When we connect to others on a deep level, we feel “heard” and understood. As a person ages, life can become lonely and connecting to others a more difficult feat. One way to connect to others as an older adult is through a memoir writing class or activity.
Given a piece of paper and pen, most people can put words onto paper without being a professional writer or grammar guru.
Jessica Ritchie facilitates writing groups for seniors. “Like any writer, older adults often have writer’s block. Or they don’t know where to begin and don’t believe they have anything important to say. A writing prompt is a great way to inspire ideas.” In a typical class, the facilitator will give the group a writing “prompt” like the following:
- My first home was…
- The day I met my husband…
- Where I’m from…
“Where I’m from is my favorite prompt. I read them the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon and then explain that we’re not just writing about locations. We’re writing about people, food, colors, nature, smells, etc.” After the participants write for ten minutes, they read their pieces aloud to the group. Being heard and understood is so important, Jessica will bring a microphone to amplify the quiet voices in the group. Participants often react with astonishment at the stories and poems that are read.
“Doris, I’ve known you for seven years and I never knew this about you!”
Writing stories and recording their life history to share with their grandchildren may motivate older adults to write. However, what often keeps them returning week after week is the opportunity to recall and share pieces of themselves. Through this sharing, incredible connections are made. Facilitators may differ in their approach, but their ultimate goal is to give each participant a voice. Some facilitators even include writing exercises to improve technique. For example, by explaining and demonstrating the idea of “show, don’t tell,” facilitators help the participants to express themselves in a more colorful and meaningful way.
Memoir writing is not about writing the linear story of our lives. It’s about picking moments in time and events that really define what we’re all about. Therefore, the writing can start anywhere and be about anything that we’re connected to. For older adults, it’s a great opportunity to relax and delve into their memory files to dig out some long lost experiences.
Memoir writing for older adults is not only therapeutic, but it also provides a means of connecting with other people on a deeper level. The resulting connections can help relieve loneliness and provide some level of personal fulfillment.