A Good Way for Seniors to Find Peace and Dignity: Tell Your Story
Ever taken the time to write your own life story? It’s something many of us have thought of doing, but few of us ever seem to get around to recording memories from our past. Now comes this recent article from the New York Times that tells how taking the time to write one’s own autobiography – either book-length or in short letter-sized snippets – can bring many benefits to senior adults. We encourage you to read this recent piece, and then make a commitment to write down a record of your past (or suggest to a senior loved one that they should do it). Your family will appreciate it, and so will you, for a variety of reasons.
The Times article profiles an 84 year old woman from New York, raised by immigrant parents who never wanted to talk about their Italian heritage. As a result she was determined to become Americanized as fast as she could – yet she never fully lost sight of her “Italian self,” even sleeping with the brown lambskin coat she had worn as a little girl on the ship coming to America. These memories went unrecorded for decades. Finally, through a course called Guided Autobiography, she is taking the time to bring her past memories to life, for herself and for her children and grandchildren. “I am keeping my parents and grandparents alive,” she said. “And, as an egotist, I am keeping myself alive. I am remembered.”
According to the New York Times, more and more seniors are telling their life stories, some writing “full-blown memoirs” while others are jotting down vignettes. These older Americans are taking classes from senior centers and community colleges, libraries and adult learning centers. Some are hiring what are called personal historians who are helping to create oral histories by recording seniors on video. In the Guided Autobiography class, senior students are led by a trained instructor to draw out memories of their past and record them into essays. There are several hundred trained instructors working with seniors around the country.
Recording one’s past is much more than an exercise in nostalgia. It can also improve the quality of life for seniors even as it provides a priceless document for future generations. In the words of the Times, “Research by many gerontologists…has found that reminiscing can improve the confidence of older adults. By recalling how they overcame past struggles, they are better able to confront new challenges, doctors say, and they may be able to forgive themselves for their mistakes.” Research has also demonstrated that creating an autobiography can help a senior deal with the grieving process much more effectively.
Because the research into personal autobiography is so compelling, many nursing homes and other senior residences are getting into the act, helping their residents memorialize their past. In one program in Minnesota, the recollections of each participant, along with family photos, are eventually compiled into a 30-page bound book for the family to keep. The process of recreating the story of their lives helps seniors forget their present frailties and regain a sense of self-confidence. “They tell stories about when they were productive citizens working toward the greater good,” said the director of the Minnesota program. “Remembering gives them self-esteem at a time when they can no longer do the things they once could do.”
It’s important to remember, say the experts, that the point of writing an autobiography is not to glamorize the past or erase bad memories. Quite the opposite is true. Reflecting honestly on tough times in one’s past not only helps rebuild confidence but also reminds seniors of important life-lessons to pass along to future generations. One 88-year-old woman had always remembered her hard life as a young mother on the family farm. “But writing her story, she said, helped her see that she had dealt well with the hardships and created a good life for her four children.” According to the Times article, remembering that fact boosted her confidence and also helped her realize “the importance of focusing on the positive: hard work and treating people right.”
So we definitely encourage you to read this article and see if it doesn’t stimulate your desire to record your life story. At the same time, we have another question that should stimulate your thinking: how are you doing in planning for the rest of your life? Reminiscing about your past can be therapeutic, but planning for your future – especially if retirement is just around the corner – is even more vital. Can you make certain your assets are protected in retirement so you don’t run out of money? Can you avoid being forced into institutional care against your will? Can you escape the unpleasant fate of becoming a burden to those you love? If it’s your fervent desire to answer yes to those questions, then we urge you to investigate the retirement planning strategy we call LifePlanning. Your LifePlan becomes your blueprint to allow you to create the retirement of your dreams, fruitful and secure.
There’s a quick and easy way to find out more about this revolutionary approach to retirement planning and that’s by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. Invest just a few hours and you’ll be very, very glad you did! Click here for dates, times and locations – then register online or call our office for assistance. If you follow your AgingOptions LifePlan, one day you’ll be able to write in your memoirs that your retirement years were among the most joyful of your life! We’ll see you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)