Preserving Your Story • Part One

Preserving Your Story • Part One

“A person’s memory is everything, really. Memory is identity. It’s you.” – Stephen King

I grew up within a family of storytellers. Every meal was full of anecdotes and remembrances and jokes about, “remember that time?”

Years later, when I became my grandmother’s caregiver, the stories became the illuminated path to help guide her back towards her sense of self.

Family stories and anecdotes can become keys to unlock some of the hardest days. Whether you are the active caregiver or receiving care, sharing your life’s journey is a fantastic activity that everyone can take part of.

Don’t think you have lived a remarkable story? Pull up some episodes of the genealogical based show, Who Do You Think You Are? This show features celebrities climbing back through their family trees.

The most interesting and compelling discoveries are the slices of life stories. Simply finding out what their ancestors did every day!

Before you begin make sure you have a way to chronicle the experience. Ask if you can video record the conversation. If that isn’t an option consider an audio recording. At the very least you will need paper and pen to document and preserve the answers.

Make the interview process a date and make it special. Set it in a warm and safe environment that invites easy sharing. This is something to do tucked in a quiet corner, not in a loud restaurant or in a place where there are many distractions.

Turn your ringer off, flip your phone over (if you aren’t using it as a recording device), and make sure you both have water.

Here are some sample questions to ask, either yourself or the person you care for:

  • What is your full name? Where were you born? When? Do you recall any stories you were told about the day you were born?
  • Who was the oldest person in your family when you were a child? What do you remember about them?
  • What did your parents do for a living? What was your childhood home like? Did you play with any of your neighbors?

As a child I soaked up the stories. They were my lore, the history.

  • What is your favorite story about your mother? About your father? Do you know how they met?
  • Tell me about family gatherings at holidays? What were the meals like?
  • What was going to school like? Did you enjoy it? What was your favorite subject? Who was your favorite teacher? Did you have any school crushes?
  • Did you have any family pets? What were their names?
  • Did you go to church with your family? What was that like?
  • How did you meet your husband/wife? Tell me about the first date. Do you remember the 2nd date?
  • Who was at your wedding? Where did you go for your honeymoon? Where did you live after you got married?
  • Tell me about your home? What was your favorite room?

There are many resources online to find additional interview questions, the goal is simply to get started.

Tips for interviewing:

  • Try to start your interview before lunch. Fatigue or sundowning can make afternoon interviews a challenge.
  • Don’t overwhelm with questions. If you want to pick three or four within a theme that might make your loved one the most at ease. You could begin by saying, “Today I am going to ask you questions about your wedding.”
  • Listen. The mind and our memory is awesome. Some of these questions may unlock some great days. Let your loved one meander through her/his memories and share them.
  • Don’t have an agenda. If you are looking to find out where the long-lost silverware is – this is not the way. Having a motive that is less than honorable will yield less than great responses.
  • Be comfortable. Both of you. There really is no need to get overly formal with setting while you are interviewing. If your loved one is relaxed and comfortable and happy to talk while in the cozy den chair – so be it!
  • As soon as you can after the interview, write up the notes and save them. Email a copy to family members.

These stories are important to save for the sake of saving, but they may also become valuable later on.

Your loved one’s identity is bound up in the memories, and by preserving that history you are helping preserve that unique identity.

Dresden Shumaker is a writer, advocate, and former full-time and live in caregiver to her grandmother. She chronicles her adventures in single parenting on CreatingMotherhood.

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