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The Mothers' Living Stories Project

Record Your Story and Prepare a Legacy

If not now, when? -- Hillel

Record your story for your own and your children’s sake whether or not you have a life-threatening disease. As a mother says, “We never know what’s going to happen to us at any time.”

We believe all parents should responsibly prepare for their eventual death:

  • Prepare a will disposing money and tangible possessions
  • Have an advanced directive for health care
  • Appoint a durable power of attorney for health care and finances
  • Have a guardianship plan for your children
  • Create lasting memories for children

Doing this does not hasten death: We have worked with seriously ill mothers who are living many years after completing the project.

Mothers say:

  • “I view it as a work in progress. I’ll add to the story later.” -- MGN
  • “If I were cured, I would still want my kids to have the tapes.” -- DL
  • “It’s cathartic. It’s a piece of work done. It doesn’t make me feel like oh good, now I can die.” -- LSB

Some benefits mothers have identified from recording their stories:

  • Accomplish something for the children
  • Enlarged perspective on life beyond illness/integrate illness into life story
  • Celebrate and value their lives
  • Self-expression and validation
  • Being heard and received
  • Find meaning in the situation
  • Discover new insights and understanding about self
  • Know they will be remembered and that their parenting will continue
  • Restore some sense of control
  • Opened communication in family
  • Sense of relief and peace

Ways to create lasting memories for your children:

  • Keep a journal
  • Save your daily/monthly diaries
  • Arrange photo albums and scrapbooks; write the stories behind the photos
  • Collect family recipes
  • Research family genealogy (family tree showing descent from your ancestors)
  • Make a medical family tree (medical conditions of ancestors)
  • Record your personal history (life stories & experiences) —audiotape, videotape, writing
  • Record your Ethical Will (written or spoken letter evaluating your life and passing on life lessons, wisdom, advice, and wishes)
  • Prepare cards or gifts for future special occasions like major birthdays, graduations, marriage
  • Collect or list your favorite poems, songs, or books
  • Make a quilt

Do what feels natural for you and keep it simple; don’t make a monster out of the project. Choose one project at a time. Doing even one small thing, like writing a letter, is valuable. Let your imagination and your energy guide you.

Most people can’t do this alone, even when in good health:

  • Ask a friend or family member to help you, but make sure it’s someone who will respect your wishes, contain his/her emotions, and listen well to you
  • Explore free or low-cost writing groups or life story services at local agencies
  • Hire a professional personal historian (www.personalhistorians.org; www.ethicalwill.com; www.thelegacycenter.net)
  • Read Another Morning to learn about how and why mothers with cancer have recorded their stories and created memories for their children

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