Life Story Writing
Leave a legacy through the stories you tell.
We live in a technological society where historical information is recorded instantly. Yet, ironically, many adults and children know very little about their own family’s stories. Opportunities for extended family members to come together to share stories are sometimes limited due to family mobility, geographical distance, divorce, and hurried lifestyles.
There was a time when reminiscing about life events and history served an important community building function. This function was often the responsibility of older persons in the family and was a way to make sure other generations learned about their family’s history and heritage.
We live in a youth oriented society where older people are not as revered as they once were and are not always valued for their wisdom and experience. Sometimes this wisdom is not recognized until younger people are older and have children of their own. It is then that they may begin to ask their parents and grandparents to reveal their life stories.
Historically the wisdom of older adults was highly valued. They were entrusted with maintaining their family’s cultural heritage and were seen as “keepers of community.” Many of the stories of our ancestors are stories of immigration from their countries of origin. This information is particularly valuable for younger generations to know in order to more fully understand their family’s heritage. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for some older adults to convey very little information about their ethnicity. For many, it was more important to assimilate than to share their stories of ethnic origin.
Benefits of Sharing Stories
The potential benefits of sharing a life story are many. People who share their life stories:
- Gain greater self-knowledge and increased self-esteem.
- May feel a sense of joy, satisfaction, and inner peace as their stories are shared with others.
- May be a way to purge or release burdens and validate personal experiences.
- Create a sense of community with others.
- Can help people see their lives more clearly and perhaps be an inspiration to others.
- Provide an opportunity for others to better understand them.
- May come to a better understanding of their past and present, which may help in identifying their goals for the future.
Of course, not all stories are happy ones. Sometimes memories are painful and upsetting when they resurface. Retelling unhappy stories may help in working through unresolved issues and conflicts. Family members who show empathy and understanding toward the storyteller may help as the story unfolds. However, the direction of the story is ultimately up to the storyteller.
Most families have some special objects or keepsakes that have been passed down from one generation to another. These family keepsakes do not have to be of high monetary value. Often it is objects that are used every day or that are associated with a family story or event that have the most meaning for families.
Sharing stories and meanings about significant belongings helps preserve family history, memories, and traditions. Family keepsakes can be used as props for telling stories. Some items that are often considered family keepsakes include jewelry, photos, diaries, documents or records, collections, and handmade items such as needlework or artwork.
Questions to consider when telling a story about a family keepsake include:
- Who gave you the item and when?
- If not from someone, where or how did you acquire it?
- How have you used it over the years?
- Are there any special stories you want to share about the item?
- Any memories that come to mind when you think about the item?
- Is there someone that you want to pass it onto next? Any certain reason?