Honing Listening Skills for Aiding Reminiscing

Honing Listening Skills for Aiding Reminiscing

The dictionary defines honing ‘to sharpen’ which points directly to Jim Ward who is known among our family and friends as the knife sharpener.  He carried his tools ready to repair anything and then sharpen every knife. He was always welcome. He is also remembered for his sharpened listening skills as he pastored all types of people in many stressful situations. The children can verify that our car was always the last to leave the church parking lot while we waited for their dad to finish listening to whoever stayed until everyone else left. When people have an opportunity to share their story uninterrupted, they always come away feeling satisfied. We can all be sharpened listeners with just a little bit of encouragement.

A favorite memory involves our parents and their siblings retelling events and antics of bygone days every time they got together. Our family, and probably yours too, follows suit. We didn’t realize at the time the strategic role reminiscing played not only in learning family history but also how it contributed to our emotional security and well being. Several of our grandchildren, nieces and nephews have commented to their parents how enlightening and fun it’s been to read about inside stories and history of their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

As I discussed this subject with my brother, Mac, as we chatted on the phone, he asked “Do you remember when we were  headed home one Saturday when Dad spotted a fire?”  I laughed recalling very clearly where I sat in the packed Hudson sedan with our family driving through the beautiful rolling hills of southern Ohio. We were settling into our normal routine chatting about the matinee movie, having had popcorn and crossing the street afterwards for chocolate malts, when Dad announced, “There’s a fire up ahead! “

Everything got really quiet as we strained to see. “Must be a huge building”, he projected. Our faces were plastered to the windows and we were amazed that Dad was excited and committed to follow the fire even if we had to take a different road. We came to another curve and just as we edged to the top of a hill, there it was, big as life! The combined breath went out of all of us as we beheld the awesome flaming orange-red harvest moon. Then Mac said, “Do you remember what we did next? We all began to laugh at what we saw and laughed at ourselves”.  It’s healthy and good for a family to laugh together and at themselves.

That little bit of reminiscing when Mac and I were 9 and 10, now mid-eighties, recalled family history but did both of us a lot of emotional good. We were impressed that each could still recap that scene so vividly, remembering our surprise and that our memories actually matched. It’s so special to have siblings who can recall the same things. A tremendous bond. Nearly everyone has stories that need to be heard----by someone.

Several responded to last week’s blog acknowledging the importance of reminiscing. I’m sharing two.

Thank you for sharing about Dave and how he (and "his") blessed you, your family and the world through which he passed. I'm a low-country South Carolinian. Nothing better than those upcountry peaches picked fresh from the trees then baked into a cobbler! Covid-19 time apart has been a special time of remembering the gifts of friends and family near and far. I have wept and laughed. Your writing always leads me to a deeper thinking and greater knowing of God's mercies. Your words mentor me. I am so grateful. C

I am so sorry for the loss of another dear friend!! May the reunion in Heaven be full of good chatter. I love especially the last as you suggest letting seniors go on about their stories and memories, as it is their mind's exercise remembering the last bits of life, hopefully happy times. I have been impatient with a few folks like that, but I am not anymore. Precious are any pieces of a soul we can claim as a gifted memory later.  B

As mentioned, when large families get together, the first thing many do is begin to reminisce about bygone days. But Mac shared how siblings sharing the same tales often come out with different facts and outcomes. And unfortunately, many times these disputes follow them to their graves. He assures his clients that the story you tell, even if the facts don’t match another sibling’s is a true story because it’s what and how you chose to remember it.  “It’s your story”. He said, if he hears one of our sibling stories containing different facts, he takes the new version and is satisfied.

Some people have serious unhappy stories that also need to be heard to aid healing. Brother John, professor of a Death and Dying class who also teaches listening skills offers these guidelines pertaining to difficult, unhappy stories that also need to be told for release.

There are a number of listening skills that equips the learner to engage in story-listening focusing on deep personal pain.  Everyone has a story or stories that are told over and over.  These stories continue to be told until a skilled listener can help the story teller to discover the meaning of the story and an aha!  Whether one is telling a single story or a series of stories there is usually a common theme which gives a clue to the basic issue hidden in the story.  What each of us needs is a story listener, listening with both ears and keeping the mouth closed as much as possible. Note that it is very difficult for the skilled story listener to "sit" on his or her own story while listening to another’s.

First, we need to make ourselves available to the would-be story teller, gifting them with time to speak. Extroverts find it much easier to ask questions and to speak than to listen but they can learn the discipline of listening. Long pauses in conversation are apt to make extroverts uncomfortable until they learn the wisdom of waiting patiently. The speaker is not usually uncomfortable with pauses but is pondering before they speak. Introverts are good listeners but listening and conversing is very draining for them. To invite someone to share, easy non-offensive introductory statements such as: “I’d like to hear about your: garden, children, new puppy, grandchild, trip or job” or, “Are you from around here?” pave the way.

The art of reminiscing doesn’t have to happen only after stressful situations or with loss of loved ones. It’s good for any day of the week. Sharing what was enjoyed years ago whether it was a hunting or fishing experience, an interesting class attended, or chasing after the harvest moon, etc. We all need to pledge to let the other person have the floor and accept the fact that some stories become repetitious and make no sense. Sharing a memory is important to the story-teller. That’s what matters. So, just nod and smile. That’s respect. I’ve received many stories by snail mail and recently through email.  Innovation is our friend when we face roadblocks.

Becoming a story-listener could be a simple goal for all of us as we become part of the solution of the Covid Pandemic isolation, meeting the needs of people, young and old, who yearn for conversation. Following Covid restrictions, we can chat safely by phone, visit outdoors or practice social distancing. Cultivating relationships requires thought, time and true concern.  Write to me about your experiences for a future discussion.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Prov. 25:11                                                                        

But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. James 1:19.                                                                                                            

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Ps 119:18.

Help us Father to learn how to listen to you. Thank you for your personal interest, presence, love, provisions and wisdom. Help us to take seriously your desire to be known.  We know you desire our daily communication. Give us wisdom as we reach out to others.