Larry McGee: Writing a Memoir is a Special Gift You Can Give Your Family

Larry McGee
Guest article by Larry McGee

I have a close friend who has been struggling with dementia. Not the kind that most of us past 70 experience, but the kind a doctor diagnoses. I hadn’t visited him in some time and decided to spend an afternoon with him.

We go back many years. We were in the same business and often, accompanied by our wives, traveled to national conventions in conjunction with our jobs. We had many stories to relate, and all of them were enjoyable. We shared pictures and memories of more than 30 years. When my wife died unexpectedly, my buddy was at my side and helped me through that difficult time. 

The need to hang on to memories
Now that he needs help, I feel helpless to assist. His dementia has increased to the point that he doesn’t understand that he needs help. I know that he recognizes me, but he can’t speak to me or call me by name. He will shake my hand and occasionally wink at me in a manner that I know he is trying to communicate. The most difficult thing about his illness is that there is no cure.

As I think about my friend, I see the need to hang on to him, if not in person, at least in good memories. His life as we all knew it is gone, and there will be no more fond memories to be made, and he can’t share with us anymore the memories that he holds dear about his life. They are gone, forever locked inside of him. That’s why a person needs to write a memoir. His children will want to know what dad held dear in his life, and they can’t ask him now.

A memory book for my wife
I felt this same need when my wife passed away. She of course had shared with me what events were important to her as we shared 37 years together. So after her death, I wrote for her a memory book complete with pictures and addressed a section to each of our grandchildren. I was sure that without such a memoir, grandma might be forgotten as they grew to adulthood. I don’t know if they occasionally read it today, but I am sure they will when they want to share with someone else who their grandmother was.

I haven’t written my memoir yet, but I intend to. Visiting my dear friend drives home the necessity to complete mine before I, too, find it impossible to do. The memoir doesn’t have to be lengthy and doesn’t have to include tidbits from childhood. It should however, be in your own words so that your loved ones can understand better who you were in real life. Even though we may live with loved ones for years, we seldom share with them our innermost thoughts. Surprisingly, many children have a different understanding of who their parents are than what the parents were hoping to exhibit.

Book, video, or audio
Some people feel incapable of writing a memoir. It doesn’t have to be a book and doesn’t have to be written. In this modern day of communication, the manner in which it is compiled is endless. Video and audio recordings would be even better to leave loved ones. Dictating to someone else to write would be OK, but loved ones want to read or hear a memoir in the first person.

What should I include? My advice is to include what you want your children and grandchildren to remember about you. Who you were growing up and what you became as a result of that upbringing. Share with your loved ones, not only thoughts, but pictures, videos, cards and letters that you accumulated over the years. There is no end to the imagination that you can put into your memoir. Happy creating!

Columnist Larry McGee writes "Fibber's Closet" for the Miami County Republic, Paola, Kansas. This article was first published in the newspaper November 9, 2011. Photo and article reprinted with permission.

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