Read an Excerpt
Touching Tomorrow: Moving the Legacy Forward
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family, whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
-- Jane Howard
Congratulations! You are about to create a legacy of memories for your family and friends. I've designed this book to show you, step-by-step, how to interview your loved ones and audio- or videotape the conversation, resulting in a treasured family heirloom. It is very easy to do; however, it does take some preparation. But remember this: the efforts you give now will enrich the lives of generations to come. No tangible gift could be more valuable.
YOUR FAMILY'S GREATEST GIFT
In writing this book, I surveyed hundreds of people about the questions they wanted to ask their parents or grandparents. Not one person turned me down! Everyone, it seemed, had unanswered questions. What were their parents' earliest recollections? What were they like as teenagers? What was their greatest accomplishment? What single event taught them an important lesson? What made their marriage work?
Robert Akeret, author of Family Tales, Family Wisdom, wrote that he, too, has never met a person who did not want to know more about his parents' and grandparents' lives. He said, "Wanting to understand who our parents really are, wanting to grasp the whole sweep of their lives, from childhood to old age, is a fundamental curiosity. And for very good reason. Because we know intuitively that what shaped their lives has shaped our lives, too."
The questions people sent me illustrated the richness of family history. "Grandma, what was it like to be a picture bride?" "What was life like during the Great Depression?" "What was it like being at home while the men were away at war?"
One of my mentors, Lou Heckler, sent me a particularly interesting question. He asked, "What is the greatest gift a family can give itself?" The question haunted me. I wanted the answer. For certainly whatever it was, I wanted my family to have it.
My obvious answer was love. But not all families love each other, I reasoned, at least not all the time. So if love wasn't the answer, what was it? Why is it true that whoever you are, and whether you love them or not, you need a family? Psychologists would tell us the family fills our most basic need: to belong -- to feel a connection to others. And that, I believe, is the greatest gift a family can give itself -- a sense of belonging, a sense of knowing who our family is.
When I went to my ninety-six-year-old grandmother's funeral, the church was packed with people, most of us related in some way. I was overwhelmed with the sense of family that enveloped me. I realized that Grandma Schulte had offered us the greatest gift a family can give itself. We all belonged to her and to each other.
Modern times can strain our sense of belonging. Television, voice mail, faxes, e-mail, and the World Wide Web -- we could live much of our lives without any human connection. Our mobile society, divorce and remarriage, and the changing economic times complicate our lives and only amplify our need for family ties.
In "the good ole days" families spent hours listening to their elders tell stories, passing family history and wisdom to the next generation. Critics charge that television and the Web have silenced many families. But we can use this technology now to bring families together again. Imagine watching your parents or grandparents star in their own show, sharing their special feelings and memories with those they love, right on your own TV or Web site!
IT'S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
We all want more balanced lives. We have been managing, organizing, delegating, simplifying, and juggling until we are black and blue. For many of us these strategies have disconnected us from those we love and how we really want our lives to be. In our zeal "to get it all done" we have ignored sources of wisdom that are right in front of us. My life's work is summed up in the sentence: Connection creates balance. In my first book, Stop Screaming at the Microwave! How to Connect Your Disconnected Life, I wrote about specific strategies to stay connected with yourself, your family and friends, and your spirituality. I related stories about the incredible connections I created in my own family by videotaping interviews with my parents and in-laws. I received a flood of letters. "How can I do this project for my family? What questions do I ask? How do I master the videotaping or audiotape recording? What will it cost? Please send help -- now!"
This book is the answer to those letters. I believe that you will find more balance in your life by doing this project than any fancy Day-Timer will ever give you. You will rediscover old connections and create new ones. You will feel good.
And feeling good is what life balance is all about.
I am passionate about helping you create a way to move your family's legacy forward because I have experienced firsthand, with my own family, how much it can change your life. So many people have written to me to say, "You are right! Our family does feel like we have touched tomorrow." How does this work?
Tomorrow you will be closer to your loved ones because of what you discover.
Tomorrow you will use that knowledge to be a better daughter, son, parent, grandparent, relative, or friend.
Tomorrow you will understand who you are just a little bit better.
Tomorrow you will feel a deeper respect and forgive and forget more easily.
Tomorrow your elder will feel honored that you cared enough to ask.
Tomorrow you will comfort yourself by reliving the memories long after your loved one is gone.
Tomorrow you will share your loved one's wisdom with generations to come.
And tomorrow those generations will pass it down as well.
Lillian Lindner, the mother of a friend of mine, wrote a beautiful piece called "Lillian's Laws for Living," a simple bit of wisdom that so moved me that I asked her permission to publish it in Stop Screaming at the Microwave! She penned her ideas as a way to move her own legacy forward. After Lillian's death her daughter, Jaye Lunsford, wrote to me to say how much it meant to her mother that her ideas were published. She said, "I think we all want to leave a tangible gift behind. My mother told all the doctors and nurses about her inclusion in your book. I know it made her dying a little easier to know that her words would live on." I was thrilled to learn that Lillian and I had joined forces so that she could touch tomorrow.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
I designed this book to be used by both the interviewer and the interviewee. I have carefully crafted The Interview (page 87), printed in large typed text on easy-to-photocopy pages so each family member can participate. The Interview includes a series of questions that will cover each stage of life as well as some specially selected questions to help you capture the essence of who your loved one really is. I also encourage you to customize the questions for your family member. You may select from the list of additional questions that I have provided or create your own. For example, I asked my father where he was and how he felt on VJ Day. I asked my stylish mother about her favorite outfit. You may also ask the interviewee and other family members and friends for questions. I gave my list of questions to my parents and asked them to circle or cross out their preferences. I was surprised and pleased with the questions they really wanted to answer.
While many of the questions will evoke serious and heartfelt responses, don't forget to be playful. I asked both my parents what "naughty" things they had done as teenagers. They delighted in recalling their mischievous antics. (My mother locked the high school principal out on the balcony!) In my question survey, one respondent wrote that he would ask his father, "Dad, will you tell us about the time you streaked through that hardware store?" If this is true for your relative, be sure to ask!
The number of questions is not important, but do try to cover all of life's stages. To help with the recall, I suggest you give this book to your relative (or make a photocopy of the questions), one to two weeks before the scheduled interview so they can review the questions and begin reminiscing. Before the interview, discuss the questions you'll ask. Then use this book as your tool for planning and executing the interview. You can use The Interview just as it is written or write your own choices on the lines provided for you on each page. It is also helpful to use those lines to write yourself notes. For example, I wrote "Dad's first bicycle" by the question asking for childhood memories. Be sure to include your notes on the photocopy of the interview questions you give your relative.
The book is divided into six parts:
PART ONE: OVERCOMING RESISTANCE
What to do when the wall goes up. You'll learn ways to "sell" the idea to reluctant loved ones, making it easy for them to say yes.
PART TWO: TELLING THE TALES AND CAPTURING THE WISDOM
How to conduct a fun-filled, heartwarming interview. You'll get valuable ideas on how to help your loved one recall a rich treasure of memories. You will unlock the door to the values, the opinions, and the wisdom built through years of real-life experiences.
PART THREE: RECORDING THE JOURNEY
Videotaping and audiotape recording tips, editing ideas, and cost considerations. This section is the nuts and bolts of how to make your family heirloom a reality, chock-full of practical ideas that will delight and reassure you.
PART FOUR: RECALLING A LIFE
The time-tested interview with questions that will result in a video or audiotape that will delight the whole family, including the interviewee. The questions are designed to give your loved ones an opportunity to reflect on their lives and the lives of those they love. Just ask the questions and wait to be amazed.
Part Five: Making It Uniquely Your Own
An array of thought-provoking questions that you can use to customize your interview. Your family is one of a kind. Select from one hundred sixty additional questions to make your interview reflect your family's uniqueness or use them to stimulate your own questions. Your loved one can review the questions and select those that seem fitting. You may be very surprised at what they choose. You will find questions that will lead you into areas you may have never before discussed with your relatives.
Part Six: Creating a Living Link
The hidden benefits of this project, today and tomorrow.
Although the focus is on the end product, you may be thrilled with all the additional benefits that many families have gained through the process. Your family's children, teens, and adults deserve to hear what your elders have to say about life's most important issues -- work, love, parenthood, community, regrets, and rewards. It's something they can't learn anywhere else. You will be amazed at the new connections that are created.
Woven throughout the book you will find two additional features: Variation boxes, detailing innovative ways to take these ideas in a new direction; and In Real Life boxes, letters from people who have completed their interviews and wanted to inspire and encourage you with their experience.
It is my hope that this book will make interviewing your loved one fun and easy, and that it will give you laughter and tears, insight, and wisdom. But most of all, I hope it gives you and yours the greatest gift a family can give itself -- that wonderful, irreplaceable, all-encompassing sense of belonging.
You will feel like you are touching tomorrow.
Copyright © 2000 by Mary LoVerde