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"Don’t Wait Any Longer to Learn About Your Elders"

Joanna Riquett is an avid LifeTales user — even volunteering to write a few blog posts on our site based on her LifeTales experience.

She recently started doing a memoir for her grandmother and wanted to tell us about it.

We thought this conversation might be of interest to you — especially if you're one of the vast majority who are "waiting until I have some time" or waiting for someone else to do it.

Joanna's most important point: "Do it now! You never know how much time is left."

How often do you talk to or see your Grandma? 

I’m a 33-year-old woman, currently without children, living in Mexico. My grandma is 78 and lives in Colombia. We have very few opportunities to see each other in real life, so I make sure I talk with her by phone every week. It's usually just everyday chit chat, like "How are you?" and "What's new?". But I do like to stay in touch. She's all alone and I know she feels great when I call. It's a highlight of her day!

Why do her memoir now?

We keep pushing important matters to later … and that day never seems to come. For example, being close to your family, getting to know your elders’ stories, passing them down through generations. They're all the things that makes your lineage so interesting and special, perhaps only to your family — but they're really interesting to family — even, I think, to the children I'll have some day!

This is especially true when the older members of your family are reaching the end of their lives. Yes, yes, we don’t like to think about these things, but if we don’t, what kinds of things will we have missed doing with them, talking and learning about their lives, and/or acting so their memories are preserved?

I started thinking about this before the coronavirus pandemic. But now, with the virus affecting older people so seriously, I started to explore ideas.

When I started doing my Grandma’s memoir, I was just doing it to test how LifeTales worked. But I’m so grateful I did that because it got me thinking even more deeply about what's important — especially today, living in a time when a virus is killing seniors at an alarming rate. Though you never want to be a pessimist, you do have to be realistic. I decided there was no better time than now — especially while Grandma is still healthy.

What did your Grandmother think about it?

At first she was hesitant. But very quickly, she really got into it. Who doesn't want to talk about themselves, especially to a willing audience like her granddaughter!

What did you learn that surprised you?

I'm so glad I started doing this. Had it not it been for starting to create her memoir, I wouldn’t have thought about how important this time has been with her, not only because I’m getting to know her — I've learned of things I never knew — but also because we’ve spent hours chatting about her life, which makes us both feel great! I have recorded her on video, I have lots of pictures, lots of stories. I have even learned things about myself. We're just getting started and I already feel that we are together apart.

In the future, if anything happens to her or me, the time we’ve shared is so valuable and precious and will be an amazing memory. Doing her memoir brought us so much closer together.

What advice would you give someone who has thought about doing a parent's or grandparent's memoir but never seems to get started?

Do it now!: I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that the present must be continually sacrificed for the future. In fact, it’s likely somewhat of an epidemic amongst young professionals like me. Hustle today to enjoy tomorrow, ad infinitum, because the rest can wait and we have time anyway.

But what good is all that if we miss the most essential things in life while we're doing that? There are so many stories of people only realizing how little they knew about their parents and grandparents after they're gone. Inevitably, they feel sad about not having spent more time with them. But by then it's too late. They're gone … and they're left with regrets. I didn't want that to happen to me.

Get to know your family. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the memories and it’s easy to do when you have the technology to help you. 

But it's amazing how quickly time can fly by as you wait for the perfect moment. Don't wait until it's too late — listen to the Nike ad and "Just do it!"

One short story at a time:  I initially made the mistake of overdoing it! I started with big objectives and long phone calls. But I quickly learned that can be exhausting —  it also became a chore to edit the video later.

I learned it's much better to build her life story bit by bit, just one story at a time — and do it every week. So on each call, after our initial chit chat, I'll ask her just one question about her past or about her experience — like "What would you have done differently?". Then we might brainstorm about what we'll talk about in future weeks. After that, it's a breeze — trim the video, maybe add some pictures Grandma sends later and I'm done!

Don't overplan: Another thing that slowed me down initially — I thought I had to plan it out, like you would when you write a book. But with LifeTales, we just pick any topic from any time in her life, and just add a date and the right tag. Everything  gets sorted automatically.

So yet another thing that slowed me down — analysis paralysis — was overcome.

Thank you Joanna for these insights. We hope this serves as inspiration for everyone else. If you’re ready to try it out, sign up to LifeTales now: 

And if you're interested in sharing your story with other LifeTalers, we'd love to hear from you!

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