Family Legacy: Record Their Stories to Honor Your Elders

Our family legacy is richer now. My Great Aunt died 6 weeks shy of her 97th birthday. Her funeral was truly a celebration. I got an insider's view because I was asked to do a Tribute from the family. In order to prepare for that, I spent an evening calling about 15 different relatives and asking for their most fond memories of her.

What a delight. I got to hear stories that I'd never heard. I got to learn perspectives on her life that I'd never thought of. I got to experience a much more vibrant picture than I'd ever imagined.

One of the major traits referred to by many was her perpetual joy. Aunt Dolly was joyful, not because she had a life that was problem free, but that she learned to turn to a deeper place.

She had spent seven years going to dialysis three days a week. By the end of her life she had outlived 2 husbands, 15 brothers and sisters, had to bury an "adopted" daughter who had died of cancer, and lived for 6 years with her left hand paralyzed by a surgical mistake.

But she lived in a place far from bitterness or grief. As the Family Matriarch, she nurtured and reveled in five generations of children. Her face would light up when someone would come to visit. She was grateful for every gift great and small - a phone call or a hand-written note was just as valuable as the most expensive gift.

One of the delights of visiting with her was sharing her memories and stories of our younger life.

She would regale us with stories of what she remembered of us as toddlers or young children. Stories of places she had visited. Stories of family and what they had done, how they met, what they had enjoyed.

Our family legacy is shaped by her grounding in religious faith. She opened each day with prayer and daily devotions. She could no longer play the piano, but had spent a lifetime as the church musician and choir leader and her hymns were still important.

Record the Family Legacy

As your elders age, be aware that they will take all their memories and family wisdom with them. We often start to think about what we'd like to ask or wish we had known after it's too late. Take the time to start to record their valuable lessons.

Ask them questions about family history. Questions like:

  • How did you and Uncle Jim meet?

  • What was your favorite toy when you were little?

  • What was a typical Christmas like in those days?

  • What games did you play that you don't see children playing now?

    Ask about lessons he or she would like to pass on. For instance,

  • What do you wish this current generation did that your generation practiced regularly?

  • What could this generation do each day that would make all the difference?

  • What one lesson should we absolutely make sure we pass on to our grandchildren?

    Make a video or CD or record their answers in some other way. Later, look for creative ways to share them with the rest of the family.

    Create a Special Tribute

    Try celebrating a special birthday or anniversary for your aging parents or elders in a unique way. You can use the occasion to record part of your family legacy.

  • Honor them with a Tribute on that occasion. Call your relatives and ask for their favorite memory or story. They can write it in a card or note. Make a video or CD but share it with others.

  • What have you learned from Auntie that you would like to pass on? It could be values or life lessons. It could be humorous sayings or folk wisdom.

  • Find out their favorite hymns or songs and get a family member to record them or make a CD that they could enjoy.

  • "Interview" them and then make a recording of some poems that have special meaning for them or their favorite scripture verses.

    Don't get so bogged down in the tasks of everyday living that you forget what a treasure you have in your elders. Take the time to try to gain insight on their perspective of the world and what they may yet have share. You could be bestowing a great gift on the generations that come after you.

    Go to Spirituality and Aging

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