Telling Our Stories Is What Saves Us

By Maureen Ryan Doyle, Co-Chair Worcester Women's Oral History Project
December 3, 2013
Dr. Lucia Knoles
Dr. Lucia Knoles

The Worcester Women’s Oral History Project will present Telling Our Stories is What Saves Us: Why Autobiographies, Oral Histories, and Family Stories Matter, a talk by Dr. Lucia Knoles, on Tuesday, December 3, at 5:30 p.m. in the Saxe Room of the Worcester Public Library. Dr. Knoles is a professor of English at Assumption College.

Dr. Knoles commented on her upcoming presentation with these words: “I began thinking about why we need stories when my parents lost theirs. My mother’s story was stolen from her by Alzheimer’s; my father lost his story the day he moved with her to an assisted living residence. Instead of being recognized as a successful retired executive who lived in the beautiful white house with purple doors who played the ponies at the racetrack on weekdays but played the violin for mass in church on Sunday, suddenly my dad felt that he was seen only as another old man who needed help putting on his stockings.

“As a college English teacher, it occurred to me that teaching an autobiography-writing class at my father’s assisted living residence might enable him and his new neighbors to regain their self-respect and build a sense of community by sharing their stories with one another. Since then, I’ve helped others, including nursing home caregivers, families of people with Alzheimer’s, and hospice patients write their life stories.

“In the process, I’ve started to notice how many people have turned to life-stories in times of crisis: former slaves and holocaust victims, homeless people and war veterans, doctors working with cancer patients and psychologists working with the dying. It’s clear that putting your life story into words can help you relive joy, overcome trauma, forge an individual identity, build community, find a sense of meaning, and even shape the course of history. And new scientific studies are beginning to help us understand exactly how that works. Yet, many of us continue to neglect the stories of our own lives until it’s too late. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish I had asked my mother about that”?

“And so, instead of “lecturing” in December, I hope to share a medley of stories about how our stories can save us. Some will be taken from my own experience; others will be borrowed from writers, historians, and scientists. I’ll also suggest some methods you can use to collect and pass on your own family stories as well as some creative ways you can help others find their own voices. As writer Barry Lopez says: ‘If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive’.”

Dr. Knoles’ presentation on December 3 is free of charge and open to the public.