“Yesterday I called my mom. It was quite apparent to me that she sounded more vibrant and alive than I have heard her in a very long time. I asked what was she doing and she told me about writing a memoir of her life. What a wonderful thing to do - she has had quite a life! This appears to have brought new vitality to her.”
It reminded me that the process itself is as worthwhile as the end result. All of my memoir clients have children and other family members who willingly and eagerly listen to their stories, but there’s something different about narrating a life in chronological order. Most families tell sporadic anecdotes, not unbroken narratives, and sometimes children hear their parents’ stories often enough that they stop listening. Having the opportunity to hear a life story from its beginnings gives me a perspective that isolated anecdotes usually lack.
Two years ago, I worked with residents at a nursing home on a community memoir project. A couple of months after the book was published, I saw the obituary of one of the participants in the newspaper. I felt privileged to think that I was probably one of the last people who heard her tell a story about her life. She had loving children and grandchildren; I don’t mean to suggest no one took an interest in her, but I had the privilege of sitting down with her without other distractions to hear exactly the life story she wanted to tell me, a story she was most likely telling for the last time.
Telling our stories matters, but listening to them does too. In my work as a memoir writer, I’ve become a dedicated listener. And I’m grateful anew for every story I have the opportunity to hear.