Why Our Stories Are So Important
Family Stories Make Us More Like Our Readers
"I want my grandchildren to know me when I was their age . . ."
When I landed my first major memoir ghostwriting job, I asked the client, a CEO in his seventies, why he wanted to tell his life story.
"It's like this," he said. "My employees, and even my children and grandchildren, see me as a white-haired old man in a suit and tie, with a head full of knowledge.
"But before all that, I was young and inexperienced and made as many foolish choices as good ones. I want my grandchildren to know me when I was their age and had the same questions about the meaning of life and the road ahead.
"I want them to learn from me just as I learned from those who went before me--people whose stories are sadly now lost."
Family Stories Teach Us About Ourselves
"No more 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' T-shirts for me!"
My friend was shocked when a DNA test revealed that most of her ancestors came from Russia.
"It's unsettling to find out you're not who you thought you were," she said. "No more 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' T-shirts for me!
"But then I remembered that time when I was little and my parents took me to another state to visit my grandmother. I had never met her before. She was beautiful but very stern, very cold.
"She and my dad got into an argument and we left in a hurry. No one ever mentioned her again."
My friend's parents are both gone, but she reached out to a long-lost aunt to learn more. Through the family stories her aunt shared, my friend has found a new sense of identity.
"Getting the truth is a real blessing," she said.
Family Stories Are More Precious than Things
"My daughter insisted that she didn't want our stuff--she wanted our stories."
Let's face it--our heirs don't want our stuff!
In fact, in this era of decluttering and minimalist living, they will probably get rid of the china, antiques, furniture, and other things we have held onto in order to bequeath to them.
"When my husband and I downsized to an apartment in a retirement community, we asked the kids to let us know what they wanted so we could sell or donate the rest," one client told me.
"It turns out, they didn't want much--just a few small knickknacks with sentimental value. We expected them to argue over a few of the bigger pieces, but they didn't want any of it!
"Our daughter insisted that she didn't want our stuff--she wanted our stories. That's when I reached out to you."
Family Stories Bring to Life the Culture That Shaped Us
"I couldn't believe it when my grandson couldn't figure out how to use a typewriter!"
I sometimes begin my family storytelling workshops by asking who in the room has turned to a grandchild or other younger person for help with their computers.
Many hands go up. I then explain how they shouldn't feel bad--they know many things that younger generations have no clue about!
Just think about what we used to take for granted that is now hard to find or gone entirely:
The point is that culture changes in ways large and small, and each generation has knowledge that would benefit future generations.
"I couldn't believe it when my grandson couldn't figure out how to use a typewriter," one client told me. "It made me realize that there was plenty he could learn from me, just as I learn from him."