Reminisce with Loved Ones

We all have stories, however simple, that are a part of who we are. A family anecdote, a recipe we always bake or the quilt a loved one made. Our lives are defined by these stories, and sharing them with the next generation is vital.

Why share memories?

According to Erik Erikson's developmental theory, opens a new window, the final stages of our lives will feel most successful if we are able to share our wisdom with other people. During this period of life, it's important to remember our successes and reminisce with loved ones, opens a new window.

Reminiscing can also reduce feelings of loneliness and help resolve difficult memories. Family members and friends benefit from a wealth of stories and recollections that they might not otherwise hear.

How to begin

How can you invite a family member to reminisce with you? 

  • Consider what questions are important to you and plan to ask open-ended questions that can lead to a conversation.
  • Explain to your loved one why you want to reminisce. Make it clear that the conversation will be special to you and that you are interested in what they want to say.
  • Plan a time to talk to your loved one when there won't be distractions or other appointments.
  • If you're speaking in person, consider taking a photo album or family heirloom to talk about.
  • Start with easier questions, like where the person was born. Or talk about a memory you have of your loved one and invite them to reflect on that with you.
  • You can play a song that has special meaning to your loved one. Music sometimes triggers memories that might not otherwise come up.
  • Go with the flow. The conversation may go off topic, and that's fine.
  • Ask follow-up questions and remain engaged in the conversation. People want to feel heard.  

Topics for inspiration

If you need inspiration for some questions, consider these:

  • How did you meet your partner?
  • What is the most important historical event you've witnessed?
  • Tell me what you remember about being a kid.
  • What were your parents/other family members like?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What was your best family vacation?
  • Tell me about the first job you had.

There are so many questions you can ask, but be considerate of your loved one. If a question bothers them, skip to something else. If they bring up a tough topic, listen empathetically. There may be something they are ready to talk about and process but just haven't been given the space to yet. 

The stories our family members share can be an important part of our heritage, and the time to have those conversations can be limited. By reminiscing with your loved one you can benefit from their wisdom and have cherished stories to remember afterward.

Books for Further Exploration

If you would like to read more about family stories, oral histories or writing your personal story, check out these books:

How to Write Your Life Story and Leave a Legacy

Memoir as Medicine

Ties That Bind

People We Meet

I Thought My Father Was God

Just Kids from the Bronx

Hard Times

Those Who Saw the Sun