National Foster Care Network

Building Teams That Care

  The Greatest Gift

Janette S. Hodge

Living with history of who we are defines who we will be. A written account of memories and dreams provides credibility; add life's documents, certificates and photographs of you and family members-we have roots. Such brings our childhood to life. Lettice Stuart, noted author and speaker: Portraits in Words, The Gift of a Lifetime, said, "Another life-changing event happened ... My dear, sweet mother died suddenly at the age of 74. I adored my mother, and her death broke my heart. I missed her terribly, but one of the things I grieved about the most was that I had never followed through with my promise to myself to tape record her many wonderful stories of our ancestors and her childhood in Mobile, Alabama. I had heard these stories countless times, but as soon as she died I forgot many of the names and details."

Upon searching the internet I found more than 250 websites devoted to preserving family history and an additional 180 websites on preserving family. There are numerous retailers that specialize in materials to craft memory books. Office suppliers devote significant shelf space for scrap booking materials. We even have retailers that come to your home and give a presentation to you and your guests, selling memory making products as we do tupperware.

Personal projects do take time and devotion-and consistency if the project is to prove worth the effort. Begin by developing a personal style: I use clear, plastic shoe boxes labeled with family member names. Whenever I develop a role of film, I sort through the pictures placing them in the shoe boxes. I also include invitations, certificates and any awards pertinent to each individual. This Father's Day I put together a box of photos of my husband's childhood school pictures as well as family snapshots. As he viewed each picture, he told the children about the photo; we then passed them around the table one at a time. Each young adult was so excited to compare themselves with their Dad and to relish his stories. He looked at me, because there were a few other gifts inside the package besides the box of photos, "This was enough. This is overwhelming. I love you." We will sit down and work on his book together-never finished, because life goes on and there will be more to add.

"Stories are how we pass on family values and traditions. When people die they take their memories with them. Human beings have a deep need to tell their story and to give meaning to their experiences. Telling your story gives you perspective on your life and brings continuity, connectedness and order to the seemingly haphazard events of daily living. Personal histories tell the stories behind the names and dates on family trees and genealogical charts bring those people to life. Your personal history will give your children and grandchildren a sense of family ties and roots . . . something that is disappearing to today's mobile society. It's the greatest gift you can leave your family," explains Lettice Stuart.

Many children in foster and adoptive homes don't know their family history and have lost all the keepsakes and life's mementoes we take for granted.. Begin by looking up their family name on the internet. This research could turn up a long lost relative. Look up the year they were born and discover what was happening in the world on the day they were born. Review magazines and cut out pictures that resemble a family event they remember can substitute for the real photo. Remember the important thing is the documentation of a memory.

"The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved -- loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves." A quote from Victor Hugo represents the love and thought that goes into a life book because of the time and effort. What better way to say, I love you?

Some may say that they have never done anything significant or important in their lives to document. You increase self-worth by having your life in print and it provides an opportunity to discover your past--enhancing your belief that people do care for you. We are each important and our heritage needs to be shared and protected. Family history can be handed down for generations to come in a book that stores the photographic and documented memories.

A good memory book will bring laughter, tears and love thus making it the gift of a lifetime, the greatest gift you can give or receive.

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American Foster Care Resources, Inc.