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Betsy Hedberg

Recording Life Reflections
by Betsy Hedberg

"You may think kids don't care, but they do…they just don't know it yet!" So spoke an eighty-three year old acquaintance of mine after recording a true-life adventure story of canoeing from Quebec to New York City at the age of seventeen. He sent the audio CD I made for him to his children and grandchildren, who were thrilled to learn a little more about their elder.

There's a good chance that during the recent holiday season you visited or welcomed relatives and other loved ones to share good cheer (and possibly some exciting bouts of arguing and ill-temper as well). Whatever your holiday experience, have you ever envisioned yourself and your children in years to come being able to listen to and read these stories straight from the tellers' mouths?

Similarly, imagine your children, grandchildren, and other descendants reminiscing about you after you're gone. What would you like them to remember about you? What stories would you like them to associate you with? What values would you like them to take from you?

Recording your personal stories and values, or those of loved ones, is a highly rewarding and sometimes life-altering experience. Whether making a brief audio recording or a 300-page book complete with photographs, the storyteller typically finds the process of life reflection and reminiscing to be rejuvenating and fulfilling. While some painful memories may arise with the good ones, this process helps the storyteller realize that he or she has lived a full, meaningful life. In some instances, people who have been feeling depressed or anxious about the decisions they've made and the things they've done are able to acknowledge that they've done a pretty good job after all. Others find that the storytelling allows them to make peace with relatives with whom they've had tense relations and with the less positive aspects of their past.

Most people agree that leaving an oral or written legacy for their descendants might be a good idea, but many people then proclaim "My life hasn't been very interesting; I don't know what I'd say!" If you find yourself or a relative in this situation, think about the things you might find interesting about your great-grandparents' lives. How did they wash their clothes? What did they eat for holiday dinners? Where did they go on family outings? All of these questions may have led to routine, mundane answers for your great-grandparents but would likely fascinate you. Likewise, your great-grandchildren will probably be thrilled to learn that as a child you dialed a rotary telephone, ate TV dinners in front of a black and white television, or entered a hula hoop competition. After all, who knows how different their lives will be in half a century!

One relatively simple way to pass along your legacy to your descendants is to write an ethical will or legacy letter. Based in large part on an ancient Jewish custom, ethical wills are not legal documents but rather letters stating values, wishes, memories, and other things the writer wishes to share with his or her descendants. The ethical will is generally presented to its intended recipients while the author is still living. For more information on ethical wills, please visit http://www.ethicalwill.com.

Another worthwhile way to record your own or a loved one's memories is to make an audio recording, either with a tape recorder or onto a CD or other digital recorder. While there's much value in having written documentation about a person's life, there's something really special about being able to hear their voice. You could even take this a step further and make a video. Keep in mind, however, that technologies do not last forever. Tapes can break or disintegrate over time, and CD technology might give way to something more modern in the future. It's a good idea to transcribe the audio to have the storyteller's words on paper if the recording becomes damaged. It's also wise to give a copy of digital files to a computer-savvy family member who can help "migrate" the file to new formats when they come along.

Larger projects can turn hours of interviews into professionally-bound books with family photographs, recipes, and other treasures. It generally takes at least ten hours of interviews with a senior citizen to develop a true life story from earliest memories to the present. You can try this on your own or hire a professional personal historian to conduct the interviews and compile the book.

Recording one's memories and life reflections are activities suitable for people of all ages, as evidenced by the popularity of scrapbooking amongst young mothers. If you're a parent, try making brief audio recordings of your children's voices every six months or so; you'll be amazed and amused at how they change over the years. If you have recently gone through a major life change as a young or middle-aged adult, or if you're contemplating one, this may be a good time to reflect on your past and present feelings about the situation, either in writing or in audio form. For example, couples preparing to marry benefit from recording their stories about how they met, how they got engaged, etc., as well as their feelings about the relationship and their wishes for the future.

I started my personal history business, Everyone Has A Story (http://www.everyonehasastory.us), to help people preserve their treasured family and personal memories in a way that really honors their lives and those of their loved ones. I make audio recordings and transcribe them into professionally-bound memory books with photographs. In this way, I allow the storyteller's relatives and descendants to hear and read the story of that person's life in his or her own words. The process typically makes the storyteller feel great and can bring families closer together.

© Copyright 2005 Betsy Hedberg.  All Rights Reserved. 

Betsy Hedberg

Betsy Hedberg, M.A., is a Denver-based psychotherapist, career counselor, and mindfulness and meditation instructor. She helps people incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily lives to realize greater quality time, reduce stress, navigate personal and career transitions, and connect with their deepest values. She also has a passion for travel and is preparing to announce some mindful, soulful excursions. Her blog/web site provides useful tips to help counter the stressful lifestyle so many of us lead, with a special focus on helping people recover from divorce and end-of-relationship issues. If you live in the Denver area, Betsy offers in-person life transition and career counseling sessions to help you reach your fullest life potential.





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