When we’re young, we look mostly to the future. In later life, a lot of our joy comes from looking back. It makes sense. The young have more future than past, while the older folks have more past than future. Sometimes we forget as adult children of seniors to include conversations that bring them satisfaction and happiness. For those who suffer from dementia, the far past brings the greatest sense of happiness. Remembering their years as young people is going to a place of comfort and joy. It’s also a place where they can talk with confidence. Long-term memory is the last to go.
Take Them on a Walk Back in Time
There are so many ways to reminisce with our elders. Simple questions about the “good old days” are the perfect way to start. Keep a note book handy to write down a few questions like “What was your first day of school like” or “What chores did you have to do as a child?”
A tape recorder is a great tool for keeping those memories for ages to come. Just think about your grandkids listening to your loved one with their own children. I know I wish I had a recording of my grandparents talking about when they were young. What a treasure that would be!
Be Creative with Your Questions!
Asking about funny stories is a great way to reminisce. I recently spoke to my uncle on the phone and somehow the topic of coffee came up. I asked him how he liked to brew his coffee. “I don’t drink coffee,” he said. “I’m not 21 yet.” His mother, my granny, raised 14 children on a little bit of nothing. I learned that since coffee was quite expensive back then, granny told the kids they couldn’t have any until they were grown! Many of her children still don’t drink coffee.
Take a Few Tours
When my children were still pretty young, my daddy and I took them back to Oklahoma and visited where my daddy grew up. The farmhouse was gone. The windmill and barn had fallen down, but the memories were fresh in my daddy’s mind. My kids had so many questions for him and he loved telling them about rummaging through the peanut hay for some “goobers.” He told me about how he had to hoe cotton and sometimes went hunting for raccoons to make spending money. If you can — take your own parents to places where they once lived. You’ll hear stories you’ve never heard before.
If you know of an historical home in your area, touring with your parents can bring back a flood of their memories. Just seeing old kitchens with a pump for water in the sink or a wood burning stove will give them a kick. We have a historical farm just out of town complete with old farm equipment and the farmhouse is filled with antique furniture. For many of our parents they’ll see so many things that take them back to when they were young. Keep that notebook handy. You’ll want to remember what they tell you.
Bring Out the Photos
I’m sure your mom and dad are like mine and have really old photos stashed away somewhere. Ask them to show them to you and sit down for a good talk. Pick a time when there is very little to distract you or them. Turn off that phone and visit the good old days with your folks.
For more information about writing and recording your loved ones’ life stories visit Story Corps. It has a ton of great questions to ask your family members and tips on how to document stories that will last for generations.
(This article was reviewed February 2024 since it was originally published in July, 2016.)