You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to write someone's life story. Once you've found the right subject, you simply need to ask lots of questions, take good notes, and then compose brief synopses of his or her life.
You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn in every interview. And what a blessing you will be to your subjects!
Here’s how the 86-year-old heroine of The Song of Sadie Sparrow felt in the wake of her first interview with Activities Assistant Meg, official biographer of a fictional nursing home called The Hickories:
- “It was really no big deal, girls,” she told her friends, borrowing one of daughter Dana’s favorite phrases. “No big deal at all.”
- But it was a big deal, and Sadie knew it. Her new friends had given her a lift, no question about that. But she knew she couldn’t count on any of them long-term; old people die and their young loved ones disappear forever, even after promising to visit you soon. She’d already been here long enough to see it happen more than once. But Meg’s biography-in-progress was different. It had begun changing her attitude from the moment they’d scheduled this first interview, especially once Meg had given her the interview questions.
- It was amazing, really. It had always been Sadie’s policy to advise complainers to count their blessings. Yet she’d apparently not done a good job of counting her own, as depressed as she’d felt since moving in to The Hickories. But when she started pondering the questions that Meg planned to pose—questions about her late husband Ed and their life together, about Dana and her family, about Sadie’s best memories and even the worst—it was as if the Lord were playing a movie about her life. And even if it wasn’t a magnificent movie, populated by beautiful people, places, and things, it starred people who loved each other, living with all their needs met in a humble but well-kept house.
- It had been, she realized, a happy story about a solid American family living out solid American values. So what if there hadn’t been more children? And so what if it wasn’t ending quite the way she’d envisioned, living with Dana’s family as a beloved grandma? Short of that idyllic (and quite possibly romanticized) scenario, you really couldn’t beat The Hickories as a place to spend your last days.
- --The Song of Sadie Sparrow, pages 81-82
As biographer to the elderly, you can help them gain all-important perspective on their lives and the joys they’ve experienced over the decades – and perhaps see their hearts overflow with gratitude as they reflect on the blessings they’ve enjoyed.
To make the process even more fun, you can ask your subjects to provide a few of their favorite snapshots to illustrate their life stories. As long as you have access to a scanner, you’ll be able to insert them easily into the final files. Whether that means simple Word documents or multi-page booklets complete with gripping titles and cover art, you’ll be creating pieces that your subjects’ families will treasure for many years to come.
In fact, these biographies would make great birthday or Christmas gifts for your subjects to give to their family and friends – all at no cost, an important consideration for anyone living on a fixed income.
What's more, if you're looking to make a career out of writing, this is a terrific way to jump-start your portfolio, which can be key to landing your first position.
Intrigued? Why not start searching for a good subject soon--perhaps someone in your own family, or a friend's? If that's a dead end, consider calling a local nursing-home Activities Director to explore the possibilities?