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Storytelling: A Valuable Tool for Families

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In our plugged-in world, we all can forget to take time for face to face conversation. But as our family members age, those conversations about family memories and our shared history become ever more important. Hearing the stories can help us connect with our relatives in a more profound way, and asking the questions can help us understand ourselves better too.

And when it comes time to commemorate the lives of those we’ve lost, those stories become a bridge between the living and the dead.

National Family History Month was established by Congress in 2001, and in celebration, the Funeral Service Foundation hosted several events around the country to encourage sharing stories – both past and present – with loved ones.

"Let's just face it, as technology has grown our families don't really sit down and chat with one another the way they used to. So I think (Family History Month) was a way to recognize that the act of storytelling within families is extremely important to the continuity of keeping families together," says Funeral Service Foundation Executive Director Danelle O'Neill.

Personal historian and founder and owner of Legacies, LLC, Mary Voell, led an interactive "No Day Like Today" event in Brookfield at the Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Services. Voell stresses that learning about your family history should be an everyday occurrence - not just one reserved in times of grief and memorialization.

One tool to facilitate conversations between family members is to keep your questions focused, according to Voell. "As people get older, they respond more to the communication, the more one-on-one, the sitting down and talking to someone, number one. But number two, more specific questions are very valuable. It’s too big of an ocean to say, 'Tell me about your childhood,'" she explains.

O'Neill notes that tools such as the Talk of a Lifetime conversation cards created by the Funeral Foundation are a "fun, interactive, gentle way to get a conversation going." The cards prompt specific conversations such as describing a favorite holiday memory or a valuable lesson learned from a role model. Not only can these conversations make the subject feel important, but they also attribute to the healing value of self and family importance to future generations.

Having daily conversations goes beyond genealogy, according to O'Neill. They can reaffirm relationships, infuse the past with vitality and even impact younger generations in a positive way.

"Children who have that understanding, they know their family stories - there's research now that proves they have higher levels of self-esteem, they're more resilient, they bounce back quicker from big events," she explains. "And that makes total sense because you know that you're part of something much bigger when you know your family story...it gives you that sense of being that is extremely strong and grounds you."

Voell encourages not only having more conversations with family members, but to be consistent, record them in some way and involve children in the process. "Any day is family history day. Take advantage of that," she says.

This piece was originally published October 13, 2016. 

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.