Celebrating Stories from Aged Care

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My name is Sophie and I’m a volunteer with Beyond Words. Every week for the last two months, I’ve had the privilege of sitting down with 72-year-old Joan* at the aged care facility she lives in and helping her to write her biography.

For one hour every Friday, Joan gradually revealed more and more of her life as I sat and listened with a tape recorder in hand. We jumped between the warm memories of her childhood and travels abroad, to relationships marked by betrayal and the many times she had to rebuild.

Her ‘ordinary’ life casually intersected with historical moments like the Vietnam War, or other local landmarks before they became Heritage buildings.

At the end of the nine weeks, when she felt she had remembered all that she possibly could (and redacted the things she didn’t want others to read) I threaded the pieces together and added her photos. Joan is very excited for the day we will soon be presenting her with a 43-page biography in front of family and friends at her special morning tea.

The biography is not a perfect document. No one person can ever provide the absolute truth. At Beyond Words, we don’t pick apart a client’s version of events with their whole extended family. I was simply there to record Joan’s story in her words, with a light edit to help it flow.

Beyond Words is an organisation of volunteer biographers who believe everyone has a story. We are dedicated to helping residents in aged care put theirs into a hard copy biography to share with whomever they choose.

Many people plan to record their parent or grandparent’s life story. But despite these good intentions, it’s not often something they get around to, or they only collect the story in dribs and drabs over the years.

By the time they want to know something, this person may not be around to verify the family history. Descendants are left with assumptions about how their parent truly felt about certain events in their lives or why they did the things they did.

We take this task out of the family’s hands and offer aged care residents a non-judgemental third party to whom they can confide the parts of their lives they wish to share.

We keep this information confidential and only act as a vessel to write their story. This is particularly important for clients with disabilities that prevent them from putting together a biography themselves, as was the case for Joan.

For most clients, the biography is a chance to recount the good and bad times, reveal things they never have before or leave behind tributes to those who will live on after them.

But most importantly, the process of telling their story is a therapeutic and stimulating experience for our clients. It’s a chance to rethink, reframe and reflect. For some, their biographer is the only outside visitor they’ll have all week.

Beyond Words provides a valuable one-on-one service that helps to preserve the dignity and legacy of older people in our community. We hope to be able to reach more residents and enhance the experience of living in more aged care homes for years to come.

*name changed for privacy purposes

Beyond Words is generously sponsored and supported by Blue Cross. We are working together to give more Blue Cross residents the opportunity to share and celebrate their stories. Find out more about Beyond Words at beyondwords.org.au.