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Sometimes, sharing your story can be a very powerful healing tool.  Fr. Michael Lapsley taps into that tool to help those struggling with incredibly painful memories.

My grandparents had been married 70 years when it came time for them to move into an assisted living facility.  Forced to leave their home and losing their independence was obviously difficult for them.

My mother – their daughter – had passed away a couple of decades previous, so it was up to my brothers and I to overlook the moving process. My grandparents sat next to each other watching, with sad, sad eyes as I emptied cupboards and drawers, and would respond quietly, sometimes with a catch in their voices, whenever they were asked if they wished a particular item to be donated, sold at a yard sale, or gifted. 

My grandfather had served in the Navy the first couple of years in their marriage, so moving was not new for them.  However, they had accumulated a lot of memories in the subsequent decades, and many of them were associated with treasured items – drawings and paintings created by my grandmother before arthritis kicked in, her grandmother’s lace bed coverlet and her mother’s plates, a high school textbook, dance cards, my grandfather’s tools from his basement workshop, his sailor’s uniform last worn in 1930, a sword he obtained in Panama, souvenirs from road trips after their children had grown, silhouettes of the grandchildren when they were in grade school, and so forth.

My brothers claim their part was the most difficult – loading up the few heavy pieces of furniture and boxed items that would fit in their small, new apartment.  I disagree.  I drove them away from their home.  As we pulled away from the curb, my grandfather said, “Good-bye, house.  Good-bye, old house” and started singing, “The Last Roundup,” while my grandmother rifled through her purse looking for her heart medication.

When you’re writing your life story, or helping someone else to write his or hers, ask what treasures are sprinkled throughout the home that have a history; a memory.  It will not only serve as a memory trigger, but the story can accompany the item to its new home.

What items in your home are special to you, and what’s the story behind them?

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“You will always find an answer in the sound of water.”     Chuang-Tse

Water can be transparent or murky, cold or warm, can bring tragedy or joy.

This morning, as I listened to the rhythmic jerk of the sprinkler’s water spray, I was transported back in time when my girlfriends and I giggled running through sprinklers to escape the heat.

I considered other sounds of water that evoke memories for me:

  • Ocean waves building strength and momentum before crashing to the shore, smoothing out sandcastles, and burying our feet deeper in the sand as the water receded.
  • The splat as water balloons hit their marks – whether human targets or the sidewalk from the top of building.
  • Cannonballs into swimming pools trying to make the biggest splash. Ever.
  • “Marco!” “Polo!”
  • The quiet lapping of water on the lakeshore, subtly and gently massing the soul.
  • Jostling and clinking of ice cubes in a summer beverage invited relief to parched throats.

Rafting. Kayaking. Waterfalls. Fountains. Creeks. Squirt guns.

What memories do the sounds of water conjure up for you?

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With genealogy, you learn about your family tree through names, dates, locations and, sometimes, occupations.  You usually do not learn about who they were as individuals; their personalities, obstacles they faced and overcame, travels, interests, education, etc.  It’s unfortunate, because those experiences influenced their choices and decisions, which flowed through that family tree to ultimately impact how you were raised and how you reached your current perspectives on life.

Imagine yourself listed on a family tree in the distant future, indicating only your name, birth and death dates.  How sad it would be for your descendants not to know who you were as a person; your life experiences, so they could better understand themselves.



As a personal historian, I constantly and consistently witness families looking at one another with renewed appreciation after reading a relative’s life story.  They see their parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles as unique, interesting human beings, with whom they just happen to be related.


The holidays are fast approaching.  Do yourself and those you love a favor.  Take advantage of your time together by asking questions regarding their lives.  It can be lighthearted (e.g., What were your favorite toys or games when you were little?) or insightful (e.g., What was the best advice you ever received?).  Record them.  Transcribe them.  Save them for the future. 

Don’t forget to make notes of your answers as well.  You, too, are an important part of the family history.

What questions do you wish you could ask your ancestors?

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