Elder Stories

           There is growing evidence that when an elder is welcomed to share his or her story, there are measurable healing effects. This is referred to as Reminiscence Therapy and it is gaining ground for helping with healing depression and building a sense of meaning and purpose for our elders. While most of the studies assert that this type of therapy is best used with elderly individuals suffering from dementia or other brain conditions, I believe that it does not need to be as confined to these groups as it currently is.

          Once at a Rehab hospital, I was sitting with an elderly woman who had lost most of her motor functioning due to a stroke. For a moment, I saw that she was distracted and looking off to her right. I turned and saw an individual who had obviously suffered a stroke or some kind of brain injury that left him stooped over, drooling, and seemingly unaware of who or where he was. She turned to me with great empathy for the man. With tears in her eyes, she struggled to form her lips into words. She was just beginning to gain back some of her ability to speak with the help of a speech therapist. Sitting in her wheelchair facing me, it took her several moments to form her mouth into the words she wanted to speak and I could tell that this took quite some effort. What she felt compelled to communicate to me after observing the other person’s plight, was “There but for the grace of God go I!”

             This woman, after having lost her ability to walk or speak easily, was not focusing on herself in a despairing manner. She was experiencing great compassion for a fellow human being and she was counting her blessings. I was moved to tears. She is yet another example of an elder who can teach us much about how to live.

            The late psychologist, Erik Erikson, in his model of psychosocial development, spoke about the last years of life as years that can lead to either despair or wisdom, depending on how one directs their attention.  There is much to learn from those who have lived long lives, with all of the sufferings and joys that a life contains.

          In families, the intergenerational bond grows stronger when we take time to share stories. My personal experience of having sat with my own parents during their final days and having received the gift of my father’s autobiography leads me to reflect on the power of stories to open the heart and to heal intergenerational wounds within families. I am often saddened by the lack of time and respect our culture as a whole gives to the elderly and their stories, when it is clear that throughout history, in all of the tribes, villages, and households of our ancestry, the sharing of elder’s stories has been a rich and valuable tradition.

          I believe that the sharing of stories can open the pathway to self-forgiveness and the forgiveness of others.  As a writer and researcher on forgiveness, I am considering elder storytelling as a particular type of forgiveness process within families, particularly when sacred time is set aside in a deliberate and formal way for this endeavor and when it is done in the natural environment.       

One Response to “Elder Stories”

  1. Juliet Rohde-Brown on 01 Jul 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you, Githa. I appreciate your acknowledgment. The process of forgiveness is full of nuances, isn’t it? Metta, Juliet

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