Thursday, April 3, 2014

Your memoir: Writing about the really tough stuff

Lately we’ve been writing vignettes about old age. Such stories can offer some of your most important messages to your kids, grandkids, and future generations.

  • Humor connects your readers with you,
  • when you make them laugh, or at least chuckle, they enjoy you,
  • they might even think you’re an OK person despite your antiquarianishness,
  • can lead your readers to accept you—or maybe even like you—and that’s important because:
  • establishing rapport lets you address the tough stuff with them later.

In other words, it can “give you greater access to their hearts.” (Chuck Swindoll)

(Don’t miss Like a sneak attack. Starting with humor is one of the most effective, powerful techniques a memoirist can use.) 

Today, let’s think about that tough stuff, the sensitive issues, the difficult but important topics.

For example:

How do you want people to care for your loved ones in their old age?

How do you want people to treat you when you’re old and feeble?

Stories could impact the way you and your loved ones are treated in old age.

Take this story, for example:

The Wooden Bowl

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated.

“We must do something about Grandfather,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating and food on the floor.” So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?”

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what had to be done.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family.

And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

That is one version of an ancient folktale told in many cultures since around 1535.

Did it pierce your heart? It did mine.

Being elderly is often humiliating: feeble feet, unsteady hands, wispy voice, mixed-up memory, bungled hearing, blurred sight.  Being elderly is to be weak and vulnerable and insecure 24/7. 

Elder abuse, or at least insensitivity, has occurred for centuries. The stories you tell your kids and grandkids and great-grands can bring a halt to such neglect and hurt.  They can help keep elders' dignity intact.

As you compile your memoir, remember: You don't need to write of only your first-hand experiences. I've included "The Wooden Bowl" in stories for my grandchildren. You can, too.

Such stories are important. They can touch minds and hearts, restore humanity, inspire gentleness.

Stories can right wrongs. 

Stores can help all of us face the unknown of growing old and frail.

The stories you include in your memoir could change the way your readers view old age and old people and you. Maybe they'll realize that they, too, will someday become aged and wobbly.

Your stories could make someone's life, maybe even yours, better than it might have been.

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment