by Betsy Hedberg
"You may think kids don't care, but they do…they
just don't know it yet!" So spoke an eighty-three
year old acquaintance of mine after recording a
true-life adventure story of canoeing from Quebec to New
York City at the age of seventeen. He sent the audio CD
I made for him to his children and grandchildren, who
were thrilled to learn a little more about their elder.
There's a good chance that during the recent holiday
season you visited or welcomed relatives and other loved
ones to share good cheer (and possibly some exciting
bouts of arguing and ill-temper as well). Whatever your
holiday experience, have you ever envisioned yourself
and your children in years to come being able to listen
to and read these stories straight from the tellers'
Similarly, imagine your children, grandchildren, and
other descendants reminiscing about you after you're
gone. What would you like them to remember about you?
What stories would you like them to associate you with?
What values would you like them to take from you?
Recording your personal stories and values, or those
of loved ones, is a highly rewarding and sometimes
life-altering experience. Whether making a brief audio
recording or a 300-page book complete with photographs,
the storyteller typically finds the process of life
reflection and reminiscing to be rejuvenating and
fulfilling. While some painful memories may arise with
the good ones, this process helps the storyteller
realize that he or she has lived a full, meaningful
life. In some instances, people who have been feeling
depressed or anxious about the decisions they've made
and the things they've done are able to acknowledge that
they've done a pretty good job after all. Others find
that the storytelling allows them to make peace with
relatives with whom they've had tense relations and with
the less positive aspects of their past.
Most people agree that leaving an oral or written
legacy for their descendants might be a good idea, but
many people then proclaim "My life hasn't been very
interesting; I don't know what I'd say!" If you
find yourself or a relative in this situation, think
about the things you might find interesting about your
great-grandparents' lives. How did they wash their
clothes? What did they eat for holiday dinners? Where
did they go on family outings? All of these questions
may have led to routine, mundane answers for your
great-grandparents but would likely fascinate you.
Likewise, your great-grandchildren will probably be
thrilled to learn that as a child you dialed a rotary
telephone, ate TV dinners in front of a black and white
television, or entered a hula hoop competition. After
all, who knows how different their lives will be in half
One relatively simple way to pass along your legacy
to your descendants is to write an ethical will or
legacy letter. Based in large part on an ancient Jewish
custom, ethical wills are not legal documents but rather
letters stating values, wishes, memories, and other
things the writer wishes to share with his or her
descendants. The ethical will is generally presented to
its intended recipients while the author is still
living. For more information on ethical wills, please
Another worthwhile way to record your own or a loved
one's memories is to make an audio recording, either
with a tape recorder or onto a CD or other digital
recorder. While there's much value in having written
documentation about a person's life, there's something
really special about being able to hear their voice. You
could even take this a step further and make a video.
Keep in mind, however, that technologies do not last
forever. Tapes can break or disintegrate over time, and
CD technology might give way to something more modern in
the future. It's a good idea to transcribe the audio to
have the storyteller's words on paper if the recording
becomes damaged. It's also wise to give a copy of
digital files to a computer-savvy family member who can
help "migrate" the file to new formats when
they come along.
Larger projects can turn hours of interviews into
professionally-bound books with family photographs,
recipes, and other treasures. It generally takes at
least ten hours of interviews with a senior citizen to
develop a true life story from earliest memories to the
present. You can try this on your own or hire a
professional personal historian to conduct the
interviews and compile the book.
Recording one's memories and life reflections are
activities suitable for people of all ages, as evidenced
by the popularity of scrapbooking amongst young mothers.
If you're a parent, try making brief audio recordings of
your children's voices every six months or so; you'll be
amazed and amused at how they change over the years. If
you have recently gone through a major life change as a
young or middle-aged adult, or if you're contemplating
one, this may be a good time to reflect on your past and
present feelings about the situation, either in writing
or in audio form. For example, couples preparing to
marry benefit from recording their stories about how
they met, how they got engaged, etc., as well as their
feelings about the relationship and their wishes for the
I started my personal history business, Everyone Has
A Story (http://www.everyonehasastory.us),
to help people preserve their treasured family and
personal memories in a way that really honors their
lives and those of their loved ones. I make audio
recordings and transcribe them into professionally-bound
memory books with photographs. In this way, I allow the
storyteller's relatives and descendants to hear and read
the story of that person's life in his or her own words.
The process typically makes the storyteller feel great
and can bring families closer together.
© Copyright 2005 Betsy Hedberg. All Rights
Betsy Hedberg, M.A., is a
career counselor, and mindfulness and meditation
instructor. She helps people incorporate mindfulness
practices into their daily lives to realize greater
quality time, reduce stress, navigate personal and
career transitions, and connect with their deepest
values. She also has a passion for travel and is
preparing to announce some mindful, soulful excursions.
blog/web site provides useful tips to help counter
the stressful lifestyle so many of us lead, with a
special focus on helping people recover from divorce and
end-of-relationship issues. If you live in the Denver
area, Betsy offers in-person
life transition and career counseling sessions to
help you reach your fullest life potential.
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