Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life Stories

Before my father died in 1999 he would call me and tell me stories about serving in WWII. He was a cook in the army and many times he would tell me about the dishes he cooked. He shared recipes, talked about the huge quantities of food he prepared, and talked about the men he served.

Although he often repeated his stories, I knew they were an important part of his stage in life. He was almost 80, legally blind, a diabetic, and unable to drive. His life was spent remembering days gone by. According to Erik Erickson's personality theory, individuals in later life face "integrity vs. despair." This stage of life is when an elderly adult begins to review his or her life to see if it was a success or failure. They tell stories as they reminisce about the things that were important to them.

Often children of the elderly get impatient because of the repetition. They don't realize that by listening they are validating the importance of their parent's lives.

While in grad school one of my projects for a class on psychology and aging was to do a video interview with an elderly friend or relative. I chose my father. Although he suffered from depression, his eyes lit up as he told stories about his childhood and youth. I learned things about him that I had never heard before. But more importantly, the stories he told didn't get lost in his death. Answering the questions about his life gave him the opportunity to show that his life mattered. It also gave me the opportunity to understand how he became the man he was...not just the father he was.

Our stories may not be page turners, or thrilling adventures, but by sharing them we create a legacy. It is in the knowing and being known, and loving and being loved, that our legacy lives on.

“Live your life fom your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people's souls.” Melody Beattie

No comments: