In two weeks, Regency Nursing will celebrate National Skilled Nursing Care Week. Beginning on Mother’s Day, May 13, Skilled Nursing Week will honor the unique stories of our residents, families, and staff.
You can take the opportunity to finally capture your parent or loved one’s life story. As an adult, you might think you know everything about your parents and their stories. Even if you do, it’s still a good idea to record their stories for their descendants. And if your loved one witnessed historical events, other people may also be interested in their account.
Here are some tips to record your elderly loved one’s life story for posterity:
Set the scene to encourage sharing.
Choose a time when your subject is relaxed and comfortable. Settle them in a quiet location—their room, our beautiful gardens, or a calm corner of the lounge. Consider bringing old family photos or newspaper clippings to stimulate memories.
Another good way to set the mood is to find out what they enjoyed listening to when they were young, and find it online. One resource for old music is freemusicarchive.org. Play the music to get your loved one in a nostalgic mood, perfect for story sharing.
Make sure you have a good recorder, either on your phone or on a separate device. If they agree, try videotaping the session. Having video of your mom or dad will hold incomparable value after they’re gone.
Ask questions to start the flow.
Prepare a list of starter questions to get your parent talking. But don’t stick too closely to your questions. The answers you get might take you to topics you didn’t originally think of, and you’ll discover things you never knew about your parents’ lives. At all times, follow your parent’s cues. If a particular memory seems painful, gently change the subject.
Check out storycorps.org for some question ideas, such as “what is your earliest memory”; “what are you proudest of”; and “is there anything you’ve never told me, but want to tell me now.”
Another way to help your loved one open up is to ask them about historical events that happened when they were younger. Ask them about World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. They may want to share their memories of the Kennedy assassination or the moon landing. These memories also have the advantage of being educational, and you may want to share them with your local library or historical society.
Be a good listener.
Your job is to listen to your loved one’s stories, with some redirecting if necessary. You may hear a story you’ve heard before, but don’t cut them off when they start repeating an old story. First of all, this time you’re getting it on tape. Secondly, they might add new details or share a different perspective this time.
You may hear unpleasant memories, or opinions you don’t agree with. Don’t judge your loved one for her memories; it’s not about you. Keep in mind that the story you’re hearing may not be completely accurate. After many years, certain events get exaggerated and details forgotten. If the story sounds fantastical, it may not have happened that way… or maybe it did! Life can definitely be strange sometimes.
A word of caution.
Unfortunately, some seniors have had dysfunctional, abusive, or otherwise awful childhoods. Similarly, many war veterans still carry the trauma of war, and may not want to talk about it. If you know your loved one has many bad memories in their past, you may want to skip this particular activity. If you feel it’s important to record their story, proceed with caution and sensitivity. Consider consulting with the resident’s doctor or social worker on whether it’s a good idea to bring up these sad or hurtful memories.