10 Questions to Ask to Capture a Senior's Story
7 min read
We’ve all lost someone close to us and missed hearing their laugh or sharing recollections of their life. We’d like to go back in time and preserve those anecdotes for ourselves and our family and friends.
Rather than regret missing those times, what if we captured that narrative while our loved ones were still alive? Whether it’s our parents, grandparents, a favourite aunt, or the senior who lives next door, those life stories could be cherished by future generations if we take a few steps now, before it’s too late.
That’s because even though death is not an enjoyable subject to talk about, it is part of life. The legacy left behind is what keeps our loved ones alive, even after we lose them.
Why Is It Important To Preserve Those Stories?
When we’re young, we may take the adults around us for granted, assuming they will be around forever. As time passes, the opportunity to learn from them can be quickly lost. However, their memories and stories can be preserved forever in only a few easy steps.
Here are some reasons it’s important to capture the stories of those around us:
Would you like to hear the story of your great grandparents? Chances are your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will want the same thing.
Did any of your ancestors live through an important part of history, suffer at some point but come through it, or make an important contribution to their community? Documenting the big and little parts of their lives ensures those tales can be re-told.
Did you lose someone important at a young age, and wish you had asked more questions about their life? Your family may wish the same thing if someone is taken unexpectedly.
Do you have a big milestone coming up in your family, such as a new baby? Saving the family story before that baby is born will be a powerful memento for him or her when they are grown.
Is someone in your family ill? Honouring them by capturing their story can help them during difficult times, and will be a powerful way to remember them in times of loss.
How Do You Preserve Those Stories?
How do you preserve the stories of a beloved senior? One of the best ways to start is by asking questions. Here are a few ideas, with our suggested 10 questions to ask to capture a senior’s story, and how to preserve that story for generations to come.
10 Questions To Ask a Senior
1. What is your greatest accomplishment?
This question will honour the proudest moment or moments in one’s life and allow them to reflect on their hard work and success.
2. Tell me about your parents/siblings/children/spouse, etc.
There is value in learning about the special people in one’s life, and an open-ended question like this one lets your loved one express their feelings.
3. What is the most difficult experience you lived through, and what did you learn that you’d like to share?
With age comes wisdom, and it’s worth listening to and sharing that wisdom. While these subjects may be hard to talk about, they are very important to reflect on.
4. What’s your favourite memory from childhood?
It’s important to know where your loved one came from and what made that special.
5. What historical event did you live through that impacted you the most?
This can be quite fascinating, as it brings a personal perspective to what we may have read in history books.
6. What was the most amazing technological change you lived through?
A senior today has witnessed some incredible innovations, and will have a unique view of those momentous changes.
7. What brought you joy in the past, and what makes you happiest now?
There are no greater memories to share than those that bring joy. It is important to reflect on what makes them happy and what continues to make them happy, and to consider how this has changed over the years.
8. What would you tell your younger self that you would also tell young people today?
Once again, our seniors have wisdom that’s worth learning. While these can allow for seniors to look back on their future selves and the lives they have lived, this is also very interesting and engaging for younger generations to listen to.
9. Tell me about the most influential person in your life.
Similar to number 2 but with a different intent, this open-ended question may evoke memories of a special aunt, best friend or coworker.
10. Tell me about your first job, your most cherished work, and the job you disliked the most.
If your loved one worked out of the home, their work is a big part of their life’s story. The same is true of those who took care of the home, raised children, and were active as volunteers.
What Else Could You Collect To Save Life Stories?
There are many more details that can be collected to preserve the full story of your loved one. Their date of birth, where they grew up and lived, their family tree, if possible, and more details are all important contexts to the life story of a senior. The questions above allow for storytelling which can add to those factual accounts.
Your loved one will have other ideas of important items to collect. You may want to add your mother’s famous bread recipe, for instance, or your father’s secret to grilling the best ribs. Ask for photos to add to the collection. You can also get voice clips or videos to augment the story. Grandpa can sing a song from childhood or grandma can play her favourite tune on the piano. And don’t forget to ask what the person feels is most important to remember about them.
The details that make your loved one special are part of their life story, and when they are no longer with us, those details will keep their memory alive.
Collecting stories can also help a loved one who is nearing the end of life, by acknowledging what was, while accepting what will be. Telling their stories can serve as a transition, a way to honour and celebrate their past.
For those of us who collect those stories, we also get to honour and celebrate our loved ones, and perhaps manage our grief.
How Do You Save Stories For Seniors?
By now you’re probably wondering what is the best way to save those life stories? An easy-to-use digital platform like memoryKPR is one way to collect a multitude of memories in a variety of formats.
This digital tool makes it easy to put together a memory book for your senior, and add to it over time. Tell the story in their words with videos or voice clips, photographs, and written words. Take a photo of mom’s recipe and easily add it to the digital format known as a story “book”.
It’s simple to use on a computer, or on a mobile device with the app that’s available on the App Store or on Google Play. Use it to upload all kinds of files, with support for formats like JPEG, PNG, MP4, MP3, WAV, and more.
It’s easy to record audio right into the story, or upload from your library. You can even draw a family tree and upload it. If you choose, you can import directly from social media like Facebook and Instagram. You can invite others to contribute via email or with a QR code.
You have the option to share on social media if you want, and there are choices for privacy that you control. You also decide who contributes to the story, and who has access to it when you want to share it. It’s easy for a senior to navigate, as you can send an email link to let them view it on their own.
Losing a loved one is a painful time, but having their life’s stories to share and keep ensures their memory lives on for future generations. Whether it’s your grandparents, parents, a special aunt or uncle or the neighbour who helped look after you, everyone has a story that’s worth capturing.
Using a digital platform like memoryKPR makes it easy to save, share and preserve the memories of a loved one’s life, and our 10 questions to ask to capture a senior’s story gives you a head start on building that remembrance.
Ardith Stephanson is a freelance writer and journalist who shares some of her own stories at theardizan.com