Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why bother to journal?–part 7

The Family Journal

Time has a way of dulling even the most important memories of our lives.. We don’t intend to forget things, but ultimately we do.We can’t see the faces of loved ones who’ve passed away without a photograph to remind us. We can’t remember the everyday little things that used to give us so much pleasure – at least not until something triggers those memories. So here are some ideas to help keep those family memories safe.

  • Keep a daily diary of all the funny, important, memorable things from each day. When my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer's, I lived far enough away that I couldn’t visit her very often. I began to write down at least one story from that day to share with her the next time I visited – anything from funny things my children did to memorable sermon points. Sometimes I included photos so she could read and see the family since it helped her remember.

Remember Anne Frank? She left a permanent record of her family’s struggles in World War II in the pages of her diary – a slice of life during a difficult time which has helped countless children and adults remember the horrors of that time in history.

  • Interview parents while they are still here to get a good picture of what their lives were like and important lessons they learned, family traditions, stories, etc.

Too often we lose a valuable part of our heritage when family members die. Little things like their favorite foods and recipes are lost. How did they celebrate Christmas? What kind of games did they play? Where did they travel?

My father fought in World War II and has many photos of himself and his buddies standing outside his barracks in Hawaii, though he refused to talk about his experiences. The things I learned I had to piece together from his discharge papers and other small snippets of memorabilia I found after he passed away. Sites like help to fill in the blanks. but I still feel as though I lost some valuable insights into my family history.

  • Create scrapbooks with journaling of the family photos and the stories you collect. Include important papers like military discharge papers, old letters, photos, and other memorabilia you can find. One of the best pieces of memorabilia from my mother was an old autograph book with cute rhymes from her 10th grade schoolmates. 

Take some family time to go through the old family photos and write down who is in each one, the dates if possible and any memories the photo triggers. It will help to create a visual family tree of relatives long gone or ones you know little about. One of my mother;s relatives put together a genealogy of the family which dates back to  the 1700s when the family first arrived in the US. Around the early 1900s they began including photos as well which is a rich source of my Mennonite heritage.

My mother and father kept all the little remembrance cards from the funeral homes. For many of them i was able to piece together small snippets of memories about their lives and family connections.

  • Keep a record of family illnesses too. For example, I know almost every member of my dad’s family developed diabetes before they passed away. My mother’s family illnesses included arthritis, Alzheimer's and  some cancer. The information is important to pass on to my children and grandchildren.

  • In the days following the death of a loved one, write down all the memories that come to you – not only will it help you to grieve through their loss, it will give you some tangible memories to look back on later, memories that could fade and be lost over time.

As you sort through their things, save their diaries, writings and personal memorabilia that you find.  You may not have time or  the heart to go through it right away, but later on you will value it and be better able to judge what you want to keep.

I’m not sure why, but the older I get, the more important it becomes to me to  remember my family heritage and pass on those memories to my grandchildren.  While they are busy growing up and changing their world, I have slowed down and find myself trying to document the important things my generation changed. We need the energy and enthusiasm of youth along with the wisdom of age and creating a family journal can help keep it all in perspective – not to mention give the grandkids a fit of giggles when they look back at our funny hair styles and clothing. LOL!

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