Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Friday, May 27, 2016
One of my most favorite programs I provide is a workshop on Life Story Writing. Meeting weekly over a period of 6 to 8 weeks, participants interested in learning more, starting, or continuing to work on recording their life story come together to share, learn, and grow.
The three most common things people say to me when I speak about life story writing are:
- "My life isn't exciting."
- "My family won't be interested in reading this."
- "I have no formal skills or experience in writing."
Respectively, my responses always are that's not true, you don't know that for sure, and you don't need any.
We all have memories to share – whether it be of our childhood room, our first date, how we met our spouse, or our first job. These stories are the fabric of our unique and individualized lives – it is what makes our lives interesting to those who love and care for us. It may seem that family members might not currently be interested in reading or learning more about your life story, but recording your memories may be a treasured gift for those family members when you are no longer around. Recording your life story does not require formal writing training, proper use of grammar or punctuation, or even a desire to share formally. It is a process that you alone own and can craft what is shared and how it is shared. You, as the writer of your story, have complete control.
There was a time when reminiscing about life events and history served an important community building function. This function was often the responsibility of older persons in the family and was a way to make sure other generations learned about and carried on their family's history and heritage.
Today, however, our technological society records historical information instantly. Yet, ironically, many adults and children know very little about their own family's stories. Opportunities for extended family members to come together to share stories are sometimes limited due to family mobility, geographical distance, divorce, and hurried lifestyles.
Sharing life stories can be done through genealogy, writing life stories through journaling, or interviewing family members to capture their oral histories. The potential benefits of sharing a life story are many. People who share their life stories:
- Gain greater self-knowledge and increased self-esteem.
- May feel a sense of joy, satisfaction, and inner peace as their stories are shared with others.
- May be able to purge or release burdens and validate personal experiences.
- May see their lives more clearly and perhaps be an inspiration to others.
- Provide an opportunity for others to better understand them.
- May come to a better understanding of their past and present, which may help in identifying their goals for the future.
Of course, not all stories are happy ones. Sometimes memories are painful and upsetting when they resurface. Retelling unhappy stories may help in working through unresolved issues and conflicts. Family members who show empathy and understanding toward the storyteller may help as the story unfolds. However, the direction of the story is ultimately up to the storyteller.
Topical themes that can be covered when sharing/writing a life story include:
- Name and other basics (date of birth, birthplace, family members, etc.)
- Childhood Memories
- Important Life Events
- Historical Events
- Marriage and Family
- Military Service
- Humorous Moments
If you've ever said, "I should write some of grandma's stories down before I forget the details," or "I want to start journaling my life story for my kids," then get going! We must take the time to share our stories. No one knows your story better than you do!
University of Illinois Extension Family Life Educators may offer life story writing programming in your area. Click here for contact information for your local Extension Family Life Educator.
Additional resources on life story writing include: