A favorite story of my grandmother’s concerned a young man who was strolling down the alley adjacent to our yard. When he looked over and saw a white object sitting in a swing, slowly rocking back and forth, he uttered a loud expletive and took off running. The figure in white was my grandmother wrapped in a sheet, waiting for our family’s Halloween party to begin. I still laugh out loud just remembering her telling it.
Rick Moody, editor of AARP’s Human Values in Aging newsletter, was sitting with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (author of From Age-ing to Sage-ing) when Reb turned to him and said, “You know, there is really only one great question in life. It’s ‘Are you saved?’ Not in a theological sense,” he added, “but in a computer sense.”
What is yourstory? Have you been “saved” in the sense of “downloading” your life experiences to the great “hard drive” of future generations? There are many levels of storytelling. Some stories are simply a recitation of something that happened, while others reveal a belief system or set of values. My “ghost” story reminds me of how important having fun together at every age was to my family.
Stories are gifts we choose to give. They offer healing and connect and inspire us; they are our legacy. It’s not uncommon for siblings to remember their story differently. While Doug believed that limited financial resources meant that only he could go to college because he was the male, his sister Ann recalled only her disinterest in further education.
Stories are not only for others; they are for the storyteller as well. For some of us, recounting our story becomes more important as we age. We want people to remember us for whowe are and not just defined by our jobs or accomplishments. We also want others to understand our values, beliefs, and the differences we may have made in others’ lives.
For the storytellers among us, I offer the following suggestions that others have found to be helpful. There is no right way to tell your story.
Organize your past into childhood, teen, adult, and elder years and incorporate information people often overlook. For example, what was the main advice your parents or grandparents gave you, either verbally or nonverbally, and how did that play out in your life? Sue’s mother’s advice was to believe that she could do anything. Consequently, Sue embraced new opportunities. Not all advice is positive, of course, but both positive and negative stories become teachable moments for our children and grandchildren.
Reflect on the various stages of life. What gives you the greatest joy? What makes you happiest? What have you learned about life? What would you do differently? What are you lifting up and sending away? What are you thankful for? What other messages do you want to leave for others?
If you haven’t already begun capturing your story, resolve to begin now. Who knows what you will learn about you?
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.
A New Guided Life Journal
This Life of Mine, just out from Sasquatch Books, gives people a place to share their life’s stories and memories, guided by prompts based on themes like love, family, and purpose. The author, Anne Phyfe Palmer, is the owner of Seattle’s 8 Limbs Yoga and a memoirist who became passionate about passing down one’s legacy after she lost her grandfather and realized how many details about his life she didn’t know.