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
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?
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