A common regret of adult children who have lost their parents is the wish that they had asked and understood more about their own family history. This is particularly true for family caregivers, whose focus on the present is necessitated by the practical concerns of getting through the day. Taking time to learn more about the past seems like a luxury for many caregivers.
But taking that time may be beneficial to those we love and care for and provide an important opportunity to redefine and enhance our familial connections. An essential challenge for our loved ones as they approach old age is to relinquish the need to exert control and to harvest the meaning of their lives through imparting legacy. Part of facilitating this important life review is to bear witness to memories, which form the very foundation of identity and can serve as an intangible link in a powerful chain that connects us to generations that came before us.
As our parents struggle to come to terms with their losses, to recapture fragments of memory and to hold on to what remains, they are engaged in an effort to shape and understand their legacy—to reflect on the meaning of their lives and the memories that will live on with future generations after they die.
Helping a parent reflect on their life story can be a tremendously healing process. As we all must eventually confront our own mortality, may we do so with the comfort that perhaps our children will take the time to learn our stories, pass on our history, and continue our legacy through honoring and understanding the past.
Here are four tips to help the senior in your life create their own legacy:
Film Their Stories. Use a digital recorder to record a parent’s advice, memories, playful moments or laughter. Upload them and share with the whole family. Get your social-savvy generation to comment and ask more questions online. Share all the feedback with your parent so he or she feels the love.
Tell a Love Story. Sort through Mom’s handwritten keepsakes and piece together the love notes, birthday cards and photos that tell her story. Paste them into a large coffee-table-type scrapbook to make your whole family swoon.
Frame Their Phrases. Sort through the saved notes, emails, birthday cards and letters your parents have sent you, your siblings and each grandchild. Make a photocopy of each and physically cut and paste favorite phrases into a book or on a collage. Compile with some of your favorite images and display.
Transcribe Their Memories. Sit down with a computer and ask your parents all the questions you can think of. Start with Mom’s childhood or how Dad first asked her out. Ask Dad about his first car or the lessons he learned from his own father. Type with no agenda—just let it all unfold. Consider using a Dictaphone for better backup. Make sure to ask your family for the questions they’d love to know. Don’t worry about publishing the content, just make sure you have it saved.