Some of the greatest stories aren’t written by acclaimed authors, but told by your very own loved ones. At Chartwell Royalcliffe Retirement Residence in London, Ontario, professional wordsmith Sandy Ross regularly visits and helps residents craft and share their own personal accounts. The end result is a better understanding of seniors’ lives, a closer bond and a shared sense of accomplishment.
“Stories range from funny to interesting to touching.”
The art of storytelling
With more than 20 years of experience as a communication consultant, Sandy Ross knows a thing or two about getting people to tell their stories. She’s led countless forums and workshops, and recently started the “Storytelling Your Life” class at Chartwell Royalcliffe. She begins each session with a prompt to get the conversation going, and from there, she facilitates individual stories that range from funny to interesting to touching.
“I feel it’s not only my craft, it’s my calling to guide those who may not otherwise get a platform – our elders, for example,” says Ross. “As well as offering techniques for writing, my goal is to inspire and be a springboard for self-expression. I love seeing that spark ignite for people in our sessions.”
One of the most touching experiences that came from one of her workshops earlier this year was centred around Mother’s Day. Ross prompted a group of residents to write letters to their own daughters – all of whom are moms – and highlight the loving maternal traits they possess.
“It was sort of a reverse Mother’s Day card, from mother to grown child. And it was a success, so they told me during our next session,” says Ross. “For us, we’re finding success often means ‘not a dry eye in the room.’ Their life stories are so endearing, and usually joyful, we end up chuckling as we reach for the tissues!”
Benefits of putting pen to paper
Sharing stories with others not only gives people the ability to build a stronger connection with one another, but it’s also a way to de-stress. Benefits of writing include lower levels of stress, improved cognition and a better sense of general well-being. It allows people to express their emotions in a healthy way and form deep friendships in the process.
“A residence is a community of neighbours who are new to one another,” says Ross. “Common ground is comforting, and storytelling finds that for us.”
The benefits of storytelling extend far beyond the people who attend the workshop. Family members of residents who participate in the program have also presented positive feedback, explaining that before these workshops, they had no idea that their very own loved one has such interesting life experiences that they’d never shared with them. These types of classes encourage seniors to talk about moments in their lives that they never thought to mention to their friends and family.
Ross continues to visit the residence each month and loves helping the residents tell their stories. The appreciation goes both ways – her workshops are well-attended and bring together new and old residents alike.