A postal worker was sorting letters but noticed something odd: a 2-cent stamp.
After some research, the post office learned when the letter was sent – 1931 – and found some relatives of the original addressee. This true story is amazing.
As it turns out, the letter was from a daughter to her mother. Her ironic message? She was apologizing for taking so long after promising to write.
Imagine a similar letter. What if it contained the memories of a woman who described the joys and pains of raising her family? What if it talked about her love for her children and her hopes and dreams for her grandchildren? What if it provided insights into the personalities of other family members, and of life in a unique time and place?
What if the intended recipient never got that letter?
What if it was addressed to you?
The stories and memories of parents, grandparents and other loved ones enrich our lives, helping us understand where we come from and who we are. Yet, they can be fragile, damaged by health issues, limited by time and restricted by geography. Opportunities to share and receive family stories may seem wide open – until they suddenly disappear.
What can we do about this danger?
Here are five suggestions for maintaining the transmission of family stories and memories.
1. Ask your older loved ones to share their stories.
When you visit grandma, have lunch with your uncle or host a birthday party for your dad, ask your loved one about childhood, school, family chores, a first car, a first date. Explore the past. Open doors to sharing memories.
Focus on shared experiences. Did you just move into a new home? Ask your loved one what his or her first home was like. Are you currently a little burned out in your job? Ask what job was your loved one’s least favorite. Did you recently get a surprise call from a distant friend? Ask which friends your loved one has stayed in contact with despite geographical separation.
Reviewing past conversations reinvigorates the old stories you have enjoyed. Investigating new territory brings out new stories full of value. You restore the lines of transmission.
2. Bring your children/grandchildren along when visiting older relatives.
It’s a common problem: Children and teens become enveloped in their own activities and start “skipping out” of family time, including social visits. Yet, these are the times when young minds begin to have enough life experience to understand and absorb these stories. They need to be present.
The problem is often straightforward: boredom. The focus of the conversation is among the adults, and children are left to wander off and find their own entertainment, if they can. It is in your power to keep that from happening. Talk to your older family members about their experiences as a child. You might be surprised how attentive your children become. Shared experience interests kids just as much as adults.
Encourage your children to both listen and talk. They must be involved if they are going to maintain attention. They will be more connected if they are affirming similar experiences and encouraged to ask questions.
The memories they carry from those conversations will ground them in the family narrative.
3. Promote listening and storytelling with other members of your family.
Set a good example by asking questions and listening to the memories of older members of your family, but do even more. Relate your enjoyment of these stories and encourage your siblings and cousins to participate by asking their own questions when they visit elders. We all have individual interests and experiences. By bringing their unique insights to the table, these relatives can elicit new memories, new stories, and new details to enrich family history.
As an additional value, expanding the opportunities for storytelling will make your older loved ones better storytellers. Practice makes perfect. What’s more, the encouragement of more audiences will bring greater enjoyment to the storyteller. It’s a win all around.
4. Tell your stories.
It’s never too early to start passing along your memories and stories to others. You have lived a unique life. That life is intricately connected to others who are older, of the same generation, and younger. Practice sharing your stories with them all.
As you do so, you’ll begin to recognize improvement in your own storytelling. You will note the interests of your audience, and cater to them. You will sharpen the delivery, improving the drama, the pathos, and the humor. You will appreciate audience response as you enlighten and entertain.
You will also be building a connection. The experiences of your life will transform into shared stories. A foundational unity will bind your identity with those of your loved ones.
5. Secure family stories – now!
Time waits for no one. A year from now, you may be in a different job 600 miles from where you currently live – and from the older loved ones whose stories are so important. Your loved one may have a health issue which makes communication much more challenging. Your loved one – or you – may be gone.
Back when I sold life insurance, I found this “mortality” argument uncomfortable – until a gentleman I had come to really like told me his doctor had diagnosed him with a terminal illness. Fortunately, he had life insurance which would help take care of his family on his passing. From that point on, I didn’t let my own squeamishness keep me from advocating financial planning in preparation for death, which, sooner or later, will claim us all.
Securing your family’s memories and stories is the social equivalent of protecting your family’s finances. You won’t really be doing this for yourself; you will be doing it for your children and their children and generations thereafter.
And just as life insurance is only one of many options for securing your family’s finances when you pass away, there are several ways you can secure your family’s stories.
An option available to everyone is to self-record. For those of us who have used technology all our lives, this is simple: Open the voice recorder app on your phone and press “Record.” Then ask your loved one those questions we discussed in suggestion 1 above. You may need to stop and start a few times, and you may need to learn a few minor tricks to make the file permanent and shareable, but at least you will have some of that precious family material to pass along to others.
If you are recording your own stories, try to do so with the help of one or more family members or friends. Your stories will come across as more organic and authentic if they are drawn out by an audience. These “facilitators” will also spur new memories and stories you might not have thought to relate without their involvement. Storytelling is most effective when the teller and an audience are present together.
You can also ask your loved one to write out his or her stories. This can be valuable if the details, like names, relationships, and ancestry, are the crucial pieces you wish to preserve. However, writing a long narrative can be tedious work. Furthermore, the written word may not convey the unique personality of the storyteller if that person is not experienced in literary writing. One of my goals when recording spoken stories is to convey a sense of the person speaking. This can be lost in a written format.
The most certain and effective way to secure and share the stories and memories of your loved one is to schedule a session with a professional story recorder. A facilitator can work with you to design questions which will draw forth the stories you long to preserve. Professional recording equipment will capture the sounds in all their depth and clarity. Sound engineers will process the recording to edit out distractions and interruptions while staying true to the pace and presentation of the person telling the stories. The stories will be marked off into separate tracks which can be easily searched and played or shared individually. The final production will be burned to compact disk and professionally packaged with label and cover artwork. From there, you will be able to play it for yourself and others as well as share it with family members today and far into the future.
At Legacy Chronicles Life Stories, we are dedicated to faithfully capturing, securing and sharing family stories. I like to say Legacy Chronicles Life Stories is my business, but proclaiming the value of securing and sharing your family’s stories is my mission. I hope you will do all you can to preserve these precious memories for your family. You can follow our tips and suggestions to begin preserving those stories yourself today. If you would like Legacy Chronicles Life Stories to assist in this process, please contact us.
Deliver the mail - preserve your stories!