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Family Stories: Tips for Making Memories Last Forever

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Learn how to craft the kinds of tales your family will always remember

Grandma never wore shoes in the garden. Uncle John always fed his pie to the dog under the table. Your relatives may be goofy or addicted to corny jokes, but they're yours. And when families gather, history is born. We talked to Alesia Alexander, CEO of the nonprofit Comfort Zone Camp, to learn more about how to use these times of togetherness to create a family legacy that lives forever.

Why are family stories important?
Narratives and stories give each of us the tools we need to shape our identities and purpose. Stories and storytelling form the basis of language and all communication.  Family stories help each member to find themselves in their behaviors, and in their connections to others.  Our stories are pathways for development.

Are there particular kinds of stories you find important to remember and share? 
One of the great tools for getting people to connect to any story is to ask them about their walk with love. The kids we work with have amazing stories of love and hope that they share readily as a part of getting to know us, and each other. When working with kids, couples or with families, I like to ask about their “love story.” Even if hard things are happening in the family, or in the partnership, rolling things back to love seems to help provide a safe place for reminiscence and honoring each other. Also, what I have found is that when kids are grieving, they need our stories to make connections to gaps in their knowledge of their loved ones, and to build a foundation for their memories with the stories that we tell them about loved ones, alive or dead.  Stories help create a space for defining and refining “fit.” 

Are there ways to make these conversations easier or more impactful? 
Yes. Keep it simple. Your honesty and your ability to stay present and focused on your child’s/teen’s questions or needs on this is key.  Make the time.  If you cannot answer, or feel like you cannot “go there,” then help your child/teen to identify someone they can take their questions to until you are able or ready. Communicate your desire to continue story sharing consistently. There are incredible tools for story prompts and journaling that make this easier online and in stores — I love StoryCorps tools for listening and interviewing. I have created word bubbles with kids on their stories that help them string thoughts and memories together with pictures and key words — just like they do when they are in school and learning to craft story in class. They take the brainstorms and then use them as tools for starting a conversation with their family. Also, giving a child/teen your phone to do a recording, or to take pictures also can be great. Allowing kids to play “interviewer” is also another way to engage story and sharing.

Do you have a family story you want to share? 
One of my favorite stories to share with kids in group, and in my life are my memories of my father and how he could never get our Christmas lists right. He would try so hard each year on our toys.  One year, we asked for an electronic handheld game called “Blip."  My father scoured the city for what he thought we were asking for. This game was like the pinnacle of coolness, and that year’s hot toy. Christmas morning, my sister and I were beside ourselves with suspense to see if he would deliver. We tore through gifts until the house was covered in litter, and there was no Blip.  Finally, my dad tells us to close our eyes, and he presented us with... a life size replica of the Goodyear BLIMP!!!  He had apparently spent all night building the model from scratch. It even had a light up message for us that rotated like the real thing. We did not have the heart to tell him that he got it wrong again. When I share this story, it makes me understand how hard he was willing to work to make us happy, even when he was clueless about what that might mean.  He still made the effort. His love was all in the attempt. That’s my great love story…

Comfort Zone Camp's mission is to "empower children experiencing grief to fully realize their capacity to heal, grow, and lead more fulfilling lives."

Need more tips to start the conversation? Here's some other resources to get you and your family talking:

How to Tap Into Your Family Traditions: Sandie Angulo Chen of provides helpful tips for memorable talks.

Great Questions: StoryCorps offers a list of questions for the whole family. believes in the power of remembering families. Here are some ways you can join in the conversation:

Young Writers: Share Your Family Stories
In partnership with Writopia Lab, we're encouraging student writers aged 6-18 to tell their family history.  Email [email protected] to submit your own story. 

The Great Listen is proud to join Storycorps this year to capture the stories of our community with the Great Listen. This national project empowers people of all ages to record an interview with an elder, a mentor, or someone they admire throughout the months of November and December. Click here to get started, and be sure to tag your interview with the keywords Legacy2017 and TheGreatListen2017. Find general tips on how to have a great conversation here