How to Ask for a Story of Your Loved One

Think for a moment about all of the 7 billion people still alive on earth as you read these words. At some point in the future not one person will be alive. You and I and all the rest will be gone only to be replaced by a whole new group. What have we all left after we’re gone? One answer: stories.  Consider the stories that others know of the people in your life who’ve died. Stories you may not even know! One of the many ways of coping with our grief is to compile memories of the departed. That’s what this article is about.

Doesn’t it feel great when people come up to you and tell you that they remember your loved one? However, instead of waiting for this to happen again, one method of soliciting a story is simply to call, email or text someone and say, “Hey, tell me a story about __________.” This method could work, but perhaps there is a better way to get more information and more stories.

Once you’ve made contact and convinced the person of the value of hearing stories of your loved one, you can use the list below as a way to stimulate the person’s memory.  Each topic can be a trigger to an easily remembered story or one that had been long-forgotten.  My strong suggestion is that you record the story and not leave it to your memory. Here are some ways to capture the story as the person tells it:

1.      Have the person respond via email.

2.      Ask the person write it out on paper and send it.

 3.      Ask the person to call in to your voice mail and tell the story. Then record it yourself.

4.      Interview the person and bring a voice recorder making sure that it is close enough to clearly pick up the person’s voice.

5.      Ask the person to tell the stories into their own recorder and send it via the mail or Internet.

6.      Video tape the person.

7.      Interview the person and take notes.

Whichever technique you employ: do not rely on your memory. In addition, it is important that you apply the same strategies to yourself. That is, get out your own voice recorder or sit at your computer and use the triggering topics below to come up with as many stories as you can remember. This is especially important given that you and I are not guaranteed to live another day. And if we died without putting down the stories of our loved one, the stories would die with us. With all this in mind, here are the triggering topics. Have fun!

Acts of Caring: all the little things that this person did showing he or she  cared for you and for others

Art: admiring a creative art piece with this person, creating art with this person

Beliefs: Religious beliefs, political beliefs

Birthdays: What are memorable birthdays?

Career and on-the-job stories

Characteristics: examples that showed his or her personality

Discussions: deep conversations you remember

Education stories—experiences at school

Effects: What effects has this person had on your life and the lives of others?

Favorites: What was this person’s favorite color, songs, actor, movie, singer, pastime, holiday?

Flashbulb memorable experiences: simple flashes of memories of events in your life

Food: cooking experiences, eating a favorite food, eating a meal together

Friendship stories

Giving: In what kinds of ways did this person give to others?

Habits: What little habitual behaviors did this person display at various times?

Hobbies: watching or working together on a hobby

Hanging out together: sitting with that person at home, in a cozy place,  watching TV together, playing a game

Humorous episodes with this person: mistakes, jokes, embarrassing moments, pranks

Hygiene: Ways that you helped or observed this person with their hygienic needs or ways that this person helped you

Irritants: What things got to this person? Ticked him or her off?

Military experiences

Missing: What are some things that you miss about this person?

Music: songs that bring back memories, playing an instrument, dancing

Phone or Internet connections: all the ways you communicated with this person

Pictures: look at a picture of the person and tell a story about it

Places you’ve gone with this person: vacations, parks, beaches, theatres, stores, theme parks, hotels, road trips, museums, restaurants

Riding experiences: horses, boats, cars, bikes, motorcycles, fair rides

Shopping: looking at favorite items, meaningful items that you or this person purchased

Sleeping: Stories of sleep or sleep disruptions

Sports experiences: practicing or participating in a sport, being a spectator

Stories of this person’s early life

Support: times you supported this person, examples of how this person supported you

Talents: What are some of this person’s talents?

Touch: all the various ways you touched and were touched by this person

Volunteer stories: in what kinds of ways did this person volunteer his or her time?

Walking: taking walks together, admiring nature, hikes

               

So, what is your answer to the question:  If I died today, what stories of my loved ones would die with me?  Can you imagine the people in your life never knowing some of these precious stories of your loved one? Isn’t it comforting to think that, someday when you are gone from this earth, your family and friends will be thankful for the stories that you collected? What an enduring gift for those you love.

So, will you get to work on this life-honoring project? Or will you wait to begin this project “some day”?

It’s your choice.

Thanks to Janée J. Baugher, MFA for her editorial suggestions-

Bob Baugher, Ph.D. 2011

Bob Baugher

More Articles Written by Bob

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at b_kbaugher@yahoo.com. Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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  • Mark says:

    This is wonderful advice, thanks Bob. As I get older I am especially akin to get the stories from my elder family. There is so much that they know of their grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and the history of my family.

    Thank you for offering insightful questions to ask, I can see how these questions open up a discussion on the facets of who we are beyond the atypical “Nice”, “caring” and top traits that we usually get.

    Thank you for the opening image as well, one day soon, all of us here now will not be here, and will be replaced by a whole new group! I love that!

    Thanks.

  • Bob Baugher says:

    Thanks, Mark, for your kind words. I hope you take advantage of those people around you who can provide so much of the history of your family. And, as I type this, I’m realizing that I need to do a better job in my own family to capture some more stories.
    Regards,
    Bob