Reminiscing as Therapy

Reminiscing as Therapy
Written Winter of 2006

My dad often talked about his days in Civilian Public Service (CPS) during WWII.  His fondest memories were of the people he met and lived with in Grottoes,Virginia.  He used to quote persons that he got to know, including one man that politely asked, “Would you be so kind and condescending, so obliging and back bending as to extinguish your nocturnal illuminator?” when it obviously was time to sleep and turn out the lights. There was also the young man who asked my dad to wake him up in the middle of the night so he could enjoy going back to sleep again. That man really understood the luxury of sleep. My family got to know and love these persons that touched my dad’s life through his masterful storytelling. 

Now I realize that I grew closer to my dad when he reviewed his life and shared with us about the important persons and events in his life.  And I believe it was good for him, too.  In fact, Paula Tchirkow, President of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Geriatric Consultants, says

“encouraging an older adult to reminisce is one of the easiest and most effective techniques you can use to boost their confidence and brighten their mood. The vivid connection to a time when your mother or father felt more alive, happier, successful, and useful reassures them that they weren’t always in their current physical and mental state.  Reminiscing helps elderly parents and relatives review past accomplishments and activities, thereby giving them a renewed sense of fulfillment about their life. Research shows that sparking these memories causes blood pressure and heart rates to drop, essentially producing a calming effect.

Although most people tend to focus on good memories, life cycle review can also help older family members become comfortable with the past.  That is, the technique gives elderly parents an opportunity to admit and accept the parts of their lives that didn’t go as well as expected.

Both the reckoning process, and the acknowledgement of happier times, clears up minor depression, reverses feelings of isolation, and helps parents get back into a rhythm of positive reinforcement that boosts physical and mental well being. To be sure, the benefits of storytelling and review are greatly underestimated.”

During the last years of my dad’s life, I would take my mom grocery shopping and then come back to their house and sit with my dad, encouraging him to talk about Grammy and Grandpop Benner, his uncle Warren who lived an adventurous life as a tramp, the huge buck that got away, and the men that kept him laughing in CPS.  Sometimes he felt too groggy from his battle with congestive heart failure to reminisce, but at other times his mind was sharper than a tack, entertaining me with engaging and captivating details. 

I know that sometimes one gets tired of the “same old stories” that the elderly seem to get stuck on, but for me, I’d love to be able to hear my dad talk again about the people and experiences of his life. Thankfully, these persons and events can live on if we take the time to truly listen.-BBM

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