Human lives are richly landscaped with long-term memories of people and places. As we grow older, the connections to the past take on greater depth and importance – long-term memories are a major source of happiness, fulfillment, and identity. Every person carries with him remembrance of times past, both good and bad, and these memories make us who we are.
At age 89, Sam is no longer able to hunt or fish; even hiking into the mountains is nearly impossible. But Sam spent over 70 years living for the outdoors. His identity remains wrapped up in the memories of fishing with his dad, hunting with his friends, the trophy elk who wore the antlers now on Sam’s wall. He spent years learning how to hunt, watching his own elders, studying books, and using trial and error to perfect his skill. When Sam tells his son about trout fishing on the Rogue River, he isn’t just relaying the memories of that day – he is talking about who he is.
But, too often, the pace of modern society causes younger people to rush over the story-telling of elders, at a significant cost to them both. The telling of stories from one’s life is an important part of human bonding. Both seniors and their families can look for opportunities to reminisce about life stories and to share them. For example, rather than leaving old photographs in a closet, take them out and enjoy them! When Aunt May tells the story of how she met Uncle Calvin, an album of her wedding pictures can bring back long-forgotten memories. Pictures help to make for colorful stories full of real characters, and provide memory cues as reminders of people, places and events. For many of us, the music we heard growing up brings back memories and makes us feel young. A compilation of favorite songs can make a great gift for a senior.
After retirement, day-to-day life often slows down, and there are fewer new and exciting happenings to share. It’s no wonder some elders have a tendency to repeat the stories that are “oldies but goodies”. But, each elder has a lifetime of events stored in long-term memory – the tales just need to be unlocked. Whether you are a daughter or son wanting to know more about your parents’ lives, or a group of elderly friends, remember that being a good listener means asking questions. From “who was your best friend in grade school?” through “how did you decide when to retire?”, there are sure to be stories worth hearing in the answers.
Even outside the story-telling circle, long-term memories have value. Write your stories down! If writing is physically difficult, speak the stories into a voice recorder or enlist someone to write for you. Making a record of life stories is a gift for your family who can enjoy and learn from them for years to come. It is also good for the story teller, reminding him of the events and accomplishments of his past life.
Recalling events, people and places from our long-term memories reminds us of who we are and where we came from. The respectful give-and-take of story-telling between family members and friends permits each person to share his unique knowledge and the rich tapestry of memories he holds.