How much do you remember about your ancestors, especially your grandparents?
How much do you think your own grandchildren will remember about you?
I started thinking about this the other day, on the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death. She was a lovely lady, but there are many things I wish I had asked her about before she passed. Now the opportunity is gone.
Because I don’t want people to lose all their memories of loved ones, I became a Personal Historian.
The most common excuses I hear from clients who haven’t saved any stories are
- I don’t know how to start and
- I don’t have anything to say.
1 – One Story at a Time
The hardest part of almost any project is getting started. My mom and I used to enjoy wallpapering rooms together. Whenever we had finished hanging the very first sheet of wallpaper, she always stepped back, took a close look and said, “There. Now we’re halfway done.” Naturally, we were nowhere near being halfway done. But we had done a great deal of prep work before getting even that far, so it really did feel like we had accomplished something significant. After that, the rest of the job was easy!
So how do you start writing your family stories? The easiest way is to scribble down a few sentences about something that you remember from an earlier time. It doesn’t have to be anything long and tedious. The important thing is to have fun and get something down on paper. No writer expects her first words to be the final version and neither should you. Take a few minutes to recall a memory and jot down a handful of details. Now you are “halfway done.”
How do you eat an elephant?
Did you ever hear the riddle about how you eat an elephant? Simple.
You eat it one bite at a time! Pretty much like you’d eat a slice of chocolate pie, right? Writing a story for a biography or an autobiography is the same way—you just start with one idea at a time. Don’t worry about how everything is going to fit together at the end. Take one small piece and build it up bite by bite.
By the same token, any journey begins with one small step. Take that step today and soon you will be on the road to gathering family stories about the important people in your life.
2 – Every Person Has a Story to Tell
Let me repeat that: Every person has a story to tell. To find it (whether it’s yours or someone else’s) all you have to do is ask the right questions. By writing down that story, you create a priceless gift.
- One gift you’ll be giving to current and future generations is a piece of your heritage, which is all your family stories, customs and traditions combined.
- Another gift is a piece of yourself by taking the time and making the effort to keep precious stories from being lost.
- A third gift is for yourself! Learning more about your friends and family gives you a chance to better know and appreciate who you are. That may be the most precious gift of all.
3 – Where Can You Find Inspiration?
One of my favorite movies is The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Both men are terminally ill and pair up to complete a list of things they want to accomplish before they “kick the bucket,” hence the name of the movie. It is sweet, sad, poignant, and funny all at the same time. They go sky diving, see the Great Wall of China, and rediscover the importance of family.
There is a 2004 country music song by Tim McGraw that has a similar theme: Live Like You Were Dying. In the song, when a man is given the fatal diagnosis that he has less than a year to live, he decides to make the most of it. Yes, he accomplishes many of the tasks on his own Bucket List, but more importantly, he also becomes a better husband, son, and friend.
It may seem somewhat morbid to think about our limited time on earth, but it is a fact of life. The question to consider is, “What can we do about it?”
We can do several things about it and in the process, we leave a legacy for our children, grandchildren, and loved ones so they have a good chance to know who we are and to remember who we were.
- Start saving and talking about family stories (both your own and those of people who matter to you) with your friends and family. You’ll be surprised how one story triggers other memories. When that happens, savor it.
- Help children get to really know their grandparents and other elders as real people, not just old people. One simple way to do that is to teach them a few old games, like checkers or hide the button.
- Start teaching kids while they are young about what is important to you. Who influenced you growing up? What were their Personal Values and what did you learn from them? This is your chance to be a role model for the next generations and have a positive influence on their lives.
Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, Today is a gift, That’s why they call it the ‘present’ ~Eleanor Roosevelt
What will you do with the gift of today? What legacy will you leave for your loved ones?