My grandfather moved into a retirement community at the age of 93. Before doing so, he passed his annual driving test, probably just to show us that he could. A week or two later, he sold his car and gave up driving completely. It was his choice.
And just to show us that he had a sense of humor about the whole thing, he once gave me a folded, photocopied page with the following joke on it:
A group of seniors were sitting around talking about all their ailments.
“My arms have gotten so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee,” said one.
“Yes, I know,” said another. “My cataracts are so bad, I can’t even see my coffee.”
“I couldn’t even mark an ‘X’ at election time, my hands are so crippled,” volunteered a third.
“What? Speak up! I can’t hear you!” said another.
“I can’t turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck,” said one woman.
“My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy!” exclaimed another.
“I forget where I am—and where I’m going!” another admitted.
“I guess that’s the price we pay for getting old,” winced an old woman as she slowly shook his head.
The others nodded in agreement.
“Well, count your blessings,” said an old man. “At least we can all still drive!”
Earlier this week I had the unique opportunity to hear a presentation by Janette Quinn. She has a company called Living Stories, whose mission is to help people get their memories and stories down on paper.
This is something LifeLines helps people with too, but I think Janette is usually helping people earlier in the process. I often work with someone’s written manuscript, proofing, editing, designing, and/or publishing it, whereas Janette is actually helping people create that written manuscript.
She was speaking at a meeting of the Historical Society in my town, and her message really resonated with them. These are older people with a lifetime of stories to tell, and a vested interest in preserving the stories related to our village. But I think the idea of preserving their own stories was new to them.
“But I don’t have a story worth sharing!”
Janette revealed that there are a lot of people who don’t think they have anything to share. Older women especially, who have never worked outside the home, may consider their personal history unremarkable. But Janette helps them see that it is, in fact, irreplaceable. Her specialty is interviewing people in a way that gets them to remember their history and talk about themselves.
“Why is history important?” she asked us. “Because the history that we carry is wisdom.” Janette believes
Your story is irreplaceable
Yes, it’s nice to be able to leave your kids a financial inheritance. But money is generic. Your kids might just as easily become financially wealthy through a series of better jobs than what you ever had. Or as a result of smart investing. Or from the lottery. Money is money, no matter where it comes from.
But your personal history is something only you can share. Once you’re gone, there is no way to get those stories back.
Take a step
There are three ways I can think of to help you get started:
Buy a book of “prompts.” A client of mine, John Geertsema, used a book like this to get his stories down on paper. His family gave him the book for Christmas because they loved the stories he told, and they didn’t want to lose them. I myself have used To Our Children’s Children, by Bob Greene, and there are many similar books out there.
Get your family involved. You might not think your life is interesting, but share some of your questions and answers with your children and grandchildren. Ask them what they want to know more about. And listen, too, when your stories remind them of things they might want to share with you.
Hire Janette. Honestly, I don’t know how much she costs, and she won’t be able to give you a price until she finds out specifically what services you’re interested in. To find out more about the process, visit her website: LivingStories.us.
Enjoy the journey
None of the clients whose personal stories I’ve published as hardcover or paperback books have ever regretted the investment they made in preserving their personal history. And none of their children have either.
In fact, most have found the process as meaningful as the finished product.
Because it was this journey of discovery that led them to realize the value of their personal history. Through the journey they learned that their lives are, in fact, a story worth sharing.
When I was a senior in high school, the entire student body gathered for an Awards Assembly at the end of the year. The awards included National Merit Scholarships, various college scholarships, Presidential Academic Fitness Awards, Student Activity Pins, Athletic Awards, various Department Awards, and a Citizenship Award. According to an issue of the school newspaper that I still have in my files, I won several honors.
I came home from school that day, and my parents were both at work. So I spread out the pins and certificates and ribbons I had won and left a note with them: “Look what I won at the Awards Assembly!” Then I went outside. (The internet hadn’t been invented yet, so what else was I going to do?)
Later that evening, I found the note I had left. My mom had replied with three words: “I’m not surprised!”
No gushing. No hype. In three words, my mom managed to affirm her high expectations as well as my achievement. In essence, she was saying, “Of course you did well—I’ve never expected anything less from someone like you.” And in doing so, she subtly shifted the burden of accomplishment from “doing great things” to “being a good person.” What a gift!
Yes, I still have the medals and pins and certificates—they’re in a box in my basement, and I had to re-discover them in order to write this post.
I couldn’t find the note though. (The image above is a reproduction.) But it turns out finding the note wasn’t necessary. Those three words are written on my heart, and they helped shape the person I am today. They are evidence of a mother’s pride that is so matter-of-fact I can almost take it for granted, yet it still encourages me to be worthy of it.
Last week my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I threw a party for them, and it was a lot of fun. In fact, I think the party and the events leading up to it highlighted two main reasons my parents’ love story is so successful:
1. Their love is enriched by community.
About 50 people gathered to celebrate with us. Many of these people have been friends with my parents for decades, and they shared stories of hard times and fun times, ups and downs, thick and thin. Even the more recent friends are quick to talk about how my parents reached out to them, included them, listened, made them laugh. And my parents mentioned at the party how thankful they are for friends to share joys and sorrows with. They recognize that you can’t make it through 50 years on your own, and your world is too small when it’s “just the two of us.” True love is humble enough to be enriched by community.
2. Their love is selfless.
I just want to tell you one story that illustrates what my parents’ “selfless love” looks like in real life:
My parents have been blessed with a daughter who is mentally handicapped, and they have spent most of their married lives caring for her (with the help of friends, family, and communities like Bethshan). The week leading up to my parents’ anniversary, my sister was in the hospital. She reacts unpredictably in strange situations, so my parents made sure there was someone familiar with her 24 hours a day. Most of those hours they covered themselves, my mom spending most days there, and my dad spending most nights. Did they get tired and cranky? Yes. Did they complain about the sacrifice? No. To them, this is just what parents do for their children and what spouses do for each other. It’s not romantic. It’s not glamorous. But it is love.
If you decide to watch the little slideshow I’ve included below, you won’t see the community and the selflessness I mentioned above. That stuff stays in the background.
What you’ll see is two incredibly young people starting a life together, completely unaware of how their story will unfold. You’ll see them mature through leisure suits and perms; you’ll see smiles as well as dirty looks; you’ll see two ordinary people just getting up day after day to write another page of their story together.