Sharing Your Stories: Custodians of Memories

three older adults sit at a table writing memories

Park Place of Elmhurst residents gather regularly to share their memories by writing their memoirs.

As we think about our memories, we tell stories. But once we are gone, our memories will go with us unless we’ve found a way to share them beyond our time on earth.

At Park Place of Elmhurst, residents are encouraged to lead activities and groups surrounding their personal passions and interests. When Michael Harrington moved in with his interests of genealogies and memoir writing, no one could predict the impact his class would have.

Mr. Harrington describes what pricked his interest in offering a memoir writing class. “After I retired from work, I got into writing my genealogy stories. As I was doing my genealogy, I came to a point wondering ‘Where did my mother and father meet?’ I have no clue – I’ll never be able to fill that part of their story. Isn’t that sad?” But not all hope is lost. “When I came here, Lisa really encouraged me to keep going. I think the people taking the class really enjoy it.”

Life Enrichment Director Lisa Stoik remembers the conversation she had with Mr. Harrington. “He said to me, ‘At some point, I might be interested in exploring memoir writing to see if it would be appropriate to offer here at Park Place.’ It sounded so workable. It’s something about these bite-sized assignments – when the people are finished, they end up with a collection of chapters.”

Jim Patterson, a long-time attendant of the class, has found himself with just that. He has two booklets of stories, with pictures from his past spread throughout. Each booklet is entitled “Grandpa Jim and His Life Stories,” – parts 1 and 2, respectively. “Now I’m going to do Part 3,” he announced. “I want to do more.”

The class operates in two 8-week sessions – one in the fall, and one in the spring. After an introductory meeting to the class, the attendants receive their first assignment the following week.

“We have 2 assignments per month,” Mr. Harrington described, “and we take off a week in between to give plenty of time to write it.”

Some past assignments have included: “Draw a map of your childhood neighborhood,” “Your Teenage Years,” “Story about your engagement.”

Linda Dibblee, a 4-year class attendant, appreciates the flexibility of the class. “If you don’t want to write about the topic, you can write about something else.” She went on to say, “I think a lot of it, too,

blank paper with pen and cup of coffee on wooden table for writing memories

Residents share their memories in two 8-week sessions – one in the fall, and one in the spring.

is learning from other people.” As one is listening to others’ stories being told, it’s hard to not remember any similar stories of your own.

The impact of this class, however, goes beyond just those who enjoy writing their memoirs. Mr. Harrington remembers one very touching story. “We had one lady who was in the class for 2 and a half years, who had been writing her stories. When she passed, her kids went into her apartment, and on her desk were her stories. The kids didn’t know these stories. So at her memorial service, they read segments of these stories. Isn’t that something?”

We value the unique stories our residents share, and look forward to getting to know each person in a special way.

To see more examples of the life-enriching activities at Park Place of Elmhurst, visit their Facebook page.