Person Writing in Journal


Telling a Loved One’s Life Story

How can you go about writing a loved one’s life story? The prospect of doing it might seem daunting. Here are some guidelines to help give organization and structure to the writing process:

Begin by narrowing down your focus. One way to do this is to first break down possible story subjects into specific themes or categories, such as family; work; value and belief systems; passions or free time activities; periods of life (single, army, married, childhood etc.); locations (family farm, summer cottage, first house, second house etc.); family events (births, weddings, funerals, vacations etc.); and acts of courage. 

Further narrow down your focus. Next chose a category and within that category a story you would like to write about. Keep in mind: is this story just for me or will I be sharing it with others? This will help determine how much depth of detail to put into your story.

Use prompts to aid in memory recall. Old photos and portraits; official family documents; letters and journals; bibles and baby books; old books and magazines; and progressive emails can all help jog loose seemingly forgotten memories. Creating a timeline or chronology of events can also help memories worth writing about float to the surface. Additionally, diagramming neighborhoods, locations and even rooms can help bring seemingly forgotten memories to mind (remember how Dad loved to sit in that awful, green battered recliner in the living room and watch Seinfeld! ).

Give your story a beginning, middle and end. 

Some questions to consider. Writing a narrative of your loved one’s life can be enriched by asking yourself these questions in the writing process: 

  • How did I hear about this particular story? (For example, did you hear the story by accident? If so, this can sometimes be a story within an intriguing story, etc.)
  • How do I know if this story is true? (And does it make a difference? When it comes to family folklore, sometimes why the story was told is much more interesting than whether or not the story is true.) 
  • How did my loved one feel about the events I am relating?

Give your stories context. Time period, location, ethnic heritage, family traditions and more can give context to the stories you tell. 

Context helps convey why something was important to your loved one and why it is important for you to share a particular memory. 

Writing a Legacy of Values

When writing a legacy of values, first identify your audience (self, friends, community etc.) and reasons for writing (Honor your loved one? To gain insight? Find resolution? Let go? Heal something specific? Or?). Then:

  1. Make a list of the five most important values imparted to you by your loved one.
  2. Make a list of the five most important beliefs imparted to you by your loved one.
  3. Optional: now write a short sentence on each value or belief and how you apply it in your life etc.
  4. Optional: take two – five minutes and make a list titled: “I have learned …”.

Writing a legacy of values can take several forms:

  • Letter – an open letter is a simple way of imparting to others what you have learned from your loved one
  • Statement or essay
  • Short story
  • Poem
  • Combination/other – whatever from or words feel right to you

Guidelines for writing your first draft in the form you chose:Devote a paragraph to each belief or value and how this belief or value was instilled in you.

  1. Devote a paragraph to each belief or value and how it has impacted your life and/or various facets of your life (home life, professional life, marriage, relationships with friends, relationship with spouse, relationship with children etc.)
  2. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar – just write using a stream of consciousness style (no editing as you go but rather just allowing your writing to flow). 
  3. Then, use your first draft as the jumping-off point to write the story of the impact your loved one had on your life.


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