Legacy writing is a wonderful activity to do as a family. It brings people closer and creates a special connection as you share and re-live memories together. Some family members are eager to share, while others may take many attempts before you can get an easy conversation flowing. Remember – get specific and don’t give up.
Aging can be a very undignified process, full of loss of control, loss of independence, loss of identity, and loneliness. Encouraging elders to reflect in this way helps them see what a meaningful life they’ve actually had. Some elders become depressed and start to shut down. By asking thoughtful questions, you can remind them of things they might have shut themselves out from.
Some people might gawk at the idea of this kind of work because they sense it could bring up the uncomfortable feelings of mortality they would just as soon not deal with. But doing legacy writing doesn’t have to done near the end of life. It can be thought of at any age as a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography. Grandparents can take comfort knowing for certain that their values, concerns, fears, desires, as well as the history, have been recorded for their grandchildren and generations to come.
Learn more about legacy writing before you dive in by watching this video.
Sit down, surround yourself with mementos and photos to spark a conversation, get comfortable. Here are some questions to have on hand to get the conversation going and keep it moving, but be sure to ask specific questions based on what they’re telling you.
Questions to ask
What are your earliest memories?
Did your parents ever tell you about when you were born?
Is there a meaning behind your name?
Where were you born? What was your town/neighborhood like?
What are your favorite movies growing up? Why?
What was your childhood home like?
Who was your favorite neighbor?
Did your parents have a happy marriage?
What did your parents do for work?
What do you remember about your grandparents?
What were your brothers and sisters like?
What were you like as a child?
Where did you go to school? What was it like?
What was your favorite book/radio show/movie growing up?
Was your family religious?
Who was your best childhood friend?
Tell me what the world was like when you were a kid.
What did you do in the summers?
How is childhood different today?
What did you want to do when you grew up?
Where did you like to hang out in high school?
What fads were there when you were young?
How many times did you move as a child? As an adult?
Who was your first love?
What was your first job?
Who was your favorite boss? Your least favorite?
How did you meet your spouse? How did you know he or she was ‘the one’?
How and when did you get engaged?
How old were you when you got married? What was your wedding like?
What was your first big purchase as a married couple?
Who are their favorite movie stars?
What was your greatest career success?
What were your parents like when you were an adult?
What was the biggest sacrifice you ever made?
When have you felt like a hero?
What was the most difficult thing for you to get through? How did you deal with it?
Who was very influential in your life? Who mentored you?
What are you most embarrassed about?
What are you most proud of?
What friend have you known the longest?
What is your favorite story about each of your children?
What was the hardest part about raising children?
What was the best part about raising children?
How are your children like you? Different from you?
What do you wish you could have done differently as a parent?
How many grandchildren do you have? What do you like to do with them?
What makes you proud of your children? Your grandchildren?
What do you know about your ancestors?
Does your last name mean something? Where in the world is it from?
How did our family come to this country? Who came here first?
What family traditions do you have?
What was the most important values for your parents?
What were the three biggest news events during your lifetime?
What was the best compliment you ever received?
Who is your closest friend today?
How have your values changed as you grew older?
If you could relive any year from your life, which would you choose?
What advice would you give yourself at 10? 20? 40?
What brings you the most joy?
What do you look forward to?
What is love?
What makes life rich?
What’s the most important thing for living a good life?
When all is said and done, what would you like to be remembered for?
What would the title of your autobiography be?
Thank you so much for your very kind words. Now I’m curious about what you do at your workshops. Maybe there is a way for us to work together online, to further the practice of legacy writing in our community. I know how much I wish I had been into practicing this so many years ago when my grandparents were still alive. I asked many questions and have many memories of their rich European heritage that I have been writing about now, but how much richer this writing would have been if they had knowingly been part of the equation.
Thanks again. Hope to hear from you. Wishing you a very Happy New Year.
I’d love to explore that possibility with you! I just sent my caregiver profile to Cori. That will provide you with a little more background on my story. I can appreciate how you feel about your grandparents and I’m sure they would have enjoyed sharing their experiences. The beauty of reminiscing is that as we age, it can be more healing than any pill or procedure. Wishing you and yours a very happy new year, as well.
I’m relatively new to The Caregiver Space, but already I love that you cover topics not seen on every caregiving site. The concept of legacy letters and ethical wills has been near and dear to me for several years, after losing my dad. I realized what a gift it would have been for him and for our family to know more about his personal history, what he believed in and how he felt about us all. It would have offered a much needed opportunity to connect with him. Since then, I’ve given talks and workshops on the subject and every time, it has been a powerful experience for everyone concerned. A great piece. Thanks so much for bringing this beautiful practice to light.
What a beautiful, and helpful article!
When Annie passed away, on my first post back on Sept 4, 2011 on her newly established online memorial, I wrote that I wanted the whole world to know about her and her battle with cancer. Didn’t know why at the time, but I had a strong desire to share her story. Over time as I kept building the memorial I realized that I was leaving her legacy, through her journey with cancer. She’s had over 62,000 visitors. And then I decided to build her a Facebook cancer page and share her on there too. I wrote two books on her, and now I find myself with the Caregiver Space, and her legacy continues. I want to thank you for the opportunity to allow me to continue building her legacy as well as share some of our most intimate personal stories and memories we created while fighting a dreaded cancer. All the things I’ve done, will insure that future members of this family will also get to know, love and be loved by Annie too. Priceless!