As I launch into my new venture to assist people with the recording of their LifeStories, the question arises: Why do a lifestory? What are the benefits?
Answering this question feels overwhelming at first, because the answer seems so obvious:
We record these stories so they will last forever, so we can pass them down to the following generations. When my son asks me about my grandfather, when he’s curious about his heroism in World War II, about what growing up in 1920s and 1930s New York City was like, about how he met my grandmother, about what it was like to become a grandfather, a great-grandfather, we’ll have that story from ‘the horse’s mouth.’
How wonderful for my son; perhaps it will build in him a greater sense of family and history, a feeling that he is part of a long and ongoing family line that stretches back in time and charges forward with momentum. Perhaps that will give him a feeling of having strong roots in life, a home he belongs to, and will work against the feeling of loneliness and purposelessness that we all must sometime face. I could go on and on about the potential benefits that my grandfather’s lifestory can provide to my son and the rest of us who follow.
But what about the benefits to the person who is telling the story?
How gratifying to know that you will be remembered, that the story of your life is important to somebody, that you and your story can provide comfort, history, education, guidance to young ones coming up after you, ones who surely can use all the guidance they can get.
And what about the therapeutic benefits to the mind that come with remembering? The flexing of mental muscles that may have lain dormant for a while. Remembering can improve the cognitive functions, can get those mental juices flowing.
And it can be great fun for the storyteller. You ever notice that across an entire life, whether you’ve lived 90 years or only 37 as I have, there are some episodes that take up far more real estate in your memory than the rest? People tell the same stories over and over again, because those are what stand out to them as the most memorable parts of their lives. Out of my grandfather’s long and varied 92-year life, he mostly talked about the war and his swimming career (he was good enough to compete in the Olympics, and would have if it weren’t for World War II). He had a ball talking about training for and winning swim meets all through high school and his first year of college. And it made him laugh every time he talked about the fun he had while on R&R in the Pacific—in Sydney, Australia, and Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand.
Now that I have his stories immortalized in print—despite the fact that Grandpa is gone and can never tell his stories again—they will not fade with the passing years. They will live on forever.
According to the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, benefits of telling your lifestory include:
It is healthy for our elders to tell us their memories, but they need us to listen.