8 Benefits of Writing Your Life Story

As a former columnist and current death doula, I get asked to write life stories a lot. Sometimes I hear from people who aren’t anywhere near getting ready to die. Nevertheless, they want their biography written ahead of time for their loved ones to read “someday.” Other times I hear from people who are dealing with a terminal diagnosis. They want their story to be a legacy project sooner rather than later. Either way, there are real and tangible benefits to writing your life story.

Write Your Life Story…Before Death

Let’s get into some of the reasons why you should write your life story or hire a professional to do it.

1. It’s a Mood Booster

A study conducted by palliative care expert Harvey Chochinov showed something amazing. Just a few 30-to-60-minute interviews about a person’s life significantly reduced both suffering and depression in dying people.

Specific questions from me, and subsequent discussions around important memories, help my dying clients talk about their experiences. As a result, they attain a sense of peace.

The discussion doesn’t have to be formal. It can often simply begin with, “Tell me about your life.”

2. Life Reviews Help People Come to Terms

Many folks in their late 60s and beyond experience a “summing up” phase of life. Re-examining decisions and events from the past is normal and healthy.

People also look back at major milestones differently as they age. They consider what seemed like a bad experience as something different, more beneficial, now. They value the lessons that came along with these experiences.

This shouldn’t be mistaken for “living in the past.” On the contrary, looking back with wisdom doesn’t have to take up too much time. Talking with someone about what they’ve learned is a way to savor good memories and appreciate bad ones.

It also helps others who might one day go through similar struggles.

To find meaning in what’s happened to us is a gift. This might be especially helpful if it leads my clients to make meaningful amends. Often they resolve outstanding issues and reconcile with important loved ones.

This desire to tell our life stories simply gets stronger as we get older. We feel more motivated to do this as we age. Elders tell stories and reminisce because they want to give back and share their knowledge with younger people.

young positive lady showing photos on smartphone to senior man while sitting at laptop

3. Younger Generations Better Understand Life

Writing your life story and leaving it behind as a legacy improves how younger people view older people. They hear an elder’s thoughts, experiences, and memories and find more meaning in life.

Older people, simply by sharing their hard-earned wisdom, help youngsters improve their problem-solving abilities. Youngsters also process grief in healthier ways. As a result, this increases their ability to provide emotional support for themselves and others.

Inter-generational conversations can be through an audio recording or the written word. Either way, it decreases depression and anxiety for both the storyteller and the listener/reader.

4. Technology Makes It Easy

My clients can now publish a printed book or post it on a website quite easily. It’s neither expensive nor time-consuming. Many families order just one or two beautifully designed and bound books to save for generations into the future.

Death doulas like me, or personal historians, also create audio or video histories as well. These can include songs and photographs with narration from loved ones.

5. It’s a Healthy, Social Activity

For my clients who feel willing and able, life story writing is a fun activity. For instance, we can do this with other people and increase all of our socializing time.

Some communities or libraries have writing groups. These workshops allow people to write their own stories in chunks or themes. Then they come together to share with peers what they’ve written.

These stories can also be turned into “ethical wills” or “legacy letters.” Loving testaments in which the older generation shares life experiences, family lore, and funny fables.

Some families also pair older relatives with younger ones. Elders answer pre-written questions and youngsters record the answers.

6. It’s a Gift of Love

Even critically ill clients can summon unimaginable energy to complete life reviews. That’s how vital and important it feels.

For example, an older person might have insight related to historical events. Then a younger relative finds these far-away events more relevant. Sharing with loved ones will immortalize this insight for generations to come.

7. It Helps Visitors

Visitors who sit with dying loved ones don’t always know what to say. For example, some feel uncomfortable sitting in silence. They would like to talk or discuss something meaningful. Others feel awkward and this fear might even keep them from visiting.

Life reviews or discussing/writing/recording a life story is a great way to increase the connection between a dying person and those around them. I will leave discussion prompts on post-its outside the bedroom for visitors to use and paper for them to write the answers to those prompts.

black and red typewriter

8. Writing Is Well-Received

Some people don’t want videotapes of their dying relatives. Families of patients who fought death for a long time or endured a long goodbye often make some effort to remove those images from their minds.

They want to remember their loved ones as healthy and strong.

When I write a life story rather than record it for a video, this can help ease memories. This is especially true if my clients are discussing earlier phases of their life.

A Priceless Gift

Putting words on paper, and formalizing your memories and experiences, has real value for your family and loved ones. You can even include them in the storytelling project. They can assist me when my client might have memory lapses.

Providing helpful material that includes old diaries, letters, and memories of their own makes them feel a part of this important and historical process.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to write your life story. Everyone has a tale to tell. If you want a professional’s help creating a biography to leave behind for loved ones, contact No Story Lost (use discount code ADS_2FreeBooks) or call me at Anitya Doula Services to get started today.

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