By Cina Coren
Memories. What are they?
Memories are curious things and they defy a true definition. Theories abound but on a fundamental level we can say that memory refers to the processes that are used to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information. Often we are not aware that a memory even exists and it may be difficult to revisit it.
Indeed, it is the process of data retrieval that comes into play when writing someone’s life story. Sometimes recalling favorite memories is easy and envisioning it is a joyful experience. But oftentimes, a memory is pushed far away it is painful to replay it.
A memory isn’t one layered. It can involve the reconstruction of the colors, smells and the emotions evoked at the time the event took place.
It’s been over 10 years since I began writing people’s life stories. It all began when my father-in-law became ill and the family decided that recapping his life’s experiences would perk up his spirits and keep him from becoming depressed. It turned out to be a gratifying time for both of us and we printed enough copies of his book to supply almost every member of the extended family.
After this first successful endeavor, word got around and I was approached by several elderly friends who realized how important it was for their families to learn about their past and about the people who continue to contribute to their heritage. At the same time, the therapeutic value of reliving past memories by the story teller cannot be overlooked.
Over the years, I have seen how critical it is for members of the 3rd generation to peel off the layers of their past and relive their memories—both pleasurable and stressful.
Many people choose to close off the gateway to their memories. They prefer to move ahead with life, never looking back and avoiding the painful experiences of their past. Some succeed in this endeavor, but many do not and at some point, they find themselves diving head first into a world they seemingly never knew existed.
It is often the children or the grandchildren that encourage their grandparent or parent to retell the stories of their past. They understand that the younger generations should be cognizant of the lives of their elders–where they came from and what they have endured over the years. In addition to being interesting and enlightening, this information helps to build respect and appreciation for that individual.
Sometimes, the initiative for creating a life-story book is made directly by the subject of the story who for one reason or another has concluded that the time has come and it just must be done. One of the books I wrote was dedicated to the woman’s two grown-up children who she felt needed to know why she had made the choices she did and why she had lived her life as she had done. It was very difficult for her to make these confessions in any other manner and the book was her way of letting them know that despite everything she still loved them.
I have also written the life story of a man who had already passed away. His daughter had taken the initiative to research his background and we put together a memoir of his childhood in Poland and how he had survived the war. We also included some of his wonderful stories and poems.
During the interview process for a book, it’s often heartbreaking to see a man or woman suddenly recall a moment where they crack through the layers of resistance built up over the years and unleash a flood of emotions. All of a sudden, there is clarity and understanding. It is as if a new world has opened up and things fall into place. It’s usually not an easy transition and it takes time to internalize all the new sensations and experiences.
The interview process is very important for a biographer. It’s not just a matter of asking questions and waiting patiently for answers. It calls for adapting responses to the specific situation and assuming various different roles. At one session, I am a psychologist helping to deal with emotions; at another, I am a good friend ready to listen and understand or a sister offering a shoulder to cry on.
Over the years I have spent hours marveling at some of the stories I‘ve heard and I have enjoyed the give and take that accompanies each session.
Writing is my passion; putting words to paper so readers will hear and experience the true message being told is what makes my work so rewarding. .
Cina Coren is a former Wall Street broker and financial advisor. She holds a Master’s in Communications and spent many years writing for international news outlets and publications. For the last 10 years, she has been transcribing people’s life stories into family memoirs that can be passed down to future generations. She can be reached via phone: 054-757-6250 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org