There are photos and videos that capture certain moments. Birthdays. Anniversaries. The everyday. There are stories that get retold to every generation. But largely when a family member dies, their stories die with them.
This holiday season a beautiful gift you can give to a loved one is a glimpse into your personal history. Because that history also is a history of them. Because photos rarely capture the thoughts we were thinking, the emotions we were feeling.
You can write your stories in a new journal and then give that to your loved one. You could type them in Word, print out the pages and bind them, creating a mini book. Or maybe you’d like to reflect and learn more about who you are, but keep the stories to yourself for now.
Sometimes, you might not know what to write or where to start. Below you’ll find select prompts and questions from Linda Spence’s book Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History. If they feel intimidating or overwhelming, too, simply start with how you’re feeling right now, in this very moment.
- What are your earliest memories?
- Picture your childhood home. Picture you’re standing at the front door, push it open, and start walking slowly through the house. What do you see? What was your favorite place to be? What did you do when you were home alone?
- Write about a special gift you received or gave.
- Who were your heroes as a child?
- Picture your teenage years. Picture walking through the doors of your school. What and who do you hear and see? What is the first feeling you have? As you walk into the rooms you were in, what memories come to mind?
- What was most important to you as a teen?
- Describe an event or time that was exciting to you as a teen.
- Describe the most difficult parts of your teenage years. What or who helped you cope?
- Write about the significant milestones in your career and personal life in your 20s and 30s.
- Write about your real (and fantasy) loves.
- What did you like to do in your free time as a young adult?
- Write about an eye-opening experience.
- Write about what you were grateful for as a young adult.
- If you got married, what led to your marriage? What doubts did you have?
- Describe your partner when you got married.
- What was a typical day like in your first year of marriage?
- Write about some of the wonderful times you had together.
- If you got divorced, what contributed to it?
- What did you learn about yourself during your divorce? How have you changed?
- If your partner passed away, how did your beliefs affect how you coped?
- If your partner passed away, what feelings took you by surprise?
- Write about the stages of grieving you experienced.
- Write about what you’ve discovered about yourself after losing your partner. How have you changed?
- If you’re a parent, what surprised you early on?
- What did you most want to be or do as a mother or father?
- How did your relationship with your spouse change when you had your first child?
- Describe in detail what you liked to do with your child when they were a toddler, school-aged and a teen.
- Write about the times from your kids’ childhoods that you enjoy remembering.
- Describe an ordinary weekday in your 40s and one in your 50s.
- Describe the best times during these years.
- Write about the years that were a time of: daring; strength; creativity; passion; growth.
- How has your view of your parents evolved throughout the years? What has surprised or impressed you?
- What big lessons did you learn from your parents?
- What do you think they learned from you?
- So far, what have been the happiest times of your life?
Writing down your stories preserves your personal history. It helps your stories live on. And it gives your loved ones a page of their own histories, too.