“Your memory feels like home to me. So whenever my mind wanders, it always finds its way back to you.” – Ranata Suzuki
Reminiscence is a way to review past events in a way that is rewarding and positive. Many of us forget what we consider mundane details in life, like what we ate for lunch on Thursday last week. What we do remember are the cornerstone moments of our lives. There is a good chance that you remember your wedding day. You can recall your favourite teacher at school. Holiday memories are often very strong because of the family connections involved.
People around the world are ageing rapidly, and there are more than 900 million people over the age of 60 around the world (Alqam, 2018). Loneliness and social isolation can affect everyone, but older people are particularly vulnerable after the loss of friends and family, reduced mobility or reduced income. Staying connected to the community, and to your past, is vital for maintaining wellbeing.
According to the American Psychological Society, the ability to reminisce can provide wonderful effects on the ageing brain (VandenBos, 2006). It wards off boredom, bitterness and depression as well as helping people discuss difficult topics such as preparing for death.
With that process in mind, we’d like to introduce you to Marg Vanacek. When speaking with Marg, you can immediately get a sense of her humour, her courage and her loving heart.
Marg is 80 years old. Her husband, Joseph, passed away just 12 months ago. They lived 40 minutes from Mackay, in Calen, where Marg still resides.
Music has been an intrinsic part of her life, even when meeting the love of her life.
“I was sitting playing the guitar in a fruit shop and he came in. We just looked at each other and that was that.”
Married for over 60 years, Marg shares the moment he proposed, “we had come back from the pictures and we were sitting out on the steps with my grandma and grandpa. Joe casually started talking about moving away for work unless I said yes to marrying him, so of course I had to say YES!.” “Very romantic he was”, she cheekily laughs.
Country folk at heart, the couple shared a love of animals, particularly for birds. They also had a beautiful vegetable garden that Joe tended to until his passing. “We were comfortable with each other like a pair of shoes that you have worn for years. Everything just worked and we looked out for each other.”
We asked Marg for some pointers on young love. Her advice was first and foremost you have to be best friends and remember to give and take. “With Joe it was just to look after him, waiting on him, cooking special meals for him. His favourite meal was Spanish Birds.”
Marg and Joe accessed ComLink transport services for the past few years, enabling them to get to town to appointments. Now on her own, Marg shares that it can get very lonely up in Calen, to her “the staff in the vehicles are more than just a drive home, we talk like mates.”
If you would like to share your stories:
- Find a reminiscence therapy group or therapist who allows you to tell stories.
- Join a club or community group that’s based on conversational exchange and socialising.
- Use the internet to map out family trees, access your favourite music, or search for old photographs.
- Write down your favourite memories and share them with friends and family.
- Create a special area in your home for pictures and fond memories.
If you would like to encourage another to tell their story:
- Find the right time and place to ask questions.
- Once they start talking, don’t interrupt or contradict – your opinion isn’t important.
- Ask about favourite memories, television shows, holidays, or hobbies. Don’t push topics that seem to upset another person.
- Be a good listener by using appropriate non-verbal communication that shows you are interested and that you care.
An excellent story is magical. It can energize both the teller and the listener. Reminiscing, particularly for those who are older, is a great way to exercise the brain and create positive moods and interactions.
Alqam, B 2018 ‘The Effects of Reminiscence Therapy on Depressive Symptoms among Elderly: An Evidence Based Review’, Trauma and Acute Care, vol. 3, no. 1
Beutner, D 2005 ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest’, National Geographic Society, New York
VandenBos, GR 2006 ‘APA Dictionary of Psychology 1st ed.’, American Psychological Society, Washington DC