I first came across life story work whilst on a placement within a family support team, a child in foster care I was working with had an appointment with a social worker to do some “life story work” as his support worker I was asked to attend. The social worker arrived, with a huge suitcase full of arts and crafts supplies, and explained all of the amazing things she had in the bag, paints and glues and felt tips. She didn’t actually open the bag and she produced a small A4 plastic wallet with some paper in and asked if I wanted to complete them with the child. Then she left. The plastic wallet contained his life story book (whilst he had been in care for several years this was the first time he had seen it) the pages were basic. A place to put a photograph at the top of each page, a couple of questions such as “what school did you go to” or “who was your teacher” and that was about it. Whilst I continued in my Social Work training that meeting stayed with me.
Working in adult social care as a Social Worker I saw first-hand the difficulty individuals and families had in dealing with illness, and aging. Some families would give all of themselves to be carers for their parents, to the point of burn out, others would continue with their day to day lives and visit occasionally content in the knowledge care was being provided, other still would be in so much pain at the grief that they had irregular contact.
Life story work has been floating around in adult social care for several years, but every copy I found was the same as that foster child’s. Pragmatic, logical and dull. They had been designed for professionals to write basic information about a person (adult or child) so there was a sense of personalisation. Life story work could do so much more though, it just needs to be engaging.
That’s what led me to creating our life story book. I wanted it to not just ask questions but to engage and prompt family, friends and carers to think about their loved one. I wanted it to be easily personalised and something that could be written both by the individual and the family. I started with the questions, the first question (I think one of the most important) set the theme for Myography.
Who was your first love?
When I thought of this I thought, my Partner Kerry. Of course. It’s a set answer you give. But the I laughed to myself, I knew I was lying, my first love wasn’t my partner, I met her when I was 28. My first love was the American pop sensation Tiffany, I fell in love with her as she sang “I think were alone now”. It’s silly and trivial, but tis this silly trivial stuff that’s important, if i'm in a care home and you put Robbie Williams on I probably won’t react…put tiffany on and well might raise a smile.
So our LifeStory book evolved from a book full of pages (yes with a place to put a picture at the top) to 8 chapters, the first six are birth through to later life and the final two are “maps” and “family tree”. To help families with that awkward moment where they are sitting with their loved one in a care home and unsure what to do, each chapter page is a bespoke piece of mindful colouring.
To ensure our LifeStory book could really be personalised we ditched the set question pages and have included hundreds of stickers.Some stickers are for the family tree with the others being autobiographical prompts and questions. Designed to engage, prompt and promote the involvement of families, friends and carers. Authors can choose which stickers are relevant to them and stick them to the top of one of the pages in the 6 biography chapters and answer the question how they see fit.
This could be “explain your military career” and family could discuss what regiment their parent was in, where they were posted and put photographs in, others may choose to discuss their own memories of their parents being in the military and fil the book with anecdotes. It really is personal to each author.
Whilst the first 6 chapters are the “biographical chapters” the final 2 chapters are maps and family tree. Our LifeStory book includes six maps (each habitable continent) so authors can pinpoint where they have lived, travelled or want to travel to supporting carers and others to have real personalised conversation and understanding.
As a Social worker, the final chapter (family tree) is a really simple and important factor, if you can visually identify where someone fits into their family, how many brothers/sisters etc they have then the easier it is to offer good support.
Ultimately Our LifeStory book can be used at an individual’s funeral, as a book of condolences, bursting at the seems with photographs, dog eared pages, grandchildren’s colouring and personal effects so the family don’t take home just a book of signatures but their loved ones life story so grandchildren and great-grandchildren can have a real connection with those that came before.