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Passing on Wisdom from Generation to Generation

Today’s seniors have lived through significant historic events and change – from the Great Depression and World War II to rapid-fire advances in technology and medical science.

And along the way, through times both challenging and prosperous, they have collected a treasure trove of experiences and wisdom that could guide us today and in the future. That is, if we do not let time get away. We need to create opportunities now, while we can, for seniors to share their life stories with younger generations.

Over time, many seniors do share their experiences, one by one, with family and friends. That is good, but often they are only spoken and not written down or recorded. And many times they are passed along only to immediate family members and not others who may lack strong family ties of their own, thus missing out on chances to swap stories with older adults. Intergenerational conversations—in a variety of settings—can enrich younger people’s lives while giving seniors precious opportunities to relive their vivid tapestry of experience. As a result, one generation gains new understanding and respect for the other.

Following are a few suggestions for bridging the generation gap and keeping alive the memories of our elders:

  • As a part of in-home care – To enhance the quality of life of the seniors in their care, in-home care providers can encourage seniors to reminisce and recall important times in their lives. They can also help them or encourage them to write narratives about these experiences to share with family. This fits nicely with Comfort Keepers®’ unique approach to care called Interactive CaregivingTM, which engages seniors in activities that promote their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  • At your religious institution – More and more, religious institutions are arranging special opportunities for young and old to share with one another. If you do not have something like this planned at your church or synagogue, take the lead. How about a congregation-wide birthday party where members of all generations sit together by birth month, share cake and ice cream, and get to know one another as they compare notes about what it was like to grow up in their respective time periods?
  • At schools – Seniors can add an important dimension to history lessons, from elementary school to college classrooms. They can provide first-person accounts and breathe life into the dry pages of history books. Some teachers assign students to interview seniors and write down their impressions and memories or videotape seniors’ recollections.
  • At senior centers – Senior centers also plan occasions that bring generations together, for instance, to recognize seniors for their service as veterans or community leaders. Senior centers often host writing classes and programs to teach seniors how to write their life stories to share with family and friends.
  • At family gatherings – There may not be time during a reunion, between eating and lawn games, to write your family elders’ life stories. But a family reunion can be a good place to get started, as the storytelling and reminiscing unfold. At this opportune time you could suggest putting these stories in writing. Maybe there is a budding young author or two in the family along with a gifted writer who could coordinate the project. And by the next reunion, they could have a volume of life stories to give everyone.
  • Life story writing has become a growing enterprise. Many entrepreneurs have launched businesses to help people who want to preserve their or a loved one’s experiences. There also are plenty of Web sites that offer do it yourself advice. Just Google “writing your life story.” The reality is that intergenerational conversations can take place anytime there is a group willing to share their stories and keep the memories going.

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