Thursday, January 16, 2014

Capturing Memories of Elderly Loved Ones

Clara (Mary Anne's mom) and Mary Anne Benedetto

I read the magazine article with enthusiastic interest. The writer disclosed a poignant account of traveling to another state to spend time chatting with her aging mother and capturing her life stories for posterity. I giddily cheered from the sidelines as she discussed their time of trading special memories.

Her mom offered never previously revealed heartwarming insight about the kindness of her own mother and what life was like as she was growing up. The writer was thrilled that she had taken the time to visit and make copious notes about these stories, and she hopes to eventually return to gather more information and perhaps publish her mother’s stories in book form.

Wait a minute. Make notes? Had she tried to write down everything that her mother had said? What did she miss? What became lost in translation? Could her mom’s stories have been stifled by her attempts to scribble down pertinent quotes? One story leads directly into another, so what may have been sacrificed?

There is a logical answer. Tape recorders. No, not the old fashioned kind that take up table space and have large reels to delicately feed through the device. Recorders of today’s generation are compact and efficient. Examples of two types that I personally use are:

1-A mini-cassette recorder with small tapes. I prefer using this model to loan to elderly individuals who are going to record their stories at their own leisure. Simply designed and easy to operate, most anyone can work with these devices. The sound quality is generally excellent, which makes transcribing the recordings seamless. This is also a very inexpensive option.

Mini-cassette recorder

2-A digital recorder. Although it is a more expensive alternative, I especially like to use this type when I am conducting telephone interviews. I purchased an attachment from Radio Shack that is used in conjunction with the telephone and, once again, it provides a clear,  good quality sound. This equipment is very small, lightweight and easy to carry in my handbag. One of its great features is a built-in USB port to save the recording to your computer if desired.

Digital recorder
One negative aspect is an issue that I discovered the hard way. After spending 45 minutes recording my mother’s stories by telephone, I detected an annoying humming sound upon playing the recording. I found that I obtain the best quality sound without interference when I have recorded from a handset that is not located near all of my office’s wireless activity. I don’t understand the technical aspects of this issue, but I am just reporting my personal experience.

Another caveat in using the small digital recorders is that while it wasn’t difficult for me to learn how to operate this little gem, I believe that it could boggle the minds of many elderly. Also, judging from my own mom’s dexterity difficulties caused by her arthritic fingers, anyone with this condition would be challenged by operating the tiny device. So this is not the best choice for providing to an elderly relative and asking them to record stories as they feel so moved.

It is often suggested to me that we simply video the loved one telling his or her stories. In theory, this is a great idea. In practice, it becomes more complicated. Many elderly folks freeze when they know they are being videoed, and this method may actually inhibit their story sharing.

When I wrote the book, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, one of the most important resources I included was a list of almost 150 questions that anyone can use for generating memories of loved ones or for formulating their own stories. It definitely simplifies the process during a memoir preservation project! Available in paperback and e-book on Kindle and Nook, this guide is a compact and powerful toolkit for capturing life stories. Visit for links to all formats.
Bravo to the writer of the aforementioned magazine article for her fervent attempts at preserving her mom’s stories! I wish that I knew how to contact her to direct her to this blog post. I’d love to be able to enhance her memoir gathering experience and make it immeasurably easier and efficient.

Have you captured the stories of your grandparents and/or parents? Those unique tales vanish if not preserved. It is well worth investing the time to be sure that family history continues to be shared with future generations.

Blessings to all. See you soon!
Mary Anne Benedetto
Helping People Write the Times of Their Lives

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never Say Perfect, From Italy with Love & Limoncello and Write Your Pet's Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!


1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great idea ! Unfortunately for me it's to late... both my parents are gone .....