Are you an older adult? Are you concerned about maintaining good brain health? Do you have a deep and abiding regard for the role of chocolate in your life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, do I have some great news for you!
Dr. Gene Cohen, ground-breaking author of The Creative Age says writing an autobiography for older adults is like chocolate for the brain. If you are reading this article, you probably are in the position of benefiting from writing a life review or helping a loved one write one.
Studies have found that reminiscing lowers depression, alleviates physical symptoms and stimulates the hippocampus where memories are stored in the brain. It has also been found to touch many dimensions of wellness including physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. Telling life stories is essential as we get older as this is when we begin to look within and are yearning to get a clearer sense of the meaning of our lives.
When I retired at age 65, I had no idea where my life was heading. It was quite a scary time. When I began writing and exploring the important events of my life, I got a better sense of who I had been and the lessons I had learned. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way says, “I write to tell myself the truth.” Either telling stories out loud or writing them down gives us the opportunity to see the experiences of our lives from the place inside of us that has stored them for so long. Resurrecting those stories from our depth may allow us to see our past and present in a quite different way. Telling our stories help us realize our strengths and skills and feel more confident in exploring the future.
In my book, Keep Your Fork – Dessert Is On The Way: Savoring the Second Half of Life, I reference the value of life stories in several different chapters.
I write about my hearing a group that was imitating the Beatles several years ago here in Denver, and how I had begun to cry at the concert. I came home and told my daughter about being in the Peace Corps in Turkey when the Beatles were just beginning. I told her how hearing their music now made me nostalgic for the time when I felt as if I was truly powerful and doing something beneficial in the world. That conversation opened up a whole new level of communication between us.
My fascination with the power of life stories began several years ago when I was directing a volunteer program in an adult day center for the elderly. Volunteers came to help the elders record their stories. I asked one gentleman if he wanted to tell of some of his life experiences so that they could be made into a book. He said he didn’t have anything very interesting to tell. In talking to him some more, it came out that he had jumped out of an American plane just as it was being attacked by a German fighter plane during World War II. After a little coaxing, he did decide to tell a few stories. Afterwards, he said that he had held those stories in for 60 years and after telling them, he finally felt free. Maya Angelou said there is no greater sorrow than bearing an untold story inside of you.
At that same time, a very quiet woman told me that she too didn’t have anything to tell. She said her life during World War ll was quite uneventful. She had just raised three foster children while holding down a job in a department store. This made me sad as I realized that so many people die with their story still inside. Most people don’t realize the heroic valuable they have played in the lives of so many.
Mark Twain: “There was never an uninteresting life. Such a thing is utterly impossible. Inside the dullest exterior there is a comedy, a drama and a tragedy.”
So this is a perfect time of year to get those precious stories written. Make a New Year’s resolution that you will truly value those stories that may be locked inside you or someone you love, and get them either written or recorded. Everyone involved will benefit.
If you would like more information about life stories, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.