A life review is sharing of family history from one generation to another. Today’s families are often separated, geographically or by hectic schedules. Taking time to visit older family members — through letters, phone calls, personal visits, videos, or audiotapes — is one way to exchange memories and life reviews.Whatever ways you decide to “visit” and keep in touch, the connection between the generations helps both the young and the old.
Life reviews help older adults feel better and to remember significant life experiences. They create a feeling of self-worth, preserve family history, and help individuals discover interesting things about each other. Life reviews affirm the importance of life experiences and achievements and, for some individuals, give new meaning to life. Adults who live alone or are isolated may also enjoy the chance for interaction with others.
Tools for Sharing
- Family journals, books, and scrapbooks
- Newspaper clippings
- Mementos from historic world events, such as the Depression, World War II, etc.
- Pictures of past family holidays, such as Thanksgiving, reunions, birthdays, or anniversaries
- Personal belongings, such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, toys, and keepsakes
- Poems or stories
Questions to Spark Discussion
Have a list of questions in mind before your visit. Don’t try to cover too much ground in one visit. Try these questions or develop creative ones of your own:
- Where did your parents meet? When did they marry? Tell me about your marriage.
- What are some of your best childhood memories?
- How did your parents wash clothes?
- Tell me about your pets.
- What was school like for you? How did you get there? What were your favorite subjects? Describe some fun activities you did while in school.
- What is your most vivid memory of bath time as a child?
- Tell me about the first house you remember.
- What games did you enjoy as a child?
- What is the best present you ever received?
If the conversation seems to be dragging, try a probing question or two to help the person remember or further explain his or her ideas.
- How did you feel?
- Was anyone else involved?
- What else was going on at the time?
- What happened as a result?
Being a Good Listener
Good communication skills are important when sharing a life review. These skills include:
- maintaining eye contact
- being positive in your response
- asking questions that encourage the person to continue
- being an active listener
- helping the speaker keep on track by asking open-ended questions
- summarizing comments to let the person know that they are being heard
- watching body language by being aware of posture, eye contact, and expressions
- allowing the other person to talk without jumping in with too many of your own life experiences
- encouraging conversation by asking feeling questions, such as, “How did it feel when…”
- accepting what is said as their experience
- realizing that there may be times of silence or tears in your conversation (These are normal. Allow the speaker time to regather his or her thoughts and continue.)
Passing the Memories On
After you have gathered information in a life review, choose an appropriate method to record it. Ideas include scrapbooks, audio or videotapes, photo albums, and writing a book or newspaper article for family members or to contribute to a museum, library, or historical society.
Be sure that the sharer of the life review is in agreement with the method that you select to keep the memories and pass them on to future generations.
Taking time to listen to others helps them to know that they are important. It sends the message, “You are a special person and I want to know more about you.” Help strengthen your family and community by sharing a life review with someone special in your life.