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A Lifetime of Stories


Each of us has wonderful stories inside of us, waiting to be told.  The older you are, the more stories you have.  The shame is that many of these stories will never be heard, their power to connect human beings and teach important lessons made impotent.  

Recently, my brother called me to ask for a favor.  His 90-something mother-in-law, who had been visiting from out of state, had just been moved to a local assisted living facility, within ten minutes of my house.  Hard of hearing, but perfectly lucid, she was recovering from a month-long episode of health issues.  Would I be willing to go visit her? 

Ellen and LulaI immediately said yes.  I had last seen Lula at Christmas, when my brother and sister-in-law hosted the family gathering. The photo to the left is of my niece with Lula at Christmas.

Lula loves to talk. And to tell stories. While my brother's family has likely heard most of Lula's stories over the years, I wondered what stories Lula holds inside of her that have never been told.

Enter a piece of paper that has been on my office counter for the last two years.  It's a list of questions from the book, Listening is an Act of Love, by Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, an oral history project started in 2003. The questions are intended to elicit meaningful stories, from ordinary people. 

A few of my favorites:

  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who was the most important person in your life?  Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What are you proudest of in your life?
  • How has your life been different from what you imagined?

How many times have I walked by that piece of paper over the last two years, waiting for the right moment to ask these questions?  I have found that engaging in the kind of poignant conversation that these questions can foster takes courage, especially if it's someone I'm close to. So…I've waited. Until now.

This week, I plan on visiting Lula.  I'll let you know how it goes.

P.S. StoryCorps has a comprehensive list of questions, categorized by topic, on their site. Click here to view.  Here's an example of the great work that StoryCorps has done over the years.


See more of their animated stories here.  (BTW–The organization was recently awarded a $1M MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Hooray for the power of stories!)

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  1. Ronald Gross on March 8, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    WONDERFUL, Carol! THANKS for your heart, your eloquence, and your generosity in sharing those gifts. You have re-inspired and guided us here, in our work on helping elders share their stories. Bless us all.

  2. carolross on March 8, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Glad you enjoyed it, Ronald. I appreciate your special passion for “creative aging”. My visit with Lula this week was even better than expected, as she shared with me her memories of growing up on a farm in a small Midwestern town. It made me realize how many changes she’s seen in her lifetime and how the simplest things–connecting with another human being–are timeless.

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