Are You Capturing Stories
I’m curious to know how you and your family or organization collect those special memories and artifacts. I’d love to hear from you and possibly share your approach with others. Are you audio recording, transcribing, or video recording the stories you collect? What works best for you? What are your challenges?
It’s my pleasure to share a few techniques and approaches we’ve used for the past nine years at One Legacy. Everyone has a style that works best for them. As happened in my family, projects often get started with great enthusiasm and reach a plateau and often fail.
First, keep in mind that I’m not just talking about family history (genealogy) projects. Those projects are much more prominent in scope, can take years to complete, and are sometimes never finished.
The stories we collect at One Legacy can be considered companions to family history projects. For example, when we look at the typical family tree, we see the usual historical data like birth dates and death records. All are important. But what about sharing other information, like your loved one’s passions in life, maybe details about their career and what led them down that path? Stories about unique events, role models, and even their favorite music or family recipes passed down for generations?
If you are part of an organization, has your group collected the memorable stories and achievements you experienced over the years? The fun, or not so fun lessons you learned? Your’s could be a church, public charity, or a special children’s organization like Boy’s and Girls clubs around the country. Time passes by so quickly. Wouldn’t it be great to create a book of memoirs to pass on to new members or save with your archives? We’d love to hear your stories and even help if you’d like.
I often use this statement as a personal mantra. “It’s one thing to know when and where someone lived. It’s entirely different from knowing how they lived.” Let’s each capture our stories for future generations.”
An example I share of this is the story of a 90-year-old lady named Mary, whom I met in a retirement community in St Louis several years ago. Her story is on our website. Mary was a retired school teacher and still loved to write. I think she wrote 5 or 6 stories during our eight-week Legacy Sharing program at Autumn View Gardens, a senior living community in Ellisville, MO. They were stories about how she met her husband, what life was like growing up during the great depression, her childhood life, etc. We all, including her fellow residents, looked forward to reading her stories each week.
Sadly, several weeks after our program ended at Autumn View, I heard that Mary had passed away. I also heard that her family posted a couple of her stories from our program at the funeral service. I immediately felt like One Legacy had accomplished something unique in capturing a few of Mary’s legacies.
Once again, I would love to hear how you approach the collection of stories in your family or organization.
Please let me share a few of my experiences and what led me to form my company and design our Legacy Sharing program.
Many of you might already know how One Legacy LLC started in 2013. But let’s put things in context to how it led to me developing the Legacy Sharing program.
My mother, Mary Stith, led a relatively normal life in Cincinnati, OH, from 1933 until she passed away in December of 2009. She raised four of us kids. She and I became very close during her last few years when she became very ill with diabetes and cancer. At her side, a couple of days before she passed, she told me she had accomplished the most important goals of her life. She said, “Mike, I grew up dreaming of being a good wife to Ed (dad) and mother to you kids. I’m very proud of that. I accomplished my goals!” I agreed, of course.
But the last ten years of mom’s life were tough. It all started innocently enough when she was just a kid. She began smoking as a teenager. No one knew it would be a terrible habit to start back then. When she was in her fifties, she developed type 2 diabetes. That changed her life forever. While in her mid-sixties, she developed cancer in one of her kidneys. And by then, she had also developed COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) due to her decades of cigarette smoking. Long story short, my mother went from being a reasonably healthy, active woman in her mid-fifties to a very sick woman in her mid 60’s and passing when she was 73.
After having multiple surgeries for cancer and struggling with severe diabetes, mom suffered through years of pain. At times it made her quite angry. I’m sure many of you know someone, or many, who have had similar experiences toward the end of their life.
So, after I accepted early retirement following a 30-year career in Cincinnati, I spent more time at the various facilities with mom. She often moved (three times in seven years), not being able to find a comfortable nursing home to live.
And, to be honest, it was challenging to be around her for too long. Until one day, I decided to try and lift her spirits. I began asking her leading questions about things in her life that I knew she liked. Simple questions about how she met dad or telling me about her favorite pets. On and on. I began noticing a change in her mood. I could tell she wanted me to keep asking questions. She treated me as if I were a reporter.
At this point in my life, something significant happened that changed me forever.
While asking my mom these questions, other nearby people wanted to join in and answer those same questions. Her roommates would respond with their own stories. Nurses and aides that passed by would chime in, occasionally even doctors. I began making a list of the questions I was asking.
As many of you know, nursing homes can be quiet and lonely places at times. While my mom slept, I would walk the hallways and notice that many residents were almost always sitting alone in their rooms. Being there as much as I was, I began conversing with other residents. Eventually, I started asking the same questions to people I had never met before. As with my mom, I saw an immediate change in demeanor.
Eventually, my mom was moved to hospice care. That didn’t stop our little sessions of questions and answers. Of course, other hospice families overheard what we were doing and wanted to try something similar.
I knew I had found a calling that I needed to follow. I could do this, but I would need to find a way to make a living providing a service to seniors and families. I couldn’t afford to retire.
I began thinking about seniors and their families around the country. There was nothing too unusual about my family’s situation. We were just another middle-class family in midwestern United States. Dad was a veteran of WWII. I know that many other families had to experience the same need to engage loved ones who were ill or alone and isolated.
So, I began developing a program that I could offer to others, especially in retirement communities.
My wife Sonja and I founded One Legacy LLC in 2013, and with the help of many of my friends who also happened to be caregivers, we developed a Legacy Sharing program. Years later, I changed the program name to Legacy Sharing.
I prototyped the program at dozens of retirement communities in St. Louis, MO, and southwestern Illinois. These communities included skilled nursing homes, assisted and independent living, and even memory care facilities.
The results warmed the hearts of so many people who participated.
Attendees would share beautiful stories about events in their lives. And it also warmed the hearts of the Executive Directors and activity personnel I worked with. Several directors thought Legacy Sharing should be made available nationwide.
I partnered with my business friend, Cynthia Correll, from St. Louis. She and others helped me develop a complete program to offer senior communities of all types.
I remember quite well Cynthia and I going into facilities and conducting Legacy Sharing programs and coming out of the sessions amazed at the positive energy and interaction from the participants. We were also surprised by how Activity Coordinators received the program. Many of them participated in sharing their own stories, allowing them the chance to learn more from residents they support every day. When the facilities chose to have One Legacy host the sessions, it gave the staff a much-needed break.
We have provided training for several senior communities over the years and witnessed something very profound. If the management staff attended the activity and other various staff members, we would see an immediate moment of team bonding. When executives share personal family stories with the team, it creates a moment of deep personal sharing. I can only imagine what the experience would be like if larger senior living communities would embrace a program such as Legacy Sharing and gain a low-cost/high impact culture change program at the same time.
Residents looked forward to attending each week. It became a planned social activity. One option we offered with Legacy Sharing was to choose a topic for each week in advance of the session. Topics were specific yet general enough to include most residents. For example, “Tell us about your favorite vacations when you were a child”—knowing the topic beforehand allowed people to discuss their stories ahead of time. We invited participants to handwrite their answers for independent and assisted living facilities, making it even more exciting to share with others. During the group session, each person was invited to read their story. It wasn’t required to write the story, so everyone in the session would have the opportunity to talk about their favorite vacations. We immediately witnessed the participants developing or enhancing friendships within the group.
One gentleman told me he was thrilled to finally get to know his neighbors. Cynthia and I agreed that Legacy Sharing enhances the social dynamics of the communities. We called it “creating a community within the community.”
An important point to note. An Activity Director told me that one challenge they had with their activity programs was getting men to participate, and, in some cases, even getting them out of their rooms was a challenge. For some reason, Legacy Sharing programs tend to do that. Even men love to talk about their personal history and families.
Are you ready for some Legacy Sharing?
There are many different ways to use Legacy Sharing techniques. Each person, organization, and family all have different needs. The technique you use will depend on scope of the results you’re looking for, along with the focus and dedication your family or organization applies to the project. Throughout the years, One Legacy has hosted dozens of events at facilities and for groups. We’re happy to share our best practices tips and tricks, as well address the hurdles experienced along the way.
Written (or typed) – I have always had a personal favorite of having people hand write their unique stories and memories. Handwriting seems to be a lost art these days, but you would be surprised how many seniors are retired writers or teachers that still enjoy it. One Legacy takes those written stories, provides a little editing, adds your photos, and completes a more formal typed version of the story, to be published in print or online. We can even prepare books for your family or offer them for sale to the public if you choose.
Audio stories – This seems to be the preferred method for collecting stories, especially from seniors. Simply record stories during an interview session or record them one at a time. Send them to us electronically, and we’ll prepare a finished copy of each story, or prepare a book if you prefer. With your approval, we’ll publish the story(s) on our website, or just send them back to you.
Video Stories – One Legacy is not a video company, but we enjoy partnering with local video companies to provide video story sharing and biographies. We’ll be happy to offer the service for your family or organization.
Book Publication – In 2020, we began producing and publishing our first biography for an amazing man named Eugene Verdu, a renown social worker and philanthropist from Belleville, IL. From the time he was a child, he knew he was meant to help others by any means possible. His book, At Your Service, recounts this universally loved man’s extraordinary life.
I had the pleasure of working with Gene for over two years collecting his stories. Sadly, he passed away in March of 2022. Join me as I share the story of his special life and his passion for offering encouragement to others, young and old, rich or poor, that they too can make a difference in this world. The book is due to be in available in the Spring of 2023. All proceeds will go his public charity called the Uncle Gene Foundation.
We can help you.
Our program is flexible and customizable and can easily be done without our help or with a dedicated approach and team. If you need us, I would be happy to talk to you to discuss ways we can support you. I can share various techniques we use.
If you would like to learn more about our company and our Legacy Sharing program with its various coaching options we offer, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s share ideas. After all, following months of isolation and loneliness due to the pandemic, there has never been a better opportunity to bring purpose and meaning back to the lives of our elderly family members and community.
In the meantime, Godspeed to you and your passion to treasure those memories while we can!
“Each day has purpose. Every life has meaning.”