Kind Words Go a Long Way

Kind words can go a long way. Yesterday, I was having a “so-so” day until late in the evening when a client of mine, Spencer Hayes (name given with permission), wrote a very kind note regarding the work I did for his family. My entire attitude changed to become more uplifting and positive. Here is his note:

“LifeStories Alive partnered with my family to bring us the greatest gift we could ever have: my parents sharing their stories so that their legacy will continue for many generations.

Mike O’Krent is a uniquely gifted documentarian. But moreover he is an exemplary human being who connects with people on a deep level, and brings out of them the essence of who they are.  The ability to capture all that on video for posterity is rare, and we have been blessed as a family to own the product of his talent.”

I encourage all of you to do as I will now; share a few kind words to someone – to the next person who comes to mind. It’s not hard, won’t take long, and will make you feel good. Thanks, Spencer, for making my day!

A Father’s Day Note to his Son and Daughter

My father died in 1997 at the age of sixty-three. So when Father’s Day rolls around, as it will very soon, what am I to do? I will remember my father. But there is more to do than that. I am blessed with two wonderful children (the photo below as taken a couple of years ago, but is still a favorite). For this Father’s Day, I want to share my note to my children.

To my dear children,

As the years roll by since my father’s death, I focus more and more on what it means to be a good Dad for the two of you. Please know that I try as much as possible to do what I can do and say what I can say to earn the designation of “a good Dad”. I find myself, at times, a bit nervous and anxious about doing the best things and saying the appropriate words to you. I ask that when I do screw up, embarrassing you and myself in the process, please forgive me.

Sometimes I feel that it’s a father’s right to say and do what he wants to his children in order to teach them those things that should be taught. And when that happens, I can, at times, come up with some incredibly stupid and dorky things. But I know that the intent is to see you grow into people who can be proud of themselves; people who make their community and the world a better place because they were in it. So please smile when I say those things. Show me in your eyes that you know what I am trying to say. And when I say the right things…you know, those things that make you feel good or those things you know you needed to hear…tell me how you feel at those times as well!

Please know also, that when I am feeling down and question if what I am doing and have done in life is good, all I have to do is look at the two of you. Then I know, by looking at you and the incredible people that you have become and continue to blossom into, that I have done the best thing in life…I feel that I have become “a good Dad”.

I am very proud of you. I love you both,


“You Don’t Understand”

One would think that if you just heard someone tell you, “You don’t understand”, it would be a negative thing. But when a client of mine told me just that and explained why he said that, I knew it was a much-needed compliment. Let me explain.

I interviewed this client’s parents in Dallas back in May, 2007. His father died about a year later. I called him recently to thank him for referring yet another of his friends to me to have a LifeStory done for their parent(s). I said, “I don’t quite know how to thank you for the numerous referrals you’ve given me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I keep your LifeStory DVDs on my desk at my office. Whenever I am missing Dad, all I have to do is pop in the DVD into my computer and there he is.” He went on to explain that giving me referrals is his gift to his friends so they can experience those memories for themselves.

I was speechless. Little did I know how much those LifeStory DVDs meant to him. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind each of you the importance of recording the memories of your loved ones…whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.  If you want to do it yourself but don’t know where to begin, please call me. I’d be glad to help you get started. It’s too important to ignore.

I hope you can now say, as I did that day, “Now I understand.”

Who, What, When & Where – The Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) Form (continued)

We’ve gathered the Basic Interviewee Information and Early Life PIQ form facts in our last blog post . Now it’s time to continue chronologically through the interviewees’s life and gather the facts about Adult Years, Family Background and Specific Life Stories.

For the PIQ purposes, I consider Adult Years to begin after graduation from high school or at about age 18 (if there was no graduation for the interviewee). The first subject I include here is military history since many of my interviewees entered the US military after graduation from high school. To get what I want regarding military history, I developed a chart with columns that include date of service, country, branch (of military), rank attained, place stationed and primary assignments. This is an important category for your research for two reasons: 1) to properly ask questions about their military service, you must follow the chronologic and geographic journey taken; and 2) their stories of military experience are usually the periods of time in their lives they have talked least about with other family members and, therefore, are the most requested unknown life stories you will be asked to capture.

Adult Years continue with a chart of primary occupations,  a list of awards & rewards earned, a chart of health history, a list best friends as an adult and a list of current activities they do for fun. Be especially sensitive when approaching the subject of health history. If the interviewee has experienced some very “personal” health challenges in their history (whether involving physical on mental health), they may not want to address it. My position is that’s okay with me. I want the interviewee to maintain a comfort level with me in order to share what they want during the interview itself. If I push too hard gathering health history they are embarrassed about, I risk losing the trust I need during the interview…and that’s something I cannot afford to lose!

Family Background is the next PIQ section and includes the details you want about grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse(s), children and grandchildren. Keep in mind here when constructing your form that there is no family that is “typical”. Parents can be step-parents, adoptive parents or guardians. Children can be by birth, adopted, or step-children. Each atypical category creates great life questions to ask during the interview.

The last category of information I want to gather from the PIQ form is Specific Life Stories. For this I make a numbered list (1 to 15) with long blanks after each number. I ask the interviewee, “Are there any specific life stories you would like me to ask about during the interview that I will not have gathered from the facts I just filled in. For instance, you might be thinking, ‘Don’t forget to ask me about this particular Thanksgiving, last one before my mother died’ or ‘There’s a story I love telling about how I tormented my sister as a kid’.” You will probably have heard this info during many times earlier during the PIQ meeting, so be prepared during the meeting to “fast-forward” to this page often. This is the part of the PIQ form you may want to ask other family members to chime in on. Some of the “juiciest” stories come from this info.

In my next blog post, we’ll cover gathering photos, documents and mementos.

Who, What, When & Where – The Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) Form

To prepare yourself for the LifeStory interview you will conduct, you should know the basic facts of the life of the interviewee…the who, what, when and where’s of their life. Don’t worry about the how’s and why’s yet. We’ll want to know them, but later…during the interview. To get these basic facts, having a Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) form is essential to getting enough information for you to formulate the questions you’ll ask during the interview.

In my previous blog post, we learned the importance of the Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) meeting. For that meeting to run smoothly, your PIQ form will be the key. The broad categories I use in my PIQ form are: Basic Interviewee Information, Early Life, Adult Years, Family Background, and Specific Life Stories. In this blog post, I’ll briefly cover basic Interviewee Information and Early Life.

Basic Interviewee Information is just that…names (first, middle, last, maiden, nick, etc.), and date & place of birth. While this seems like a classic “Duh” moment, I’ve been amazed at the cool and unexpected info I get when filling out this part. Birth certificate names can be very different from the one(s) you know. Origins of surnames and nicknames can be fun. The interviewee’s place of birth will begin your geographical journey through their life. This is a good time to remind you of something VERY important…NEVER assume you know the answer, either to this PIQ fill-in-the-blanks meeting or the questions you’ll ask during the interview itself. Ask anyway. I’ve been surprised on many occasions.

Early Life should include first addresses as a child, lists of friends, organizational & religious affiliations and activities & interests as a child. With addresses, be sure to give yourself enough room for a few. Families do move around! Activities and interests can include sports, hobbies & musical talents. This is where you should start making charts of information. In their education history, chart the info using columns for when, name of school, public or private, degree obtained, etc.. Also include in this section other information you’d like to know about their childhood. Family outings or vacations are a good example.

As you develop your own PIQ form, keep in mind a key word I think of throughout the LifeStories Alive process…empathy. What would I want someone to ask me if I were sitting in the chair of the person I’m talking to? I wouldn’t want them to leave out ______. Take that blank and develop PIQ fact fill-in-the blank for it.

In my next blog post, we’ll cover the other PIQ categories: Adult Years, Family Background, and Specific Life Stories. Stay tuned!