When I lost my father just before his 80th birthday, I was left with a pile of photos but little else about his life. He’d been a very private man and in the only one instance where he’d talked us through some of his photos, I hadn’t kept records.
Contrast this to my grandfather, who’d personally signed me a copy of his thickly-bound autobiography, dating back to the late 1800s with colourful details about his education, life abroad, career and family.
The sense of loss of my father was compounded by the fact we knew so little to reflect upon ourselves, let alone to share with future generations. So – whether you aim for an autobiography, a reminiscence, memoire or just a few dot points about some photos – I encourage you to take the time to put into words some details about your life.
Not only is it a great brain exercise, stimulating neural pathways, it can also bring you much joy as you re-live moments. It can be a great way to engage with family members, sharing with them now and leaving notes for future readers.
If you don’t have a computer handy to tap it out on a keyboard, consider handwriting some notes, doing a voice recording as you recall points – or ask a family member or other support person to take some notes or voice recordings for you.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Photos can be a great visual stimulus to recall memories and details. Find a photo and jot down details about who is who, where you were, why it was significant. You could choose ten key photos from your life, number them, and then on a bit of paper write the number of each photo with bullet points for each.
- Reflect on significant events or milestones in your life and jot down what you remember. Ask yourself what journalists call the five Ws and the H… who, what, where, when, why and how?
- If you want to take a more comprehensive approach, you could recall your life in chapters. Perhaps ‘youth’, ‘early adult’… or ‘overseas adventures’, ‘married life’. Find photos from each chapter, think about where you lived and what your day-to-day life was like in each stage. You could start early and work through chronologically, or you might just want to choose your one or two favourite chapters.
- To make your memories more vivid, imagine yourself right there in the moment. Relive it, noting down the smells, sounds, the lighting, your impressions or feelings.
If you don’t want to write or voice record too much, at least jot down who is who in each photo, so future generations are not left with a pile of unidentified faces.
Some benefits of putting memories into words:
- You can speak across time to your descendants
- It strengthens your self-awareness and sense of purpose
- It can help your family better understand their own history