Documenting and sharing your life story is important for many reasons. It helps explain who we are, where we’ve been, where we are, and how we got there. It can even provide insight on future choices and inspire dreams and aspirations. Sharing your life story
• Contributes to an active brain, well-being, and mental healthfulness
• Reinforces a sense of purpose
• Creates self-awareness
• Invites self-exploration
• Encourages communication
• Strengthens relationships, including caregiving relationships
• Authenticates family history and legacy
It is common to find an excuse to put off talking about your life story. “I’m too busy.” “I’ll sit down with Grandmother next week when I have more time.” But one day, we may not have that opportunity due to a variety of life’s circumstances, including accidents, illnesses, and even death. When time runs out, valuable untold stories are lost forever. Whether it is our own or that of someone we love, writing a life story can be a rich and rewarding experience. It is also a gift that can last for generation after generation.
To successfully write a life story, be prepared. Prepare questions in advance. Find a quiet time and place to limit interruptions. Use a voice or video recorder in addition to taking notes. Use memory aides that trigger the senses such as photos, mementos, smells, and sounds.
It is also important to be flexible. A life story will likely take more than one sitting to capture. For some people, much of their story may surround a defining life moment, such as childhood or wartime. Be sensitive to these moments, ask questions, reflect, and listen extra carefully to yourself or to others as it is likely that you will uncover rich experiences, emotions, values, beliefs, and layers of complexity that help you better understand yourself or the person you are interviewing. Don’t force topics that cause discomfort.
The third aspect of successfully gathering a life story is to organize life story questions and reflections into life domains and stages. According to Amy Hosier, University Cooperative Extension Family Sciences Specialist, there are 8 key domains to which we can categorize our life events and experiences. It is helpful to thing about these domains separately and across the various stages of life: childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and old age. The life domains are:
• Family and friends- think about family customs, practices, and traditions. What changes in family have occurred in regard to births, deaths, marriages, etc.
• Place and home- from birth to death, many people experience multiple homes and places to live. How many places have you lived? When did you move on your own for the first time?
• Education- human beings are lifelong learners. From the time we are born we begin to build skills and knowledge through formal and informal education experiences. Formal education includes schools you have attended. Informal education experiences could include learning to make biscuits with your grandmother. What are your favorite school memories? What lessons did your family teach you?
• Work and volunteerism- Many people work because they have to. Some people work at home without pay to raise a family. Others have jobs, careers, or work as volunteers. What was your first job? Are you carrying on a family business? Why do you volunteer with a specific group?
• Recreation and leisure- Hobbies, leisure, and recreational activity provide enjoyment, amusement, and pleasure away from business, work, and other chores. What hobbies do you pursue or want to pursue? How do you spend your leisure time and why?
• Spirituality- spiritual, religious, and faith-based beliefs are personal and private. There are a wide range of spiritual practices and activities, including belonging to a church, reading scripture, listening to music, meditation, etc. What are your spiritual beliefs? How did they begin?
• Historical context- significant cultural, political, social, and economic events such as the Great Depression, WWII, the JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinations, 9-11 Terrorist attack, and the Royal Wedding create certain moods and attitudes. What historic events have made an impact on your life?
• Health- Personal and family health histories can hold important clues about our risk for disease and can help us reduce our risk of developing health problems. What health problems run in your family? What are your health habits? Do you see a doctor regularly for wellness checks and routine screenings?
We are never too young or too old to start writing a life story, but the sooner we start, the more accurate and detailed our stories will be. Make life story entries a habit. Life story can be captured in many ways, including journaling, photographs, voice and video recordings, and formal life story programs. Writing and sharing a life story promotes well-being, quality relationships, mental healthfulness, and legacy building. Start yours today!
Recipes included with today’s column are three of my family’s favorites! Enjoy!
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Information for this article obtained from a University of Kentucky publication entitled “Life Story: What Is It and How Do You Write It?” developed by Amy Hosier, UK Cooperative Extension Family Sciences Specialist, and Brian Downer, Faika Zanjani, and John Watkins, Graduate Center for Gerontology.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Mama’s Chicken Salad
2 1⁄4 cups chopped cooked chicken
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans
1⁄2 cup finely chopped celery
1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄2 cup chopped green seedless grapes
1⁄2 cup chopped red seedless grapes
3⁄4 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper
Mix all ingredients together; cover and chill. Serve with crackers.
Red, White, and Blue Cookies
1⁄2 cup shortening
1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white chocolate pieces
1 cups dried mixed berries
1 cups chopped pecans
In a large mixing bowl beat shortening and butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, and baking soda. Beat until mixture is combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Stir in white chocolate pieces, dried berries, and nuts.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
3⁄4 lbs. mixed salad greens
1 can artichoke hearts
1 can black olives
4 Roma tomatoes
1 small red onion
1⁄4 cup parmesan cheese
1 envelope Italian dressing seasoning mix
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
3⁄4 cup olive oil
Wash and dry salad greens; tear into bite-sized pieces. Slice the artichokes, olives, tomatoes, and red onion and toss with salad greens. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. In a separate bowl, combine the Italian dressing seasoning mix, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Blend thoroughly. Pour on salad and toss. Serve immediately.