Nearly every person you speak to when you start asking about family stories will have a story of lament. Their parents, an aunt, uncle, cousin or friend who should have written their life story. They just never got around to it or they might do it one day. Well, today is the day. This crisis has given us a perfect opportunity to record our own family histories and survive coronavirus by talking about family history.
We are at home. We really shouldn’t be going out unless we need essentials. If ever there was a time when we needed to “make time for our families” now is it. Let’s face it, we have nothing but time to sit it out and wait. Italy has shown us we don’t know when our moment will come and we should make our moments together precious even if it is on the phone.
Time can be found in lots of places. My mother interviewed her own father while they waited in the queue at hospitals and the doctor’s clinic. It passed the time but it brought two people who loved each other very much, even closer. He was a brilliant storyteller, funny, tender and insightful.
As nursing homes start limiting visitor numbers and hours, they are starting to turn to Skype and other video calls so elderly relatives can talk to their families. Now is the perfect time to stop filler questions like “what was for lunch” and talk about the things that matter. Their story is your heritage, part of who you are. You should know it.
A c0ronavirus is the excuse you have been waiting for
You can start it with something as simple as: “Dad, tell me about what it was like when …?” or “Do you remember when [insert pivotal moment] happened? Why did it happen like that?” And for the migrant story: “Why did you come here? Tell me about the journey? What did the home country look like before? What did you do for fun?”
You can almost sense the euphoria coming from people when they are asked about their own story. They get to talk about people and places in their prime, like when your mum met your dad or when they were little children.
The good news is that you can record Skype and FaceTime video calls and this gives you a good record to tell their story. Staff will almost certainly be helping aged care residents set up their calls.
Of course, you can do this on the phone too and there are apps that will let to record from your mobile. If you are well and have no temperature and are allowed to visit still, go in person and record from your phone. There are free apps that will allow you to record a chat in person.
Presenting their story and keeping it safe
But what to do with your chats? You can transcribe it into question and answer format yourself with all that time on your hands, or there are professional services that will transcribe your recordings for you. If you want to go further, there are professionals out there, found at professional storytellers association Life Stories Australia, who will turn your interviews into books, manuscripts, and video stories. If you have photographs and home videos they can be used too. It is a beautiful way to celebrate what’s great in life.
Many of us have been reminded of the fragility of life as this world tragedy unfolds and wondering if we will survive this coronavirus physically, financially and emotionally. Every day we see grief laid bare, praying it does not come this way to us. Finding out more about your relative’s life story is not done because this is the end of their story, it is the beginning of a closer relationship, a deeper understanding and greater empathy between you both. It is a way to connect and a way to say your time with me is special.
It is also only the beginning of the conversation as other relatives listen or read about their own heritage. They will begin to see them in a new, more vibrant way. It is a way of grandchildren knowing what to talk to Nonna about and for Nonna to let them know she was young like them once.