Photo books are useful to people of any age


This is the fourth in a series about creating photo (and other) books to help you, your family, and future caregivers focus on the richness and significance of your life - instead of primarily on infirmities you might develop.

The last several columns have suggested that you create photo books about your life. These can be prepared on your computer and then professionally printed, including many pictures, stories and descriptions. These books can be meaningful as you age. For some people, though, that payoff seems quite distant - are there any immediate benefits?

Yes, indeed. To explain, a little background regarding my experience with such books may help. In 2010, we brought out to Prescott my four oldest great-nephews, then ages 7 to 12, for a weeklong event created just for them -- without their parents. Given the effort and expense involved in bringing them here, we wanted to make sure they remembered the experience.

To start, we lent each boy his own digital camera for the week and created a photo scavenger hunt with daily prizes for "best photo" in many categories. (If a child made a serious effort to take pictures, he was virtually guaranteed a prize each day). My husband and I also wielded cameras. By the end of the week, we had more than 1,300 photographs - and the 7-year-old had shot many of the most striking.

After the children left, my husband and I used free software to create 70-page books memorializing the week, fitting in more than 160 pictures and writing stories about funny and interesting events of the trip. We named the children as authors (along with us) and gave credit to the photographer of each picture.

Each child got his own hardcopy of the book, with a letter explaining that we got the idea because many people - such as their great-grandmother (my mother) -- forget things as they get older. Their great-grandmother is so happy to have her photo albums to remind her of good times, and we thought the boys would like to have something similar about this trip.

We assumed that the children would like the photo books, but that they would truly appreciate them only in 40 or 50 years. We failed entirely to understand how important the books would be to them in the present.

That photo book became the only book that the 7-year-old wanted to read at bedtime each night - for the next year and a half. In a school essay, the 10-year-old described a day during that trip as the best day of his life, a result that probably would not have happened without the stories and pictures in the photo book acting as a prompt. Two of the boys took us up on our suggestion that they make their own photo books (with the help of grown-ups) about summer vacations the following year.

In subsequent years, we added a daily photo caption contest and then a journal-writing contest. Last summer, the travel journals kept by two 13-year-olds provided most of the text for a photo book about their visit, and they loved the result.

We find that the children quote lines from the books to each other, and refer to events described and specific photos included. When they are adults, I am hoping that they will continue to create such books themselves. When they are old, I think most of them will have kept most of the books, helping them, their families and their caregivers focus on who they are and what they've done, not primarily on any limitations that age may bring.

At one point, I was vice-chair of the board of a college, and one commencement speaker stands out. This graduating student reported, "When I told people I was going to college, they said, 'But you'll be 40 when you graduate!'" She said, "I told them, 'I'll be 40 anyway. I'd rather be 40 and have a college degree than be 40 and not have a degree.'" Barring untimely deaths, we will all grow older. I'd rather grow older and have photo books as memory aids than grow older and not have them. I think you might find the same to be true for you, too.

To tell your story, propose a topic or ask a question, write to Bewley's latest book, a collection of 40 articles from this column, is available locally at Hastings and at Peregrine Books and online at Amazon. It is titled "Not Your Grandmother's Nursing Home: Demystifying Today's Retirement Living Options."

Elizabeth L. Bewley