Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Life Story Quote of The Week

Much of my work involves working with people at the end of their lives. I’ve become increasingly aware that my presence and listening to an individual’s life story can have a beneficial and healing aspect. The soul responds to our bearing witness even if all we do is sit quietly and listen. That’s why I found the following quote by Catherine de Hueck Doherty rang so true.

With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.

If you have a favorite quote that relates to storytelling and life stories please send it along to me and I’d be happy to consider posting it in one of my “Quotes of The Week.”

Photo by Drew

How To Use Photos Creatively In Your Storytelling

When I find an outstanding blog or article I like to share my discovery.

I was impressed by a guest post I found today and wanted to share it with you. It’s called Storytelling With Photos written by Kim O’Neill Screen. She has her own site called Good Stock which offers high quality printing and binding services.

Kim describes several creative ways that photos can be used to enhance your family story. Whether you’re new to doing a personal history or an old hand, I think you’ll find Kim’s article worth reading.

from Story Telling With Photos

from Storytelling With Photos

Ethical Wills 101: Part Four ~ Life Lessons Learned

An important aspect of an ethical will is being able to share with others the life lessons we’ve learned over the years. Why is this important? To begin with it’s useful to reflect on how much wisdom we’ve actually gained from our experiences. Some of our most profound lessons learned come from the so-called “bad” events in our lives. For me, at the tender age of twelve, I lost my dear dog, Mickey. It was a devastating event. We had been inseparable. From that and the loss of another dear friend years later, I eventually learned that nothing remains constant. Everything changes and no matter how much we may love another intensely it cannot stop the inevitable – their death. Today, a life lesson I know from experience is that we must live and love each day as if it may be our last.

Sharing our life lessons with others permits them to understand what guides us. And I think it’s also a way for people to begin to reflect on their own lessons learned. For the young our ethical will can provide a living example of the power of life experiences to teach us wisdom.

Exercise: Turn to a blank page in your ethical will notebook and at the top write, “Life Lessons.” Now use each of the following prompts below to write down your lessons learned. Some of these may not apply to you. Skip those and move on to the next. Remember that you’ll eventually transfer your notes to the front of your notebook when you finalize your ethical will at the end of the series. As with my personal example above, try to give the background story to a lesson you’ve learned.

From my father I’ve learned….

From my mother I’ve learned….

From my favorite teacher I’ve learned….

From my best friend I’ve learned….

From my work life I’ve learned….

From my (partner, spouse) I’ve learned….

From my children I’ve learned….

From my brother I’ve learned….

From my sister I’ve learned….

From my neighbor I’ve learned….

From my cat I’ve learned….

From my dog I’ve learned….

From old age I’ve learned…

What I’ve learned from failure is….

What I’ve learned from success is….

What I’ve learned from my faith is….

Watch next week for Part Five ~ Expressing Forgiveness.

Photo by Todd Baker

How to Put “History” Into Your Personal History.

Tribute in Lights Memorial, New York 2005

Tribute in Lights Memorial, New York 2005

Looking back on our lives or the lives of our family we can see that we’ve been an eyewitness to many of the world’s great events. For example, during The Great Depression my father rode the rails looking for work. My mother flew in some of the first regularly scheduled airline flights. I knew exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard of President John Kennedy’s assassination. And we can all remember vividly our gut reaction on seeing the collapse of The World Trade Center on 9/11.

One of the invaluable legacies that our personal stories provide is not only a record of our lives but also an oral history of our times. Don’t forget to weave into your personal narrative the important historical events of your time and how you reacted to them. I would give anything to hear my grandfather’s firsthand account of the battle for Vimy Ridge during the First World War. It was a defining moment in that war and a defining moment in Canada’s coming of age as a nation.

There are several websites that offer some excellent “Today in History” information. If you want to find out what was happening on the day you were born or what world events occurred on your marriage day, then check out these sites:

Photo by Jackie

The Life Story Quote of The Week

American storyteller, Ruth Stotter has said,

Some people think we’re made of flesh and blood and bones. Scientists say we’re made of atoms. But I think we’re made of stories. When we die, that’s what people remember, the stories of our lives and the stories that we told.

I like this. For me, it captures the essence of the complex nature of who we are. We’re not just flesh and bones or atoms but so much more. We are storytellers. From prehistoric cave paintings to the iPod generation human beings have always found an outlet for telling the stories of their time. What’s your story?

Photo by pardeshi

Ethical Wills 101: Part Three ~ Expressing Gratitude.

This week’s post is about gratitude. Why bother including this in your ethical will? Here are several good reasons:

  • research indicates feelings of gratitude may be beneficial to our emotional well-being (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
  • expressing gratitude to another provides a moment of grace and joy for that person.
  • academic studies indicate that grateful people are on the whole less materialistic than the general population and tend to suffer less anxiety about status or accumulating possessions.

Preparing your ethical will is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what you’ve been given by others. And examining in detail all that you’ve been given generates a natural feeling of gratitude. So, let’s begin work on this week’s ethical will exercise.

Exercise: Take your ethical will notebook and turn to the next available blank page. At the top write the heading “Gratitude.” The notes you write here will eventually become part of your final ethical will draft.

Now write the following sentence. “What I have received from… (insert the name of the person to whom you’re writing your ethical will)”

Here’s an example. Writing of my mother I said, “What I have received from my mom is her unconditional love, her support and encouragement when I needed it, the importance of politeness, consideration and grace and the value of loyalty.”

What are the things that you’ve received? When you’ve compiled your notes take time to go back and for each item expand upon it so that it’s phrased as an expression of gratitude. Keep in mind that when you write about gratitude it’s best if you explain a specific incident that illustrates why you’re grateful.

Example. Continuing with my mom I wrote, “I’m ever grateful for your support and encouragement when I’ve needed it. When I was beginning my career as a documentary filmmaker many years ago, you were not only one of my early “fans” but you came to my financial rescue on several occasions. Without your support I know I may never have succeeded.”

The idea is to provide substance and detail to your expressions of gratitude. Don’t just say, “I’m grateful for your love.” Rather, say something like,”I’m grateful for your love. I know that there are days when I’m too exhausted from work to feel much like talking. You’ve always been sensitive to that and given me the space I need. Thank you for that. It has meant so much.”

You may want to continue your exploration of gratitude and discover the benefits that can accrue to you. One suggestion is to keep a “Gratitude Journal.” At the end of each day write down at least five things you’re grateful for that day. I find it’s also useful to add a reason after each thing you’re grateful for. For example, “I’m grateful for the comfortable bed I sleep on because so many are homeless and sleep on the street.” And here’s an important point. The things you’re grateful for don’t have to be “earth shattering.” They can be simple things that make your life worthwhile….like a comfortable bed.

Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude in North America. He has said,

... it’s important to stress that gratitude is really a choice. It doesn’t depend upon circumstances or genetic wiring or something that we don’t have control over. It really becomes an attitude that we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people… When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and to realize they are temporary.

You might find these two books by Emmons useful additions to your library, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier and Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul

Next week watch for Ethical Wills 101: Part Four ~ Life Lessons Learned.

How to Interview Someone Who Is Terminally Ill: Part One

Over the years I’ve recorded the life stories of a number of terminally ill people. I’m also a Hospice volunteer. I’ve learned some things through my work and hope these tips may be useful if you’re  working with someone gravely ill.

  • Negotiate how much time your subject feels he/she can handle in any one interview.
  • Carefully monitor the strength of your subject while conducting the interview. If you sense he/she is fading, ask if you should stop or continue.
  • People at the end of life can’t always be at their “charming best”.  If you find that you’re sometimes met with sharpness or even anger, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.
  • Be calm and mindful with a terminally ill person even if you’re not.
  • Time is of the essence. Cover the most important topics first. You may not have time to complete the whole story.
  • If you can’t find a quiet space and must be in a room with others, check with your subject about confidentiality. He/she may feel uncomfortable talking if others can listen in.
  • Some medications can make people forgetful so make sure you know what material you’ve  covered. You may need to remind your subject that he/she has already spoken on a particular topic.
  • Your subject may have difficulty hearing. Remember to sit close  – no more than 3 feet away and to speak clearly and with sufficient volume to be heard.
  • Be flexible. Don’t be surprised if an interview session you’ve arranged has to be canceled at the last minute. A terminally ill patient’s condition can change dramatically in a short period of time.
  • Take care of yourself. Working with someone who is dying is emotionally draining. Make sure you do things that bring you nourishment and strength, such as listening to your favorite music, meditating, doing a vigorous workout, or taking a long relaxing bath.

Photo by kenna takahashi

As Featured On EzineArticles

The Life Story Quote of The Week

Today, people are so disconnected that they feel they are blades of grass, but when they know who their grandparents and great-grandparents were, they become trees, they have roots, they can no longer be mowed down.

Maya Angelou, poet, actress, author, director; on Oprah show, January 2003

I find this quote resonates with me. I never knew my grandfathers. They both died before I was born. All I have are some grainy old photographs and snippets of information. One grandfather was a Winnipeg, Manitoba fireman. He died at the age of thirty-two from the flu pandemic that swept the world after The First World War. My other grandfather died in 1939 after eventually succumbing to lung damage, the result of a poison gas attack on a WWI battlefield.

If the technology we possess today had existed back then, how wonderful it would be to put on a DVD and hear and see my grandfathers talking about their lives. I urge everyone to capture their family stories before they’re lost forever.

Photo by nugunslinger

Ethical Wills 101: Part Two ~ Discovering Our Values

In Part One I wrote about getting started on your ethical will. In Part Two we’ll look at how to discover our values.

What are values? The American Heritage Dictionary describes a value as: A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable. And believe it or not Elvis Presley said, Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do.

I like to think of values as a part of our DNA. For each person they are unique. They explain what motivates us, what angers us, what we cherish. Knowing our values gives us a clue as to who we are. Our values develop over time and are shaped by our parents, teachers, community and religious affiliation.

So how do we uncover our real values? Let’s start with three simple exercises. These are not meant to tell you what your values should be, they simply provide a way to discover what your values are.

Exercise one: Open your ethical will notebook that you started last week. Leave a few blank pages from the first page where you wrote your introduction. These will be the pages on which you’ll write the final draft of your ethical will. After these few blank pages write the heading, “My Values.”

Think of a best friend and the qualities you admire in that person. For me, the qualities I admire in my friend are loyalty, humor, dedication, fairness, and honesty. Now take a moment and write down the qualities you admire in your friend. As you look at your list, ask yourself, “Would these qualities describe me as well?” Chances are most of them would. And why? Because we make friends with people who tend to share the same values as ourselves.

Here’s another exercise to try:

Exercise two: Ask yourself, “What are some things that really tick me off?” For me, pomposity, impoliteness, and arrogance get me pretty steamed. So what are the things that can really upset you? Take a moment to write down your list. Within this list you’ll find good clues to some important values you hold. When a value that’s important to us gets stepped on or violated it upsets us. Let me illustrate using my own example. Pomposity goes against my value of unpretentiousness. Impoliteness violates my value of politeness and arrogance assaults my value of humbleness.

Try this next exercise to unearth some more of your values.

Exercise three: Write down at least three things that give you real pleasure and joy. For example, for me that would be:

  1. Discovering new things and learning new stuff.
  2. Witnessing a magnificent sunset.
  3. Seeing a dear friend after a long absence.

What are some of the things that bring you pleasure? After you’ve compiled your list take a look at each item and see if you can pull out some of the underlying values. For example, my pleasure in discovering new things and learning new stuff taps into my values of learning and exploration. My joy at seeing a beautiful sunset links to my values of beauty and spirituality. And seeing an old friend connects with my valuing friendship.

By now you should be developing a pretty good list of some of your core values. If you want to explore this topic in more depth consider these books: What Matters Most : The Power of Living Your Values and Values Clarification

You may want to reflect on your list and see if some other values of yours come to mind. Perhaps there are some important values that you have missed in your list. Remember these are your personal values not your parents’ or your society’s.

The next step. Put your values into a sentence that will become a part of your ethical will. Using myself as an example, I’d take my values recorded above and write, “Some of the values that have guided me over the years have been loyalty, humor, dedication, fairness, honesty, unpretentiousness, politeness, humbleness, beauty, spirituality and friendship.”

If you want to add some “meat” to your list try taking one or two of your most cherished values and recount a personal story that illustrates how these values were put to use in your life. If you need some inspirational guidance check out This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

That’s it for Part Two. I hope you found this worthwhile and fun at the same time. Don’t forget to return next week for Part Three ~ Expressing Gratitude.

Life Stories Not Just For People

For all of us who’ve ever lost a faithful pet, their death is a terribly painful experience. Now there are a growing number of companies who produce memorial pet videos. Most combine your favorite photos with music and deliver these on a DVD. Some of these pet legacies are more elaborate. Family Legacy Video a Tucson, Arizona based company can produce a documentary style video on your pet. Here’s what they have to say:

The foundation of your Pet Legacy Video™ is you – an on-camera interview where you recount your favorite memories and stories and talk about what your pet has meant, and continues to mean, to you. If your pet still lives and hasn’t crossed the Rainbow Bridge, he or she can appear on camera with you. Then, Family Legacy Video will tape you and your pet enjoying quiet times, having fun or doing whatever you most like to do together.

Other sites you might want to check out are Thomson Films and Diotte Video Design.

Photo by Roger H. Goun