When was the last time you sat down with an elderly person and asked them to tell you their story?
Two things happened this week that made me realize that I need to do this. And perhaps you should do this, as well.
During a trip to the library, I sat next to two gentleman who were deep in discussion about war. One of the men was a college student and future historian, working on his thesis. He was interviewing an 85 year-old Korean War veteran. At the end of the interview, the veteran said “Is that it? Is that all the questions you have for me?” It was obvious he had far more to say and, to his great relief, the young man answered “Is there more you’d like to tell?”
The veteran continued to talk, taking out pictures from the war to show the young man. He even showed videos of the war on a laptop, including videos in which other people had interviewed him. His voice was filled with passion, his stories, astonishing.
I also attended a Grandparents Day celebration, where grandchildren, young and old, told their grandparents how much they meant to them. Each grandmother was read a poem or a letter and presented with a token of appreciation from her grandchildren, and each one beamed. A woman in her 30’s told her grandmother how especially important she was, because her grandmother had raised her as her own child, never once letting her know that she was her grandmother and not her mother. With this revelation, there was not a dry eye in the building.
These events made me think about two very important things: Our seniors need to hear that they’re appreciated and they desire to be asked about their history.
They yearn for validation that their lives are meaningful and that someone cares about their contributions to the world. They want to know that their memories are important and by sharing them, their legacy will live on, long after they do. They want to leave footprints in the earth. I believe they deserve this honor and it’s our duty to make sure it happens.
My husband and I both lost our grandparents in 2005. In one foul swoop, they were gone, and we’ve lost some parents, too. If you still have yours, ask them to tell you their history. What were their dreams for their lives? Who was their first love? And be prepared for the answers…their first love may not have been your dad.
If you don’t have seniors in your family, ask one from the community, work, a neighbor or someone from church. Pastors weren’t always pastors, nuns weren’t always nuns and the elderly weren’t always elderly. They want to be asked. They desire and deserve your interest. You’ll gain knowledge, insight and a lot of laughs. You’ll learn something and they’ll feel appreciated and that’s a win-win!
Make it a priority. Make time for it. Ask them, it’ll make their day!
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Pictured above is a great book I bought for my daughter to interview my mom.