Family History: A Comforting Bond for Caregivers and the Elderly
By Kerry Smith
Caring for elderly parents can be emotionally draining. I live two hours from them, and it’s recently been very taxing for me to help with arrangements for their care. As I have prayed for solutions and the ability to trust Heavenly Father’s plan for each of them, I have been inspired to consider sharing bits of family history with them as a method for all of us to ponder on blessings and fond memories.
I know I’m not the only one who has an elderly parent or grandparent who is struggling with health-related issues. Those challenges can be a constant worry, but worrying doesn’t change the outcome. Instead, we need other things to focus on. It’s good for caretakers and elderly loved ones to have ways to reminisce and find comfort during an otherwise stressful time.
Here are a few ideas that might help redirect focus and provide joy:
- Family photos. Now is the time to treasure your family albums if you have them. Dig out photos from the past. Talk about them. You’ll be amazed at what different family members recall from each experience. If you don’t have stories and information written down, please do so. Record them in a caption below the photo or add an archival label on the back of each photo with your written description.
- Favorite things. You might think you know your mom’s favorite color, but do you? Make a list of things your parents enjoy or used to enjoy. Ask them. As they think of their favorite things, encourage them to tell stories and enjoy the conversation. Write or record thoughts down if they haven’t been recorded previously. Continue with other list ideas such as proudest moments, greatest joys, fondest memories, and more.
- Spotlight ancestors. You can make this into a fun game or book for your loved one to review as often as they’d like. If your loved one has dementia, this is especially helpful for them and can include pictures of current family members. Make simple bio sheets with pictures on standard paper sizes or trim them to the size of large cards that are easy to read. Laminate for durability.
- Let them repeat. It’s okay if your loved one repeats the same stories. Ask them additional questions and see if they add new information you don’t already know.
- Decorate with family photos and mementos. We recently gave my mother a blanket with family pictures printed on it. She absolutely loves it and shows it to everyone. It’s large enough that she can see it easily, and it brings her joy to look at it. She doesn’t even wrap herself up in it. She has it draped over a banister. We’ll make her more so she can snuggle in some..
- Compile their life history. Last year I had the privilege of interviewing a beloved aunt and writing her life story. I found a set of questions online but tossed about half of them, personalizing the questions I knew she’d relate to best. I also gathered family photos and scanned them with a phone app. I organized her information, wrote the story in an interesting way, had her verify accuracy, and designed the scrapbook with an online program, combining text and images. It’s a beautiful representation of her life and a gift she truly treasures.
- Research. If your loved one is able to use a computer, encourage them to visit sites like FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com. For those who would like to learn, it’s a great outing to visit a family history center if there’s one nearby. The experience offers learning skills, a bit of socialization, and the comforting feelings of the Spirit as the work is taking place.
- Cemetery visits. As hallowed places, cemeteries can be beautiful places to visit. Our elderly loved ones may already be visiting them. If they’d like to add to the experience, you can help them check to see if gravestone pictures are downloaded to apps like Billion Graves and Find a Grave, which are used in family history research worldwide. You can also ping gravesites so the exact GPS location is recorded.
- Share a family recipe. Our family has a few cookbooks we’ve compiled over the years. Food is an important part of our family gatherings, and we have favorite dishes that hold a lot of fond memories when we make and enjoy them.
- Ask about loved ones. Especially as your loved one nears the end of their life journey, it’s comforting to know more about the family, friends, and pets they’re excited to see again. During a particularly intense moment with my mom recently, I asked her if she was excited to see her mom, who died when she was only three. She immediately had the sweetest look come over her face as she expressed her anticipated joy at being reunited with her beloved mother again. She continued to share about her father too, whom she also misses dearly. We believe my mother still has part of her journey to live, but it’s comforting to my sister, brother, and I that she is looking forward to a very special reunion.
Kerry Griffin Smith enjoys uplifting those around her. She was a writer and editor for the former Ensign Magazine. You can find her sharing impactful, clean books in her online book club group. Feel free to join.
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