“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
– Lois Lowry, The Giver
March 14th, 2018 (2 more days left at Sunrise)
In the past couple of days, I have found my place in the community of Sunrise. I have been looking and listening to the life that resides here. From 70-years-old to 90-years-old, each resident is treated like an individual. I have seen and experienced the patience needed to work with some of the residents as dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, and other mental or health issues coincide with their lives and daily movements of the day.
My experience at Sunrise has become more personal as I have interviewed eight residents so far. My plan is to interview two more residents as the week comes to a close. Each interview can last from 15 minutes to 50 minutes, it all depends on the person I speak with and their openness and ability to recall their personal life. I use a set of 12 questions to encourage the stories and guide the conversation along.
The following are the questions I have been using:
- What is your name?
- Favorite color and why?
- Favorite book/tv show and why?
- If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be?
- Tell me about yourself (hobbies, interests, etc.)
- What would a perfect day look like to you?
- What do you feel most proud of?
- What do you most admire in life?
- What would you say are some major values or principles you live by?
- What are some important choices or decisions you have learned from?
- What world/family events have had the most impact on you?
- What is a message you want the world/your community to hear?
After asking these questions and having conversations with eight residents I am reminded of how many stories are left untold, unwanted, or cannot be remembered. There was only one instance where a resident didn’t think their story or interests was that significant to be retold and I reassured her that any and all stories are worth telling. There were many residents who I talked to who told me their past occupations, relationships, and interests, but they did not want their story recorded. Despite the instances that would have made amazing stories to share with the community, I collected many that will be very perfect to share! Whether it be a hardworking mother, chemist, worker in an ice cream factory, or a teacher, each story is unique and has been very enlightening to hear.
Many of my favorite answers have come from the questions was in response to What would a perfect day look like to you? One resident answered, “Well, that I am alive, at first. That I’m still here. I’m going to be 92 in April. And I’m surprised I’m still here… I guess that’s about it, that I’m still alive. I didn’t think I would make it this far here… my dad and mom, they didn’t make it this far. I’m still here and I don’t know why. I pray to God that I will be here until 100 (laughs.)”
Another resident described their perfect day like one James Russell Lowell wrote about in his poem What Is So Rare As A Day in June.
AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it is in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten; (1-6)
His response is typed up and there is the audio of what he said below!
“Well, I’d like it to be a sunny day. I don’t like those rainy days, you need rain but a perfect day, not too warm, you know, also what is so perfect as a day in June it’s one of those well-known poets… I remember sitting on my front porch as a kid and the sun was facing the east I’m sitting there and the temperature is just right (exhales) that’s a perfect day… And nothing has had the chance to go wrong. That’s where you’ll find out that the sweetest time of the weekend is Friday night because you got rid of your job or school and nothing happened to go wrong like you can go to a dance or date. Oh yeah, it is the prime part of every weekend, Friday night. Thank God It’s Friday!”
Over the past couple of days, I have reevaluated what I want the final product should look like. I will be designing the stories, photographs, and paintings into a magazine so the expenses are less costly and it is easily distributable to the residents who have participated. I did not just collect stories but photographs of the residents when they were young, pictures of their children and their grandchildren, and artwork that some of the residents have done. I plan to integrate all of this into the book/magazine as every piece of their life is meaningful and deserves a place to be remembered.
As I conclude this post, which I know is a little scrabbled, I wanted to include a free write I did on Monday and some paintings a resident shared with me. The same resident did a painting for the cover of the magazine which can be found below. Again, thank you for reading about the process of my project and enjoy the rest of your week! I shall be checking in Friday or Saturday about the final day at Sunrise and the first steps of putting a magazine together which shall be an interesting process.
A Free Write | March 12th, 2018 (Monday)
I sit here just having accidentally deleted the first interview I collected last week. I am reminded of how easy it is to lose something and how quickly it can happen. Just like memory and the health of many of these residents at sunrise. I believe I take advantage of my ability to see, to move freely, to be present in my life and the making of memories. I am distracted by the normality of the moments I am able to remember and live. I walk around on two feet. I speak with ease. I know who I am, where I am, and why I continue living. Most of the residents here could not say that but I guess that comes with growing age.
In light of how I deleted the file, I ask myself how I would like to proceed? Do I go back and ask her for her story again? Will she remember telling her story? Despite having talked to her for 50 minutes about her life she remembered none of our conversations. This was convenient for myself as she spoke with me again but this brought me back to the reality of memory loss and how these stories are not mine to tell but to share and bring alive again for some of the residents who may have misplaced their memories.
4 thoughts on “Beyond My Years: Their Stories”
Great post! It must be such an amazing experience to get to hear all these stories. Best of luck with this awesome project!
Thank you so much! Yes, it truly has been an unusual and amazing experience! Patience was needed at times but in the end, I have learned and gained a lot of wisdom.
Your experience is so moving, Lili. Thank you for sharing it. At the conclusion of this project, I’d like to know how you’d answer your questions and how your experience there has shaped your responses. I can imagine an 80 year old Lili being interviewed by an almost equally amazing senior at Westtown someday…how would she answer those questions? And what if she was, once again, 18, and could choose any path, friends, partner, what would be the most important beliefs and experiences she should have to arrive at 80 with a well-lived life? 🙂
Thank you, Julia! Ever since the first interview I had, I have been thinking about how I would respond to these questions if I were in the residents’ position. As an 80-year-old Lili, I expect to be grateful for where I had come and thankful for the life my parents and community provided me. Thinking about if I could have changed anything being 18 again, I would have pushed myself to lean into discomfort and believe in myself more. I have had moments where discomfort has led to friendships, wisdom, and education and I wish I did it more when I was younger. If I was an 80-year-old Lili, I hopefully would look back on my full life doing, traveling and being around people that have made me happy and helped me uncover my place in the world. And the Lili right now says that the most import belief would be the belief in myself and that positivity, happiness, and self can be discovered in any and all moments, places, and relationships. Thank you again for prompting me to ask myself these questions! It is a great time to pause and reflect as this project is wrapping up!