How often have you heard someone lament about a lost relative whose stories died with them? It's human nature to think there will be time, but all too often people slip out of this life without their stories being recorded. Don't let this regret be part of your grief.
Depending on the age and health of your family member, stories may take time to recall. Set a regular appointment and sit down with your loved one. Start by asking a few questions to get them thinking. Do you remember Pearl Harbor? What is your youngest memory? Did you get along with your siblings as a child? What was your favorite meal when you were young? You may be surprised where a question like this can lead. By coming back to memory discussion regularly, stories will resurface. Your relative may begin to remember things they'd long forgotten.
With the permission of the relative, record the conversations. A video recording is nice, but may be uncomfortable to some people. Take a few minutes after each meeting to write down your thoughts about the time. Were there new things that came up? Where would you like to guide the next conversation?
Keep in mind that you are only there to guide. Let your relative tell you what's on their mind even if it means skipping around to a lot of different points in time. You can untangle the knots later. It's surprising how a treasure can come out of a conversation about an unrelated topic.
It's often helpful to sketch out a timeline. Start with the date of birth and end with present day leaving plenty of room in the middle. As you gather information, jot down references on the timeline. This will be a valuable tool when piecing together a lifetime of memories.
If you choose to compile what you've learned in written form, be sure to keep the voice of your family member clear. Listen to the way he or she expresses ideas and memories. Choose words that they would choose. When possible, write from dictation, adding information as needed.
Make this a commitment but not a burden. Time is often a huge factor in today's world. It's easy to allow other tasks to take priory, but this isn't something you should put off any longer. You won't regret the time you freely give to an older loved one.