Sunday, December 7, 2014

In Memory of Pearl Harbor - Breaking the Silence Barrier

Today's special guest is Mary Anne Benedetto, the author of five books, including 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!  A speaker, blogger and Certified Lifewriting Instructor, her other works feature a travel memoir, From Italy with Love & Limoncello, pet story writing guide, Write Your Pet’s Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!,  and Christian fiction selections Eyelash and Never Say Perfect. She enjoys golf, travel, visiting family and friends, walking the spectacular South Carolina beaches and curling up with a great book. Mary Anne is founder of Beach Author Network, a marketing and promotions networking group for South Carolina coast authors, and Life Story Lunch Bunch, a lively memoir writing group.

Her very special guest post is below - and perfect for remembering that today, December 7, marks the anniversary of the date-as Franklin D. Roosevelt pur it-"that shall live in infamy" - Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941.

Breaking the Silence Barrier:
5 Tips for Facilitating Memoirs for the Elderly

I inadvertently imploded the opportunity to capture my dad’s memoirs before he passed away.  While this was not a case of disinterest or apathy, the sad truth is that it had simply never occurred to me.

Despite  the fact that Dad was on active military duty, stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on December 7, 1941, survived and continued to serve our country at other Pacific locations including Guadalcanal, the realization that his stories would be forever lost if not preserved had never crossed my mind. The light bulb illuminated during my tour of Pearl Harbor just a few years later.

I vowed not to allow the same mistake to occur with Mom.  In my initial enthusiasm to pick her brain of all possible recollections, I arrived armed with pen, legal pad and a small recording device. As she sat in her favorite rocking chair, I faced her--poised for the inquisition. She looked like the cat who had stuck its tail in an electrical socket. She appeared petrified.

After asking a few seemingly simple questions and receiving somewhat evasive answers, I realized that the position in which I had placed my elderly mother was unreasonable. I was putting her on the spot, expecting her to spontaneously produce answers to questions that might require reflection and contemplation. During one session, she furrowed her brow and wrinkled her nose at me. She announced, “I don’t feel like thinking today.”

I get it. There are times when my brain begs for a well-deserved break in the action. Some days I don’t feel like writing, while other days the pen or my fingers on the keyboard cannot move fast enough to keep up with my creative outpouring. I could sympathize with her polite reluctance.

Evaluating possible solutions, I determined that I would make far better progress by doing the following:

1-Provide her with a short list of questions in advance--just a few at a time in order to avoid overwhelming her. This allowed her to consider her answers at her own leisure, rather than being pressured by my snug timeframe.

2-Limit our recording sessions to one hour maximum, unless she was on a memory roll and appeared eager to continue. Keep the recorder nearby, but not in an intrusive location. Once she forgot about the recording device, one story easily led to another.

3-Respect that she might not choose to answer every question for reasons that I should not insist she explain. She is entitled to privacy.

4-Realize that her memoirs will take shape over time and make each session pleasurable, rather than a chore for her.

5-Remember to encourage her to share her feelings about those life events--not just facts and dates.

Putting these tips into practice virtually eliminated the frustration that we shared in attempting to generate her memories. Those stories are a precious gift that will build a bridge from generation to generation--her priceless legacy.