My father has a ritual every year at Christmas. He pours himself a big tumbler of scotch, goes into his bedroom, closes the door, and listens to tapes of my conversation with my grandmother 22 years ago before she died. While her death was still raw, he listened and cried. “Now I’m at the point where I can hear her voice and feel close to her again,” Dad told me.
When I was a young writer at Rolling Stone, I sometimes get tired of trying to be hip. To center myself, I would call my grandmother, whom we called “Ma.” She lived in Sun City, Ariz., and we’d have a sweet, sweet conversation about the hummingbirds that visited her feeder or her latest trip to get her hair “fixed” at the salon.
In those pre-cell phone days, I used to have a tape recorder attached to my phone for interviews. One day, remembering my father telling me that he longed to hear his late father’s voice and not having any recordings, I asked my grandmother if she could tape our conversation. She said she would be happy to do that. My dad kept the three half-hour tapes I made in a safety deposit box at the bank and took them out every December.
So, this season, we have a tip for you — record an old relative for posterity. It doesn’t matter how you do it. If you have a smartphone at a family gathering, you can use the Voice Memo app. If your relative is located elsewhere, there is an option to register for Zoom.
“It’s a gift that keeps on giving because we’re extending their life beyond their immediate physical presence,” said Robert Niemeyer, director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition in Oregon, when recording a conversation with a loved one.
Research has demonstrated that voices can be as distinctive as fingerprints, said Laura K., director of engagement and discovery at the Hugh Towns School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. A 2021 study Published in Scientific Reports, the sound of a mother’s voice reduces pain and increases levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin; A sympathetic phone call, step 2021 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, reduces anxiety and depression.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is the host of the new podcast Everything is with Anderson Cooper, which is a thoughtful study of loss (her father died at age 50 during heart surgery in 1978; her brother Carter committed suicide ten years later and her mother Gloria Vanderbilt died in 2019). In one episode, Cooper recounts how a few years ago, a radio interviewer sent him a link to a segment he did with Cooper’s father, Wyatt. It was the first time Cooper heard his father’s voice since he was 10 years old.
Cooper didn’t mention how the event made him feel, so I put him on the phone to ask. “It was extraordinary to hear,” he said. “Suddenly my father’s voice filled my office. The power of hearing one’s voice is hard to explain. Obviously, I cried.
It was even more impactful, Cooper added, “when he was interviewed about a book he had written, and he actually talked about my brother and me and what he hoped for us.” He paused. “It suddenly opened a portal and he was alive and talking about my brother and me in the present tense. To hear him say my name and my brother’s name…”
Cooper’s voice broke. “I’m sorry. Sorry.” He started crying. “It took me back to this lost world. I’m the last of that isolated family, and I’m the only one who remembers it. His speaking from that time is like proof that it really existed.
If you want to start asking some reliable questions, Dr. Niemeyer recommended them from psychological interventions. Dignity treatment. It was developed by Dr. Harvey Max Sochinov, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, to interview people at the end of their lives.
They include: Tell us a little about your life history, especially the parts you think are most important. When did you feel most alive? Are there specific things you want your family to know about you? What have you learned about life that you want to pass on to others? What do you feel most proud of?
I’ll add some questions I asked my grandmother: When did you first feel like an adult? Tell me about your childhood friend who is very important to you. How did you meet your grandfather?
While reminiscing questions are a reliable way to get people to open up, older relatives with cognitive impairments should be approached differently, says Laura N., dean of Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. Gitlin said.
“One thing you don’t want to do is ask, ‘Do you remember when we went here or there?’ “Questions about memories increase anxiety and frustration because it feels like you’re testing them,” she said.
You family members can interview an older relative. “A great project would be to have people record something around a circle at Christmas time, and then you have a voice scrapbook,” Dr. Guerrero said.
A An audio time capsule You can register with anyone you want. Recently I started interviewing my parents. My favorite question is one I asked my mom at Thanksgiving: What memory always makes you smile?
He told me his restless Alabama church-going mother loved watching wrestling matches on television. Nice George. “When Gorgeous George is around mom closes the curtains so the neighbors don’t see,” Mom said.
When my mother, who has lived in the Northeast for many years, talks about her Alabama childhood, her Southern accent comes back—an endearing quirk I’ll save for the future, a part of her I’ll never lose.
Do you freeze when you have a lot to do? Here’s how to protect yourself.
Especially this time of year, your to-do list can stretch to infinity. Dana G. Smith explores this feeling of helplessness, also known as “task freeze” or “hyper-freezing.” Your brain sees this list as a threat, and its executive center loses control. Here’s how to make it work.
How to save yourself from ‘work freeze’
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Q: I am a man in my 50s and have noticed hair growth in odd places like the tops and insides of my ears and my nose. Is this normal? Why is it happening? How can I get rid of it?
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