True, some people are born with a genetic disposition for buying the perfect gift…but most of us aren’t so lucky. We’re doomed to repeat the trek to the mall, wandering around the pricey perfume counters like nomads in a retail jungle or we venture off to Barnes & Noble, where, with a latte in hand, we peruse countless books, rejecting one after another unsure of mom’s literary predilections…will she really like it? Few things pass the test, because the truth of the matter is that in addition to not really wanting anything, Mom doesn’t really need anything. Yet the pressure mounts as we click our way through page after page of online bouquets, credit card in hand.
But there’s a way out of this annual ritual, a way to give your mother a present she’ll treasure forever because it doesn’t come from a store, it comes from your heart. And you can do it with a minimum of expense right in the comfort of her own living room.
The gift I’m talking about is taking the time to capture and preserve the story of her life – her childhood, marriage and family, career, achievements, what she fought for and what she believes in – in sum what makes her the incredibly special person that she is. Sharing her story celebrates and honors her life, and ensures that ten, twenty or even fifty years from now her life and legacy will not be forgotten. Another plus: she’ll very likely enjoy the journey. Research shows that reminiscing can be a therapeutic activity, especially in older adults, that is joyful and gives life new meaning.
This project requires a big shift in gears from daily life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the here and now – texts, tweets, Facebook, email, cell phone apps – that we tend to lose sight of the fact – and let’s face it, no one ever wants to think about this – our moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas won’t be around forever. Memories fade, things change. Know this, and move forward.
Here’s a few tips to help you get started. First talk to your mom and decide on format: a book, DVD or audio CD are some options. Books are my favorite because they’ve endured for centuries. Draft a list of interview questions and put some time into this, because the questions are important in shaping the story. An excellent resource for interview questions is Linda Spencer’s book, Legacy.
Schedule a time for the interviews. Two hours is a good length for one session, many life stories require four or more. Keep in mind this is a project you can work on for as long as you need to. (It can be next year’s present too!) The goal isn’t the finish line, the goal is to start the process.
Transcribe your interviews and print out a backup copy. Gather photos. If you’re doing a book, edit and organize the material but keep the narration in your mom’s voice. Blurb is a great online platform for life story books, or you can order custom books from a local book bindery. If you need help along the way, you can tap professional service providers through the Association of Personal Historians, www.personalhistorians.org.
So there you have it. No more chasing around, wandering down store aisles or web surfing looking for the perfect gift. This Mother’s Day, grab a digital recorder, put on a pot of coffee, pull up a comfy chair and have a long chat with Mom. You’ll never regret it and neither will she.
Linda Abbott is the owner of Never Forget Legacies & Tributes in Middleton, Wis.
In recent days, there has been a great deal of attention focused on the budgeting practices of University of Wisconsin System institutions and the reported billion dollar cash balance. Because each campus is different, I can only address the situation here at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.