The practice of telling stories is as old as mankind itself. Sharing our memories and history through the telling of stories is ingrained in our psyche. It remains the way in which some cultures around the world capture and record the history of their communities.
The importance of sharing the collective memory is as important to families as it is to communities. As we get older, it is vital to capture and pass on our memories to the next generation. This was brought home to me recently by a Dutch friend of mine, now in his early 90s.
He was brought up in Indonesia when it was part of the Dutch East Indies. It meant that during the II World War he and all members of his family were captured and imprisoned in the Japanese war camps for a number of years. His story is particularly poignant and offers some valuable lessons to the future generations.
Memories such as these will provide his descendants with their family history generating a sense of belonging and securing the family roots. It may also go some way to act as a reminder of the horrors of war and a voice of reason not only to his own grand and great-grand children, but also to the younger generation in general.
Documenting is not only for the benefit of the generations to come, but it is also of benefit to ourselves. Reminiscing is one of life’s unpredictable but thrilling delights. There is a childlike pleasure associated with coming across forgotten storage boxes that contain memories of past experiences and events. These memories are testimony to the life we’ve led, our hopes and dreams and how far we have come as an individual.
There is an added benefit to the sharing of our memories, especially as we get older. Sharing memories helps to “scaffold” or support our memories as we age. Research suggests that by remembering and sharing memories with our partners or family members we are able to recall memories in greater detail. Investing time in sharing and remembering our stories therefore results in a cognitive benefit as well as deepening our personal relationships.
Not sharing our memories and experiences runs the risk of our grandchildren never really knowing who we were and what we were about; what made us sad, what brought us joy, what we’re our disappointments and achievements. By not reminiscing and recording our memories we may very well leave a traceless presence behind.
I have inherited the dining room suite that belonged to my grandparents. As my mother never thought it relevant or important to share stories of what that suite meant to her parents, I have very little knowledge of their daily family life. I was borne after the death of my maternal grandmother and I was very young when my grandfather died.
However, I have many family memories of the meals, chats, debates and yes, tears shed around that table. So, I will leave my memories and stories of what our family experienced around that table for the future owners to enjoy and perhaps weave into their own stories and memories they will make around the table. Memories can be lonely and therefore need to be shared. Sharing our stories with others also serves to maintain our individual and shared identities.
I know, writing our memoirs and sharing our stories is one of those things we plan to do yet keep putting off. We no doubt think “I’ll do it tomorrow.” However, remember tomorrow is now.