My friend Cherie Orwig is a professional family historian. Unfortunately I did not receive until this afternoon her comments about the benefits of seniors' recounting their life memories; her e-mail was too late for them to be included in my post on those benefits. So the logical solution is to post again on that topic and feature Cherie's contribution.
For those of you who may be urging your parents, grandparents, or clients to remember their lives, here are some more reasons they may want to engage in that reminiscing and telling.
Benefits of Writing a Memoir
Scott Farnsworth writes: Not getting stories from our parents is like a library burning.
Carl Sandburg wrote: We must not forget where we came from.
Medical professionals have documented that adults who are able to share their values, their life stories, their lessons learned, etc. have greater peace. They are comforted by feeling that their life has had worth. They are less irritable in medical situations and are more peaceful in their passing.
My fellow Personal Historians and I have witnessed, along with their families, the positive emotional response senior adults have to a personal interview. They realize that their children see them, not just as parents or grandparents, but as adults who have lived a full life, sacrificed for their families, worked hard so that children could achieve, recovered from ups and downs through perseverance, have personal stories and values to share with the generations ahead. The tears flow when the final memoirs book is placed in their hands. They are honored and humbled by the experience that loved ones value them. It is so emotional!
Personal histories have other values:
1) Families can gain greater understanding of why things happened in the family, why decisions were made or not made.
I interviewed a mom who had never talked with her children about a young child's death. The parents were advised not to traumatize the children--all under 7 years of age--with the details. The children were told not to ask questions of their parents so as not to upset them. For nearly 50 years nothing was said. Until my interview. It was then that mom realized she'd never taken time to grieve, that sharing the story might have been better for the entire family. The family responded by embracing their mother, having new understanding and unbounded love. The interview was worth it for this one moment.
2) Opportunities for laughter and joy as you learn of unknown stories.
3) The parents and families realize how and why they were influenced later in adulthood.
I interviewed a veteran of Vietnam who worked in hospitals. He thought he had nothing to say but wanted to leave a legacy for his children. He told of the horrific injuries and deaths he witnessed and cared for. I asked how he dealt with the grief. He said he didn’t, as he always had to move along to the next patient. As we talked about his life after Vietnam, he mentioned he’d earned a graduate degree studying how to help families grieving the death of a loved one. As he reported this, a light bulb went on. He was stunned by what he’d just said. His next words were, “I know I never would have selected that topic had it not been for my experience in Vietnam!” He was at peace realizing he'd found a positive outlet for his own grief, one that brings comfort to others.
The value to the individual telling the story, not just the one reading it, is HUGE! The feeling of being honored. The peace of sharing their life stories. The humility of learning that your family cares about you. The learnings and joy and understanding that can happen. The opportunity to finally grieve for old wounds. All of these things and more can come from asking questions and documenting personal stories. This is the work that I do. I have a passion for it. And I gain from the experiences every day.
Note: Click to watch Cherie's short video "10 Pennies" about her grandparents.