Stories are a way to pass on values, experiences and lessons to help others learn and grow. Across all cultures and societies, stories have always been shared. You can likely think back to a story that has shaped your life, whether it came from a book you read, a movie you watched or an experience a loved one shared with you.
As the The New York Times notes, “Stories are an essential part of how we communicate, interpret experiences and incorporate new information into our lives.”
Storytelling serves dual purposes: on one hand, wisdom is imparted to those who are consuming these stories; on the other hand, the sharing of a story instills a sense of purpose for the storyteller. It’s for these reasons that we recommend taking an active approach to preserving the stories of our loved ones.
Why Share Your Story?
Older age is a great time for individuals to think about how they want to be remembered and what they want to pass on to loved ones.
Too often, younger generations fail to take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom that older generations have to offer. This is a shame, especially considering the many benefits that can come from having a better sense of one’s family history.
According to the American Psychological Society, “Knowledge of family history is significantly correlated with internal locus of control, higher self-esteem, better family functioning, greater family cohesiveness, lower levels of anxiety, and lower incidence of behavior problems.”
For older adults, sharing stories can provide a sense of relevance. As we age, our daily social contact can become limited. For some, this lower level of socialization leads to feelings of isolation. Sharing stories allows older adults to reflect back on the life they’ve led and the moments they’ve experienced. By passing these stories on and discussing what they learned from a particular scenario, older adults can impart invaluable wisdom to their younger audiences.
Luckily, there are plenty of platforms for older adults to share their stories.
Start a Blog
Once they are set up with their own blog, encourage your loved one to share a story on their blog on a regular basis.
You can also recommend they scan and upload photos They can even use these pictures as jumping off points for the stories they share or as a way to teach readers more about their family or significant moments in their life. Providing visuals enhances the connection a story can have with an audience; photos can even encourage younger generations to ask more questions and engage with the storyteller.
Older adults may find social media to be a great way to share their stories and stay in touch with family. Facebook is a perfect starting point, as your loved one is most likely to find many family members and friends to connect with on this popular social network.
Here they can also share photos, follow along with their loved ones, and post status updates or notes sharing their stories. The platform can serve as a virtual scrapbook for their most treasured memories.
There are also many Facebook groups older adults may be interested in joining. Many people choose to join a Facebook group that is dedicated to former and current residents of their hometown or students from their graduating high school class. Groups like these give members the opportunity to reminisce with others who have shared knowledge and experiences. Together, as they share stories and photos, members are collaborating on a written history of the place they grew up.
If your loved one lacks computer skills or is not physically capable of using one, consider recording their memories.
A standard smartphone comes with a built-in microphone and audio recording program, making the preservation of stories simple and convenient. You can even take the recording a step further by recording video of your loved one telling their stories. These videos can easily by shared with family and friends near and far by uploading videos to Youtube.
Need help getting started recording these stories? There are programs available to help you through the recording process. StoryCorps, for example, is a free app you can download onto your smartphone that helps you prepare questions for interviewing your loved one, and also records the interview.
If you would like to preserve stories from an older adult with memory loss, StoryCorps also offers a StoryCorps Memory Loss Program, which offers a free toolkit that care providers can use to help older adults preserve their memories.
LifeBio is another service facilitating the recording of stories for older adults, including those in retirement communities Their online templates can be of great assistance to help interviewees be more open to sharing. LifeBio offers online biography templates which can either be printed or shared digitally, a smartphone app which allows you to video record your older adult, and various memory care tools, including an “about me” template that can help care providers immediately engage with new residents and learn more about them. The LifeBio service provides a more in depth experience for care givers who need more help getting started engaging with older adults than StoryCorps.
Sometimes the simplest method might be the best way for an older adult to share their story. Encourage them to strike up a pen pal relationship with a grandchild or their adult child. This type of relationship is valuable in helping them feel that someone is interested in hearing their stories.
Take into consideration which method is the best fit for your loved one and what technology is needed to capture their stories, then set a plan and routine to ensure the older adult is encouraged to share their memories.
How To Encourage Your Loved One To Open Up
If you need help starting conversations that will help your loved one share their experiences, The Legacy Project from Cornell University suggests you ask one of six open-ended questions. These include:
- If a young person asked you, “What have you learned in your ____ years in this world,” what would you tell him or her?
- Some people say that they have had difficult or stressful experiences but they have learned important lessons from them. Is that true for you? Can you give an example?
- As you look back over your life, do you see any “turning points”; that is, a key event or experience that changed the course of your life or set you on a different track?
- What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?
- What can younger people do to avoid having regrets later in life?
- What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?
These questions are specifically designed to get an older adult to open up. Don’t worry about keeping them on topic; the more they share, the better. Think of these questions as tools to begin a conversation, not a strict guideline for what stories they must share.
We have a feeling you’ll be blown away by what you learn.