Why I Teach Older Adults To Write Their Life Reflections

I have always been close to my Nani and Nana, my paternal grandparents. As a child in Karachi, I was called their "puchree", their tail, because wherever they went, I followed.

My family immigrated to Canada when I was 11, and my grandparents came a couple of years later. Growing up in North Vancouver, BC, my classmates were mostly white. I felt very cut off from my roots. 

I don't know exactly when it began, but at some point, I realized that hearing my grandparents' stories transported me back to Karachi, to my home. I spent much of my 20s fascinated by Nani-Nana's stories, sitting in their apartment, drinking cup after cup of tea, never tiring of their tales. I heard about their friendships, their hardships, their own relationship. I had an unquenchable thirst for more.

One day I bought a black notebook from the Looney Store (non-Canadians, that means Dollar Store, not crazy store). I began to write down their stories. I don't know what compelled me to do so, I just had to.

15 years later, I find myself devoting my life to this work: helping older adults tell some of their life experiences, and I know why I was compelled to write down my own grandparents' stories.

Because our elders' stories are important. They keep us connected to our roots. They enlighten us about ourselves in relation to family, community, society. And they are awesome.

When I engage with my grandparents' stories, I see patterns across generations: Nani the teacher, Nana the musician- and here I am teaching dance. When I hear about how they met, their courtship, the struggles they faced over their 65 years of marriage, it is my template for how I want to be in my relationships. 

As an immigrant, as a Generation 1.5-er (so born elsewhere and moving to N. America early enough to assimilate and face second generation culture clashes), these stories are vital to my understanding of the why's of my life: why my family has the values and beliefs it does (which are often very different from the Canadian -i.e., white- values I saw all around me), why I struggled with my parents in the ways that I did, why my parents behaved the way that they did. I see how embedded my experiences are to the larger family tapestry to which I belong. 

This work of exploring and writing about one's life is not easy, but it is so necessary. 

In helping others tell their stories, I approach the work with a light touch. With care. With openness to just explore. 

It is my sincere hope that in helping elders tell their stories, it will be helpful, grounding, enlightening, to loved ones and to the elders themselves.