Every family gathering is an opportunity for sharing stories. Nearly everyone loves hearing others tell of their history and the stories that make our family tree come alive. When several generations of a family spend time together, think of the wealth of information that can be shared!
If you are a caretaker for a senior loved one, or if you have a loved one in an assisted living facility, then you probably know that giving time for a story to come to life can be the most rewarding gift for that individual. So often, our interactions with our elders can be hurried or impersonal, as when trying to get to an appointment or rushing through a quick visit.
The next time your family gathers, you can help create an environment for storytelling with a few simple preparations.
- Plan for extra time before the meal when family members can have an opportunity to visit with one another. Ask everyone to leave cell phones and other devices with their coats – make this a time for your family to invest time in itself.
- Invite the children to think about their daily routine, and ask them to think of an open-ended question for a grandparent or great-grandparent. For example, your child may wake up for a school day, get dressed, eat cereal, and catch the school bus. Maybe the child can ask what schooldays were like for their elder relatives- imagine the shock when Grandma reveals she had to feed the livestock before breakfast, or that Grandpa attended a one-room schoolhouse. Even city-dwellers will have different stories: What did they wear? Did they have gym class? Parents can make mental notes to talk to the children later about the conversation, to help them make the memory stronger.
- Think of a fun memory from when you were a child, and ask a parent or older loved one to share their memories of that event. Everyone experiences the same event from a fresh perspective, and it can be enlightening to hear how someone else remembers an event differently.
- Photos, photos, photos! “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and in later years, having a photo handy to spark a conversation can be another way that an older family member will interact with others in their community. Not only that, but as children grow into adults, photos of them with relatives of other generations are absolutely priceless.
- Create an art table. Scissors and construction paper can result in multi-colored snowflakes – fun for the kids to play with and learn from their elders, and creating photo opportunities as well as physical mementos of the family day together. Have each person do a sketch of themself – stick figures are fine – and glue them to poster board to create a family collage for the loved one to take home.
There are so many joyful ways to spend a day together. In this age of multitasking and hurrying from one thing to another, remember that the gift of time well spent with another is the best gift of all.