Lifebook

When my grandmother went to a carehome my dad got asked to make a lifebook for her. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’ and the book would be a great way for staff to get to know her a bit better. And for her to look back on her life.

I’m writing this blog post in hopes to help people who are looking into making such a book for their relative.

What would be included in a lifebook?

  • Full name and preferred name (if needed)
  • Date of birth and place of birth
  • Photos and names (and birth dates/death dates) of other family members
  • Family tree
  • Photos of schooldays (if possible)
  • Photos and name (again with dates) of the spouse and children from the marriage
  • Places and houses the person has lived in (photos, maps)
  • Photos and names of much-loved pets
  • anecdotes about their life
  • Occupation of the person
  • Photos and names of friends
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Birth certificate can be included too
  • Favourite music
  • Letters

Why is all this important?

The full name and preferred would be already in the files of the nursing home where your relative is staying. But sometimes your relative will only listen to a pet name from their childhood. Many times that name is not recorded in the files. Make sure you included that name.

Date of birth and place of birth should, again, be in the files. But sometimes it’s hard to find out the exact place of birth. Maybe the village doesn’t exist anymore. Or maybe the records don’t show the right place of birth (it happens).

Photos and names of other family members are important. A person with Alzheimer’s travels back in time. They’ll start asking about people who have long since died. It’s nice to have photos and names at hand. A family tree will come handy for carers, as they can see how people relate to your relative.

Schooldays are a really important part of a person’s life. Teachers have probably had a great impact on a person’s life. Photos will bring your relative back to those days.

One of the most important days of your life. That’s how almost everyone describes their wedding day. Almost anyone has at least one picture of their wedding day. Makes sure not only to include pictures from the spouse (if not alive anymore) later on in life. They won’t recognize them anymore. Harsh but true. But they’ll know that boy in the soldier uniform or the lovely girl in the long dress is the person they are going to get married to. These picture are very important.
As for the children. If you are visiting and you tell your mother/father you are his/her daughter or son, it might happen that they don’t remember you. This will hurt, a lot. Talk to the carers about it. You’ll find they are talking about you when you’re not around. They see you as the little boy/girl you once were. the grown person who stands in front of them doesn’t look familiar. Although they won’t mind a cuddle, as they somehow know you are close to them. How they know? They have no idea, but they feel love if you’re around.

Include photos of much-loved houses your relative has lived in. Have they moved like a 100 times in their life? What would they choose as the most important place they lived in. Think the house they bought when they first got married, the house the children were born in. The house the last lived in.

Pets are a very important part of life. Don’t think about the guard dog that wasn’t allowed in the house, think of the cat whose kittens were born in front of the stove in the kitchen. Think of the lamb that had to be bottle fed every few hours. Those are the important ones.

anecdotes, things your relative might suddenly start talking about. My grandmother suddenly started talking about a family where she had worked when she was about 14. Nobody remembered anything about that family, only her youngest sister did. She shed some light on my grandmother’s  behaviour when she talked about this family. This family had a massive (negative) influence on her. She hadn’t talked about them for over 70 years, but she remembered.

I think you’ve now got a pretty good picture of the important things that might help your relative to remember. And help the carers to care for your relative even more.

I can’t do this alone. Who can help me?

Ask help from friends and family. As I stated above, asking your aunts and uncles is a great way to find anecdotes from their childhood. Things they might have never talked about. Ask the nursing home if other families have made lifebooks. Ask them if you can view those for ideas. Nowadays you can make great photo books online. Use those services to your advantage.

Maybe there are volunteers in your local area who can help you. Or maybe there are organisations that can help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A lifebook isn’t something easy to make. It’s hard.

If you think you’re done, ask someone to go over your work. Ask them for input. It’s easy to include too much information. Maybe you’ve included stories that are important to you, but aren’t so much to your relative.

Is it really worth it to include negative parts of my relative’s life?

Yes, it is! Negative events are just as important as positive events. Let me tell you a short story.

In a nursing home where I worked was a woman who had severe dementia. The last few weeks of her life, when she was in bed, she was screaming and crying. The only thing we could understand were the words: “Don’t take him, don’t take him.” We had no idea what triggered this. And the only way to get her quiet was to give her a babydoll. When she didn’t have the babydoll in bed with her she would try to get out. We found her on the floor, on her hands and knees more than once, trying to get her babydoll.
We asked her daughters, she had 3 girls,  what she might be talking about. They had no idea and didn’t ask other family members for clues, despite us asking them to do so.
After the woman died, her brother dropped a bombshell on her daughters. It turned out that she had gotten pregnant when she was just 15 and had a baby boy in a home. That boy had been taken away from her right after birth. She had never spoken of this. Right until she died. When one of her daughters told us this news, we could finally understand her erratic behaviour towards the babydoll, who was, coincidentally, dressed in a blue jumper.

If the daughters had asked their uncle if he could shed some light on the womans behaviour this story would have reached us much sooner and we could have made sure she had that babydoll with her at all times. We might have been able to give it a name with her, making her feel more comfortable with this sad story. Sadly they didn’t and we tried to get that doll away from her on multiple occasions, for example when we needed to wash her or give her food. Which made her even more upset without us knowing.

So yes, negative details of someone life are important. Of course you don’t want the whole book to become negative, so don’t include too much.

I really hope this will help you make that lifebook for your relative. If you have tips, don’t be afraid to share them in the comments. I’d love to get as much feedback and tips as possible!

This post has been inspired by yesterdays Daily Prompt.

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