When getting together with family this summer, don’t pass up the opportunity to rekindle memories with family members who may not have the wherewithal to preserve memories themselves. When faced with the issue of memory loss, capturing those family memories becomes all-important. You will be amazed how looking a pictures and recalling the stories behind them will help bring back the memories and smiles.
Make a plan to help someone you know who is going through a medical issue. Have a say in the telling of their life story by recording the memories of their life as StoryScans talking images. It is unlike other life story or memoir projects in that time is of the essence. Either memory or health is fading. Maybe it will get stronger. If it doesn’t improve, however, then you’ve lost time. Every family eventually knows someone facing a serious health challenge.
One of the biggest regrets people have after losing a loved one is that they didn’t make the time to capture stories, voices or preserve more memories with that person. The preservation of memory is one of the most vital aspects of documenting one’s family history.
This reminiscence is a form of dignity therapy, a unique therapeutic intervention that allows people to have a say in their final story. While dignity therapy was pioneered through a research group by Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov for patients in palliative care, there are numerous benefits to using it for people managing other medical issues. We all go through something in life.
By making the time to sit with your loved one and record the key stories or thoughts on their role in life, their values and what they consider their most important accomplishments, you give them the opportunity to focus on something other than their health issues for the moment. It also elevates their sense of well being and quality of their care.
In a blog post discussing Alzheimer’s Disease, the Mayo Clinic suggested that caregivers use old photos, private papers and mementos familiar to the patient to open up old memories. The medical leader reminds us that life is like a tapestry, woven from memories and experiences of events, people and places we’ve known. These memories remind us of who we are, where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished in life. The compilation of stories provides a greater benefit to care.
Unfortunately with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, loved ones leave us a little bit more every day, like a long slow goodbye. The key to capturing those memories is to do it early on, when stories can be retold on a day when the storyteller is fresh and full of energy.
Tips on preparing to draw out those hidden memories.
- Get started – Don’t wait to do something in the winter or next spring or next year. Time marches fast, especially when memory loss and medical issues are leading the way. Summertime family reunions are times when we are together, perhaps that one time of the year.
- Book the talent – Ask your storyteller/patient/family member if they’d be interested in talking about old stories that you can record for them and the extended family. Get their approval first. Be aware, however, you may encounter pushback as patients may feel you’re forcing their version of Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” or Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Encourage them to be in control of their own legacy, their own story.
- Understand this – The most common reasons people with advancing medical conditions decline a storytelling project is that they feel too ill. Advancing diseases deplete patients of their physical and mental energy. Your role as the interviewer is to be extremely patient and help the storyteller to organize their thoughts, provide cues that may help guide or elicit their responses and use techniques that encourage them to offer additional details.
- Photos & Mementos – Look around your house for old photos or mementos to use as a visual aid to evoke memories and open conversations with the storyteller. Don’t fret about reorganizing the photos first. That can come later.
- Develop a list of topics – Marriage, childhood, career, charitable giving, favorite holidays, travel, parenting, etc.
- Get questions ready – Develop a basic list of questions, maybe 20 or 30. Give them the questions before hand. This may elicit deeper responses, because the storyteller has had time to think about their answers.
- Be happy – Arrive in a good mood. This is going to be one of the best afternoons of your life.
- Tell, don’t ask – Ask open ended telling questions that have the storyteller to describe details, not just yes or no questions.
- Don’t stay too long – Don’t plan a whole day of interviews. It’s too exhausting. Make sure the storyteller is having a good day and is fresh enough to talk. Limit your visit to two hours or less of recorded time, unless the storyteller wants to keep going. They control the process.
- Be the home studio – You’ll want to record these stories as casual question-and-answer type conversations. Purchase the Flip-Pal Wireless Upgrade and use your smart phone with the ScanTools app to record the voice and create StoryScans talking images, with the voice combined with the scanned images. If you instead have a laptop, purchase the Samson USB Go Mic. Put it directly in front of the storyteller to reduce the background noises, such as clanking dishes and people laughing at the dinner table.
- Get comfy – Sit in a place that makes you both comfortable to talk for a while.
- Don’t be a drill sergeant – When interviewing someone don’t be rigid with the list of questions. Tackle stories one at a time. Sometimes a single question requires more time to answer well. The storyteller may go off on a tangent. Let them finish.
- Be patient – Bringing old memories forward – especially when you’re struggling with memory – is like carrying everything from the attic on the first trip. It’s a little heavy. Medical patients require enough energy and mental wherewithal to embark on this reflective therapy intervention.
- It’s something – You won’t capture an entire life story in one two-hour sitting. Sometimes, especially when dealing with memory issues, it takes time to remember. Don’t be discouraged. Whatever you captured is far better than capturing nothing at all.
- Be creative – You can create any number of projects. For instance, the Mayo Clinic suggested in its blog that you create a scrapbook or a digital picture frame that can be kept near an Alzheimer’s patient to help them remember details about their life, including having pictures of family members, friends, homes, cars and caregivers.
- Remember this – There is no perfect size for a life story project that helps rekindle fading memories. You could spend an afternoon and only preserve the memories captured that one day or you could spend six months interviewing someone and write a book. The value of preserving life stories elevates as we go through our challenges. The gift of memory and time is the greatest gift to give each other.
Have faith in yourself
Helping people feel good about their lives by helping them preserve their memories is a sort of spiritual ministry. You’re doing this, because it’s the right thing to do to show someone else how much you care, not because you want something for yourself. As we’ve mentioned before, the gift of time is the hardest gift to give
Adapted from an article written by Mary V Danielsen of Documented Legacy