• Helen Gregory


Memory is as personal as your favourite flower


I was looking through an old family album the other day, trying to find a photograph to send to my brother of us standing outside my grandmother’s house. I was sure this photo showed a small door surrounded by roses. But the only one I could find had us in front of a much larger, ornate door, with no roses to be seen. How was that possible? Had she taken out the roses sometime before?


I checked with my mother and she confirmed there had never been a rose bush round the door. So why did I remember the colour and the sweet scent of those flowers – what was their significance? I still remembered the times we spent staying with my grandmother fondly, but now I questioned what else I might have forgotten or mis-remembered about her. It was almost as though that memory had become corrupted.


That got me thinking about our memory and capacity for editing in or out details. Perhaps we’re just not able to recall the information so our brains simply morph in other memories to replace or augment them. Perhaps someone tells us something or we see another photograph and implant those ‘false’ memories into the real ones. You might start questioning your own recall and worry that you’ll get other memories ‘wrong’.


When you sit down to write about these treasured memories, of your childhood holidays spent with grandparents, where you smiled happily in (rose-covered) doorways, ask yourself if these small details really matter. I don’t think they do. You might remember differently and then learn something new when you discuss it with family and friends. You could make the discovery part of the story. It’s more than likely that once you’ve written your life story, no one will challenge you on these smaller details, but if they do, it can actually present a nice conversation starter and a way to enjoy your different memories of the past together.


Life isn’t always rosy but how you choose to remember and present those memories makes it your story. The smell of those flowers - my grandmother's favourite - will always remind me of her. And that’s what really matters.

  • Helen Gregory


It’s not a very cheerful thought, but as the old saying goes, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. While taxes are unavoidable and frankly, no fun, making sure you’ve drafted a will, got your finances in order, and sorted out your belongings is a positive way to face the inevitable.

You’ll probably want to make life a bit easier for your children and grandchildren, so why not start by sorting out your old photographs? If your boxes of loose, uncaptioned prints are too overwhelming, when you’re no longer around, they’re at risk of being dumped in an attic at best, or just dumped.

Sorting through your old photographs to keep only those that bring comfort and joy is a truly worthwhile task. Don’t feel guilty about culling those you don’t want; if they don’t mean much to you, they probably won’t mean anything to your children and grandchildren.

You could put them in a timeline, starting from birth to present day, or in themes, such as birthdays, holidays or childhood milestones, labelling each on the back with names and dates if possible. Don’t assume others will know who people are, even those close family members, as your children might only end up looking at them some time in the distant future.

Apply the same method to more recent digital photos on your phone or tablet; caption them and put them in labelled folders on a memory stick.

Ditch blurry pictures, duplicates and landscapes, and hold on to only those that have meaning, testify to your memorable experiences, or make you smile.

Once you’ve had the satisfaction of doing this, why not go a step further and generate some stories from your photos, so you can leave both a visual and narrative history to your children - a gift from the past for the future. This might seem like a lot of work, but consider what value these photos will hold if your family doesn’t even know what they represent? (Answer: very little.) Instead, what value will they hold if you share not only the vital details, but also the stories behind them? (Priceless.) A life story book is the perfect place for both.



Don't forget to date and caption each photo


  • Helen Gregory


As a life story writer, I hear a common lament: “My life isn’t interesting enough – who’s going to want to read about me?”

Everyone’s lives, however ‘ordinary’, are filled with experiences that other people can relate to, which makes them inherently interesting. A memoir or life story attempts to make meaning of your life's events and, unlike a novel, doesn’t have to follow a plot or chronological order to make sense. It’s about reflection, observations, beliefs and opinions. There’s freedom in how you write, and acceptance from the readers – usually mainly your family and friends.

Don't feel that you need to catalogue everything from birth onwards; it’s an account of a period, or series of events from your life, which can be centred on parents or grandparents or themes, such as marriage or loss.

Photographs are the next best place to go to jog memories and create vivid memories on the page, using all your senses – smell, taste, feel and sound as well as the more typical sight to engage readers.

To help, you can try a couple of exercises: picking a memory then sit quietly with it for a while – in a meditative state – to really try and transport yourself back to that moment in time, being aware of what’s around you, smells, colours and food, before attempting to write down or record those sensory recollections while still in this semi-meditative state.

Another idea is to draw a map of a certain memory, encouraging yourself to remember small details. Perhaps start with your childhood house, draw this along with neighbours’ houses, adding street names and people’s names and their relation to you. Mark down any significant events on the map and the reason, or result of what happened. It’s surprising how the act of creating a detailed, colour diagram can help hidden memories resurface.

Some people have kept a journal much of their lives, in which case, that’s a good way of embarking on a life story. However, too much material can be overwhelming, so if you need some guidance about how to get these memories down or in order, Memory Lane Books can help.


Try meditating then let your thoughts run free!