May 102017
 

In the hyper-awareness that comes with loss, quite a few bittersweet moments have embossed themselves on my heart and memory. Snapshots of love, grief, and faith, gathered over the last two weeks.

Sacred Bittersweet Moments

Our minds record touching, bittersweet moments more vividly than a camera could.

I thought the dearly departed would have enjoyed some of them, were he watching. Perhaps he was. My insights aren’t unique, I’m sure. Such bittersweet moments happen in families all the time. But I found comfort in writing them down. Considering them together, I realize that they tell a story that is as much about the departed as those he left behind.

I hope that by my sharing them, you’ll record a few of your own.

Sacred sounds

A pastor’s voice cracking, tears streaming down her face, as she pronounced, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Uttering the words, “His blood, shed for you,” siblings assume their father’s stewardship of the tiny church, assisting the pastor.

A granddaughter’s solo, poignant yet familiar, fills the space.

Throughout the tables crowded with people, white bread sandwiches and mayonnaise-based salads, laughter rings out in the midst of tears.

Intimate, Bittersweet Moments

The widow greets her recently widowed brother-in-law by her husband’s casket. Supported by cane and walker, their heads bend, foreheads resting against one another, tears flowing in shared loss. Others, turn tactfully away, granting them privacy in a crowd.

Ninety-two-year-old sister-in-law dips the bread in the chalice, intinction-style, then selects a communion cup of wine from the tray, taking it with her to her seat. Silent laughter through prayers and tears.

Grandchildren

Cousins hug. Standard distance that accompanies re-acquaintance dissolved in shared shock. Resolute. Wet-eyed. Comforting each other, laughing together, through the tears.

Six young adult grandchildren spread the funeral pall—symbol of the resurrection—over the casket together, with help from the six-year old great grandchild. Somber under their mantle as earthly evidence of his legacy of love and family.

Then, with the two youngest in the lead, the grandchildren move the casket to the chancel, ushering their beloved grandfather to the gates of heaven.

After the service, grandchildren slip flowers out of their gardner-grandfather’s funeral blanket, transferring them to their great-grandparents’ stone, giving homage to ancestors whose memories have faded, yet still transcend.

Great-grand child selecting yet another stone to grace with a flower, because it might make someone happy. Hugs, smiles and laughter through the tears.

Roles shifting

Widow, now matriarch, offers to pay for dinner. Grandchildren confer, then cough up tens and twenties. Provider becomes the protected.

Grandsons and their uncles, awkwardly making their way through the grass and grave markers, struggling with the weight of their burden. Carrying the load. Together.

Grandson occupies the driver’s seat, ready to chauffeur his grandmother to the grave-side service, accidentally pops the hood. Laughter, through our tears.

Afterwards

Café tables pulled together and food and beverages shared, loved ones sit, heads together in small groups, telling stories they’ve all told and heard before. Laughter through the tears.

Helpful offspring, stripping beds, not realizing their siblings had already done the same. Laughter, despite the heaviness of heart.

A solitary face in the window, waving goodbye.

His gifts of faith, family, storytelling, and laughter keep giving.

Your Turn:

Can you tell a story through the description of a few poignant or bittersweet moments? I’d love to see what you come up with.

Apr 042017
 

As a newly minted Legacy Republic consultant, I seized on the opportunity at RootsTech 2017 to get to know the company’s leadership better. Legacy Republic Logo (Disclosure: I’m a Legacy Maker or consultant. As such I receive financial compensation from orders placed through me or my personal Legacy Republic site. That said, I believe in Legacy Republic’s mission and services. They are the reason I joined.)

During Rootstech2016, Legacy Republic’s president Brian Knapp was busy unveiling their new Studio scanner, the 2nd place winner in the Innovator Summit.  This year, things were a little less hectic. However, Brian was no less enthusiastic about the company’s mission. In addition, he had time to explain Legacy Republic’s commitment to helping family historians tell stories.

View the interview below to hear more about how Legacy Republic helps family storytellers highlight the moments that matter.

Interview

Legacy Republic and Storytelling

Sharleen Reyes, the company’s VP of Marketing impressed me as well. She took time to sit with me and give me insight into how Legacy Republic translates their mission into a marketing strategy. Sharleen isn’t what my former life in international business would have lead me to expect out of a VP of Marketing.  She’s unpretentious, open to new ideas, and has a mile-wide creative streak.

She doesn’t believe in scare tactics.  Though it’s true that media is degrading, particularly VHS media, Legacy Republic frowns on scaring customers into getting every linear foot of video and film in the house digitized.  The mission is to get important memories out of closets and to share them with family.

Which is why, Sharleen explains, Legacy Republic prefers the person-to-person relationship model rather than a traditional sales force.  In fact, Legacy Republic trains their Legacy Makers to back away from “selling.” Instead, they are coached to simply help customers and trust that sales opportunities will develop organically—or not—out of trusted relationships.

Choosing the Moments that Matter

Which moments matter?

A case in point of posed versus un-posed photos. Of course, on the left is the question of why my mom would have cut my bangs so short before a formal portrait. However, the photo on the right portrays a more typical story of how my sister entertained herself sticking her finger in my ear. And why I didn’t seem to mind.

Sharleen and Brian gave a presentation at RootsTech on choosing those moments that matter.  In it, they stressed that the moments that matter are not necessarily the ones in which everyone wears in coordinated outfits and stands in front of an attractive backdrop. It might not even be the one with perfect focus and composition. Rather, they’re the ones that express a moment of personalities and relationships. The ones that give rise to stories. That’s a valuable takeaway for storytellers.

Your Turn:

There are stories lurking in your closets. Look back at media—still or film or video—and choose a couple of ones that have stories which flow from them.  Now go tell those stories!

Dec 192016
 

Taking a step back from stories Many times, taking a step back from stories allows us to truly understand them. Until we separate ourselves from events, we see them only through our own eyes. We know what happened, but we don’t know what it really means. We don’t realize all the implications.

Taking a step back can also help us see how our stories connect to each other and how they continue to influence our lives. Continue reading »

Oct 292016
 
First Lines of Ancestor stories

Photo Credit Wikipedia Commons

It’s hard to know where to start writing your ancestor stories. Sometimes it helps to look at potential stories  from different perspective.  Instead of looking at the plethora of facts and deciding what to write, look at the following first lines for story ideas.

Which relative or ancestor do they remind you of?  What stories could you tell about them? Choose a few prompts and try writing a vignette or two.  If you were born before 1950, many of these will also work for your own memories. Continue reading »

Sep 072016
 
Teachers who made a difference picture of teacher

Do you remember a few names of teachers who made a difference in your life?

Remember the excitement of back-to-school? Getting your teacher assignments, supplies, figuring out if your best buddies were in the same class as you? Wondering if you’d like the teacher? Years (decades) later, we remember a few of those teachers who made a difference. For good or for bad.

That’s a universal experience. It bonds us—just like the memory of the smell of mimeograph paper and the feel of the paper-bag book covers for those of us that went to school in the 60s and 70s. Continue reading »

Jul 212016
 
Reunions are stories of family

Relatives, In-laws, or friends, reunions are a great place to restore relationships and recover faded memories.

Until last weekend, I had forgotten how poignant reunions can be. Whether it’s family, school, or something else, reunions allow you to reconnect with the past. Not only are they great places to re-color some of those faded memories, they refresh the soul. Continue reading »

Jul 082016
 
Invisible illnesses and daily pills

Chronic and invisible illnesses can separate from family members that need to hear our stories

If you’re like me, chronic and invisible illnesses come towards the bottom of the list of things you’d like to write about yourself. It’s not just immersing yourself in the negativity. Although the term “invisible illness” applies “to any medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others,” according to Social Work Today, some illnesses (heart disease, cancer) seem to generate support from loved ones, while others leave sufferers socially isolated.

Many with invisible illnesses frequently encounter people who, although they’ve never had a license to practice medicine feel beholden to second guess other people’s health status or dispense dismissive medical advice. Continue reading »

Jun 272016
 
Silver linings behind broken hearts

Are there silver linings behind the heart-break in your family stories?

Last week, however, a friend showed me how to look for silver linings.

The news is often disturbing, but in the last couple of weeks the horrors that some people will inflict on others makes me want to run and hide. Only I don’t know where I’d go. Continue reading »

May 272016
 
What else have you lost quote by Havelock Ellis

What else have you lost? How did that loss teach the fine art of living?

Grief often rears its dark, draining head, not just when someone dies.  The onset of many life crises is the loss of something. A relationship, a value, a sense of purpose.  We’ve all experienced a loss of a pet or cherished object (See Writing Your Lost and Found Story.) But what else have you lost during your lifetime?

Loss of a Relationship, Sense of Identity

A loss of a relationship can also entail a loss of an identity. Our worldview changes when life chooses to make an illegal U-turn.

Recently, a friend of mine when through a time of anguish that makes me feel neurotic grieving over my perfectly normal empty nest. Her 20-year-old daughter disappeared from a rehab facility in a major city many hours away from home. For two eternally long months, there was no sign of her child.

Finally, by chance, driving along a major thoroughfare in her own city, she spotted her daughter. The reunion was also a moment of heartbreak. My friend has a hard time talking about it. Though she temporarily located her daughter, my friend’s world had shifted on its axis. In addition to missing her daughter’s physical presence in her home—in her life, the shroud of adulthood that her daughter now possesses limits her ability to help her child who suffers from mental illness and addiction.

When have you had to make peace with a new version of “normal”? A divorce, job loss, or career change can also spark feeling of a loss of identity. How did you right yourself? How did you regain your sense of self? These make great stories, stories with the power to connect across generations.

Innocence Lost

Another friend tells of her pre-teen loss of innocence. The Oakland County child killer and the panic he instilled in the entire Detroit metro area robbed her and her friends of carefree afternoons, riding bikes to each other’s houses. Of going out to play out from under the anxious, watchful eyes of their parents. The bubble of invincibility that buffets children against the horrors of the adult world popped. In its place came an imagination that ran rampant. It colored not only her own development, but the eventual choices she would make as a parent.

Loss of Physical Ability, Memory

There are things that our mortal, frailer-than-we’d-like-to-admit bodies cheat us out of as well. They betray our still active minds by refusing to work, or at least work as well as we’d like. They force us to fight disease instead of those life battles we want to mount.

Perhaps you’ve had to bear helpless witness as a particularly cruel disease causes a family member to misplace memories, even their sanity. Past moments, even the recognition of loved ones, fade into oblivion. Consider writing about these moments of heartache; they tell stories of love and devotion.

What else have you lost?

Along the road, whether by virtue of physical maladies or of the life sh** that happens, we lose things. Intangible things. Confidence. Independence. Hope. Faith. Courage. Our groove.

Don’t you think these moments are important to share? What would you want your loved ones, especially those of future generations, to take away from your story? Of course, they’ll be touched by your loss, but they can also learn from your healing or your renewed perspective. Perhaps they’ll even discover that resilience isn’t inborn, but something that can be gathered along the way, even on the roughest, dirtiest roads.

Havelock Ellis is quoted as saying, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Let your loved ones know how you did that.

May 132016
 
Lost and found story- letters spelling out Lost

What’s your lost and found story. (Letter images by Leo Reynolds. https://is.gd/LU27zB)

“How could we have lost something so precious?” my friend lamented to her husband. Dusk approached. She, her husband, and various friends had searched throughout much of the previous night and all that day for their elderly little dog that had wandered off.  Their story is still unconcluded and it’s hard to watch it unfold.  But it made me think. We all have at least one major lost and found story.

Perhaps it’s a lost object that still sticks in your craw. Perhaps you’ve had an experience analogous to the finding the prodigal son.

Writing about things lost and found

Whether there’s a happy ending or not, stories of things lost or lost and found make compelling narratives.  In fact, such stories are easy to find all over the Internet.

Most of us have been there. For instance, there was the 10 minutes during which my then 5-year old was missing at the Salt Lake City airport. I can still remember the panic I felt and the way that I wanted to strangle the slow-to-take-it seriously airport security guard.

Elements of your lost and found story:

1. What went missing? (duh)
Object, person, pet, or other.  It may have simply disappeared or was stolen.  Wallet, military metal, vacation or wedding pictures all come to mind, but you can take a creative twist on this topic.  One example is Kannaki’s “My Mother’s Shoes.”

2. Why did it matter to you?
This could be obvious, such as in the case of a five year-old, but it isn’t always. Perhaps the crucifix that went missing had been passed down from your grandmother, a life-long devoted Catholic. Perhaps it had brought you comfort on numerous occasions.

3. How did you discover it (he or she) was missing?

4. How did you feel about it at the time? What was your state of mind?
In the case of my friend, her word choices are telling.  The rest of us consider her little dog as “gone missing.” We use a blameless phrase. Repeatedly, I’ve heard her say, “I lost my little dog.” She’s shouldering the responsibility, way more than she should.  What happened in your story? Did you feel responsible? Victimized?

5. What measures did you take? Posters? Letters? Flyers? A reward?

6. Who helped you search? Were they actually helpful?
I can’t help remembering that security guard blithely pointing out every young boy in plain sight.  “Is that him?”  “What about that child?”  Me nearly yelling, “Get on your radio!  None of these children are wearing a dark blue shirt with a rhino on it!”

7. How did the story turn out?
Of course you have to of the outcome. But that doesn’t have to be the way the story ends.  Instead, you can talk about silver linings, what you learned, any insight that might be applicable to the rest of your life.

8. How do you feel looking back?
We can often reconcile ourselves to events only after time has passed.  For instance, after my parents died, my sister and I were never able to locate my father’s wedding ring, which he kept on his key-chain.  It used to keep me up at night, wondering what clever hiding place he thought he’d found shortly before he took his trip. But over time, hope has diminished. After all, it was a material thing. I’ve made an uneasy peace with the loss.  What about you?

Your Turn:

What your lost and found story? How have you told it? How have you shared it?