of aging family members to record and archive those memories. Get some lemonade out, grab the voice recorder or a pad of paper, and settle in for a long reminiscence…
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1) Ask questions that elicit important and powerful memories for your elder.
- What did you do in the summer as a child?
- What was your first job? Your favorite job?
- What’s your best memory of a time with siblings?
- Tell of a favorite sport or hobby. Did you have a special accomplishment with it?
- What was it like when you got married (or met your spouse or got engaged)?
- How did you get that scar?
The list is endless! You as the family member will know what is most interesting and powerful to your loved one. It doesn’t have to be a major event like a wedding; some of the best stories might come from remembering that old car he drove or the way she canned vegetables from the garden.
2) Actively interview the elder, and make this a time of meaningful sharing.
Turn this into an opportunity for the elder to teach the younger generations. My daughter recently interviewed her grandmother for a school project and learned all about Grandma’s childhood. My other daughter developed an interest in chickens and eggs (unusual interest for a girl growing up in Boston!), so I sent her to her grandfather to learn all the details of raising poultry, something about which he was an expert. Interviews like this give them clear topics for conversation and deepen the value of their time together.
Be prepared to ask follow-up questions to encourage more details: “What happened next? How did you feel when that happened? Why did you do that?” The goal is to get all the details. Keep pushing until the person interviewed really connects to the memory and goes back in time to relive all the emotions and experiences of that event.
For elders with memory loss, use props to help them connect to the memory. Show family pictures, and ask about them. You can provide labels with names, so they don’t have to struggle to remember those details. Use a familiar object—a cherished gift or child’s toy—that will remind them of an important event. When it is difficult to recognize loved ones or remember specific events, elderly people can still remember general experiences and their knowledge of them. For a farmer, hand him a toy tractor to elicit knowledge and memories of time in the field. For a teacher, show a photo of an old-fashioned chalkboard to bring back times in the classroom.
3) Capture the memories.
Videotape or record your loved one as he or she relates the experience.
Save the recording digitally and back it up. It is best is to create a file in a couple places, in the event of a computer fail.
You can transcribe the recordings into written documents and even create your own books of narratives with family photos. Photography shops and websites have software to design these books, and once you’ve done that, you can order as many copies as desired for siblings, cousins, and others. That would be a wonderful gift and a great heirloom!
These memoirs take time to capture, but it is well worth the investment! They provide meaningful interaction between family members today and precious artifacts for tomorrow.
SYNERGY HomeCare is ready to help your family with care for loved ones, honoring their past and valuing their present. For more information click here.