Author: Rachel Little

The Final Tale: Preparing for End of Life Writing

Working with someone on end of life writing can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.  Giving voice to a person’s history and stories can be a long process, with an end  product being a very moving accomplishment, both for your client as well as yourself.  However, end of life writing can also be one of the most emotionally draining experiences of your life.  To that end, here are some things to think about when meeting with your client, and moving forward with producing a final product.

  1. Aging happens to us all, and depending on the family’s situation, many of your clients may be in a retirement or assisted living facility.  This is not always where they would like to be.  Be prepared to hear about ungrateful children, and hating the staff of where they’re living.  Simply because it is not home.For many of this generation, they built their homes with their own two hands, and spent 50+ years living in their own personal heaven.  To suddenly lose not only their independence, but these homes filled with years of memories, triumphs and tears, can be overwhelming.  Just listen quietly, and let them vent.  When they’re done, you can easily turn the conversation into a trip down memory lane, asking them about some of those stories.
  2. Listen. Just listen. So many of your clients just want someone to hear them.  Whether their family lives too far away to visit, or there is simply no one left alive, all they want is someone to listen.  At times, some of their family may find it too hard to listen to the memories they so desperately want to share.  Other times, they have heard them so much that these stories have lost their shine, and they don’t have as much emotional attachment to them.So instead, you enjoy them.  Stay engaged and bright, and realize you are in a unique position to be a first time listener who will chronicle these stories long after they are gone.  Some will be funny, others extremely personal, and some may have you crying along with your client.  Don’t be afraid to share these emotions with them – it shows that someone cares what they have to say.
  3. Survivor’s guilt.  So many of this generation have been through wars and battles the likes of which we cannot fathom.  Your client survived all of this and came home.  So many of their friends, brothers, and sisters didn’t.  While this guilt at being alive can be prevalent at any age, for those in their twilight years they are all the more powerful.  Preferring to live through memories, your client will be reliving both the joys and sorrows of those who are no longer alive.Easily, you may be one of the only people that your client has ever told about a particular battle.  The first time I heard about a battle during the Korean War, from an 8 time Purple Heart recipient, I honestly couldn’t process it.  Both listening to the pain in his voice, and hearing about the horror of watching his platoon fall, to this day there are pieces I will always remember with crystal clarity.  Hollywood will never be able to recreate it.  Honor their memories, and offer support.  Whether this is through voicing your pain at their loss, or simply a quiet reflection, whatever you are comfortable with try to be a pillar of strength for them.Survivor’s guilt is not only found among the veterans.  It can be found in anyone who has outlived family members.  One man, aged 93, was so proud that he had been working his farm up until 3 months prior.  Listening to his stories, he had survived falling off the barn roof, getting kicked in the head by a bull, being gored by that same bull, and getting his arm caught in a thrasher and being thrown 20 feet.  Laughing, his smile dimmed as he began to speak about his family members.  An identical twin brother who had always been so cautious, dying in his 70’s from a heart attack.  A younger brother who died from cancer.  The baby sister who simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  He ended by saying he didn’t understand why he was still alive.  The only thing I could think to reply, “So you can tell the rest of your family their stories.”

    He gave a pained smile, and said most of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-nieces/nephews were more interested in their phones than listening to his stories.  They didn’t understand even the concept of a farm.  Quiet for a moment, I just smiled and said “Well I’m interested.  And one day, when they’re older, I have a feeling they will be too.  So we’ll make sure they have them.”  Smiling wide, he patted me on the arm, and launched into another tale about the pranks he used to play on people with his twin brother’s help.  Which leads into the next point.

  4. You are the keeper of their tales, the ones who keep them from being forgotten.  You hold not only their memories, but the memories they entrust to you of beloved relatives long gone.  As long as one person knows these stories, their lives mattered.  Someone cares that they once existed, and their lives have meaning.  To this end, you may also be asked to do some extra things.  By no means feel obligated, and only do what you are comfortable with.But I have tracked down tiny, obscure cemeteries to take pictures of old family plots.  I have delivered flowers to a beloved family member’s grave, as their descendant could no longer travel to do so.  I tend to become extremely invested, so I don’t mind doing these things, within reason of course.  This isn’t the right way, it’s simply mine.  After a while, you’ll be able to find what works best for you, and what you are comfortable with as well.
  5. You do not have all the time in the world.  This isn’t something that can be pushed to a back burner for later.  While it’s true that terrible accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere, your clients are much more likely to not always have a ‘later’.  Whether due to health or age, there are so many things that can happen.Someone who I had befriended at a retirement center over a pool table and lessons on how to bank a shot off two rails was one of the most delightful chaps I had ever met.  I kept in touch over the spring and summer, and always stopped to say hi and chat.  Then one week I came by and saw him on the couch.  Stopping by him, he couldn’t remember who I was.  He had difficulty with speech, and was frustrated as he knew he should know me.  I later learned he had a massive stroke.  The next week, he was no longer at the retirement center as he wound up with further complications.

We are all so busy, with our own lives and projects.  It can be a balancing act to find time to breathe, let alone put together a scrapbook, or an article for a navy ship.  But realize that your client may never see the finished product, if you take too long.  For some, that’s ok.  Always be upfront about your time constraints, and figure out something that works best.  Maybe that means bringing a video recorder, so that you have all of the materials to work on at your convenience.  Discuss and find what works best for you and your client.

For many, they are simply happy that someone took the time to care, and came to listen to their tales.

First up, the Write-A-Thon Event

The WC Outreach and Grant Committees are hard at work on the Community Composing Project! Part of MSU’s contribution to the Humanities Without Walls Initiative, the CCP is MSU’s answer to the theme and idea of what #MidwestHungerIs. A social and political issue that ties closely to Midwestern history and culture, hunger can have many interpretations that resonate across the globe. Using this overarching idea of hunger, the CCP will have multiple events highlighting the humanities and how they can contribute to the community.

Fast approaching is the Write-A-Thon on Saturday, October 18, where participants will travel to five different MSU locations so that they can be inspired by their surroundings and write about what Midwest hunger means to them. Whether that is a hunger for food, music, art, community or literature, these writers can focus on what appeals to them most. At the end of the event, their work will be collected for an anthology that will be set to music and sold as CDs to the community.

So mark your calendars, check out our twitter #MidwestHungerIs, and stay tuned for more information about our second event on November 19th!

For more information on the Write-A-Thon and other Writing Center events and opportunities, please see our events page

Curiouser and Curiouser – Why Aren’t You Celebrating Mad Hatter Day?

Adapted from the 10/6 (10 shillings sixpence) price ticket that adorns the hat of Lewis Carroll’s beloved character, the Mad Hatter, this nonsensical holiday is filled with frivolous fun.

Have midterms made you mad? Don’t worry; the best people usually are. We’re all mad here, but we’re not losing our muchness. Instead we’re celebrating our right to silliness, to live in a world where everything is nonsense, to be entirely bonkers. So take a few tips from us and plan your own tea party in honor of Mad Hatter Day.

The Ultimate Checklist for the Mad Hatter Tea Party

The Hat
An indispensible accessory, you can express your madness through the wonders of haberdashery with the small side-fascinator or the traditional gentleman’s top hat. Add style to your personality.

Traditional hat Fashion Mode Styling Outfit DIY
Click images for DIY tutorials.

Unbirthday Invitations
Birthday parties are so passé; impress your friends with invites to a less conventional celebration.

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Click image for DIY tutorial.

Sturdy Table
You’re going to get your Futterwacken on, so you’ll need a table that can handle your jaunty jig.

Tea
Caffeine is key; keep alert to party all night long. These teas make a zany addition to any table.

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Queen of Hearts Tea (left), Pink Tea (right):  Click images for more info.

Snacks
What’s an unbirthday party without food? Maximize your madness; don’t celebrate on an empty stomach. Try strawberries with clotted cream, or perhaps a scone or tea cake is in order.

Tea Pot – Dormouse optional, though highly suggested!
Might we suggest these Lansing Craigslist gems?

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Chipped China
Whipping teacups across the room can be rough on porcelain. Once your party gets under way, shenanigans and high-jinx will ensue.

Perhaps post-party you’ll be able to answer our riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear takes on Marxism

As Banned Books week comes to a close, we decided to highlight one of the most surprising books on the listBrown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle and Bill Martin.

Yes, the delightful and beautifully drawn children’s book from our childhood made the list following one of the most spectacular Google fails in history. Bill Martin happens to share his name with a little known Marxist Theorist. Instead of fully researching if Bill Martin, the children’s author, is one and the same with Bill Martin, the Marxist Theorist, a superintendent decided that immediate action must be taken to protect his school’s youth, and banned the book outright.

In the hope of trying to make the superintendent and school district feel better for having banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, we decided to put on our Marxist goggles and read through the book to find all of the hidden Marxist propaganda. Are you ready Comrades?

To start with, the entire book displays not only a diverse group of multicolored animals, but also a culturally diverse classroom full of children. This portrays the theory that Marxism is about including everyone and making them equal. Each animal doesn’t see another of its own kind, but rather acknowledges and accepts an entirely different species. The students themselves are all equally learning regardless of culture or race. They have become one and the same, participating within their teacher’s class.

The teacher within the book has a secret secondary purpose as well. If you read through the book, you may wonder why there are no parents present. Not for the adorable purple cat, or cute yellow duck, and none for the children at the end. This in fact is trying to slowly acclimate its readers to the idea of losing the family unit. As families are simply a byproduct of the capitalist and bourgeois way of life, Marxists support the dissolution of the concept of families. Instead, children become the entire community’s responsibility, and schools become their home. The teacher is tasked with molding these young minds with only the approved curriculum of the Marxist state. This ensures that outdated thoughts on religion and family are eradicated.

So as you can see, Brown Bear, Brown Bear is full of propaganda hiding under the mask of an innocent children’s book. Of course, it could also be that the author was trying to teach children colors and animals through repetition and artistic pictures. Whatever floats your literary boat, at least we can say that we have been reading banned books since childhood, which is a great conversation starter. So check out a list of banned books, read a few, and get ready for next year!