Seniors in Joliet ‘get it down in writing’

Most seniors, as they age, they think about their Will. They see a lawyer and make decisions about the division of assets among children and/or grandchildren. There’s another kind of asset to leave family members that is historic and incalculably dear – the story of your life.

A granddaughter expressed regret that she never really knew her grandparents on her father’s side. They came through Ellis Island from Finland, and they both were gone by the time the granddaughter was 12. Decades later, as she faced her own mortality, her thoughts dwelled on the couple, and she wished she had asked her dad more details about what his parents were like. But he had died, too, and the unasked questions were haunting. Any stories about the courage it must have taken to come to America are impossible to know.

If only…if only they had written down a personal story or two.

The drama of coming through Ellis Island isn’t a necessity to tell a life story, however. All the remembrances and experiences of a long life are precious and priceless. Life story writing leaves a lasting legacy for future generations. And it can bring enjoyment, satisfaction and even closure in the last stage of life.

Of the many excellent books on autobiographical writing, perhaps the best for seniors is Lois Daniel’s How to Write Your Own Life Story. The author suggests writing in small sketches of a few sentences each. In addition to genealogical and family life stories – circumstances of birth, favorite toys, stories about siblings and grandparents, she suggests topics such as where were you on important days in history, accomplishments of which you are the most proud and inventions of the day.

According to CreativeQuotations.com, Grandma Moses, in her autobiography, wrote, “I have written my life in small sketches, a little today, a little yesterday, all the things from childhood on through the years, good ones and unpleasant ones, that is how they come out and that is how we have to take them.”

Life story writing in a group can be very enjoyable, and it’s an excellent way to build community with others. Sometimes a family member can serve as a scribe while the senior reminisces aloud. Often a grandchild or great-grandchild compiles the stories and self-publishes from his or her computer. With a little computer know-how, the document can have photos to go along with the stories.

Writing your life story: six suggestions for seniors from JournalTherapy.com

  1. Write in small sketches of five or ten minutes on specific topics, such as a favorite holiday, the first job, a memorable world event.
  2. Engage family members in the process. Invite correspondence, or ask nearby relatives to scribe “spoken poems” by writing down everything that is said, in your exact words.
  3. Join a life story or memoir writing group. Ask at your senior center, library, or doctor’s office. If a writing group doesn’t exist, see if you can get one started.
  4. Tell the stories of how you participated in world history. Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor? How did you and your family spend the Great Depression years? Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? How did you and America react to 9/11?
  5. Write your “ethical will.” What life lessons, personal philosophies, mottos, and core values do you want to leave as legacy to your descendants? How did you learn these lessons or acquire these philosophies?
  6. Ask someone in your family with computer skills to compile your stories into a self-published memoir.
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