Sharing memories (sometimes called life review or reminiscence) helps
older adults relive past events in their lives. By sharing memories, older
adults can explore their thoughts and feelings about the past. They can put
their past experiences in perspective with what is happening to them in the
present or what is expected to happen in the future.
Usually it is easy to start a conversation with someone about past
events in his or her life. Sometimes older people say they don't remember much
about their past. They may also say that what happened to them is not
important, because they don't want to bore someone else with their memories.
You may need to encourage an older person and let him or her know that you are
genuinely interested in hearing about his or her life.
Your best-selling book The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles your grief
following the loss of your husband, John. What surprised you most about
I did not expect the degree of derangement-both physiological and mental. An
example of the latter: Two weeks after John died, when I filled out a hospital
form for the autopsy report, I gave not my own address but that of an apartment
in which we had lived for the first four or five months of our marriage, in
When people start talking about their past, they often remember more
and more experiences. After the person starts talking, there may be little left
to do except encourage him or her to explain things in more detail or to ask
questions about specific events or people.
To encourage an older adult to talk about the past:
Show your interest in the person by sitting in a
relaxed manner, looking at the person, and nodding your head often. This lets
the person know that you want to and have time to listen.
Ask for a
story. Use an open-ended statement to encourage the person to share a story.
You can say, "Tell me what it was like when you went to high school (first got
married, started your family, started your business)." Using the words "tell
me" lets the person know that you want to hear a story.
clarification about things you don't understand. "I don't understand what you
mean. Can you tell me more about that?"
Show that you are following
the conversation by summarizing what the other person has just told you. You
might say something like, "So, after high school you and Amy got married, but
you didn't live together because she was taking care of her mother and you were
needed on the farm."
Ask how the person feels about the subject
under discussion. For example, if the person has described a snowstorm that
occurred when he or she was 10 years old, you might ask, "Were you afraid when
it snowed for 4 days and you were without electricity?"
Try not to
ask questions that require only a one-word answer such as "yes" or "no."
Sharing memories and stories about past events may cause some anxiety
or sadness for the person who is grieving. If you notice that an older adult
looks anxious or sad, mention this and ask if he or she wants to continue with
the story. Most of the time, experiencing an emotion helps the person who is