From Inheritance to Legacy 

A grandparent,
Binding me back two generations;
A grandchild,
Linking me forward two generations;
Five beloved generations!
Arms and heart open wide as the world.

                                                                                 Ellen B. Ryan


 I met Anna Jones more than 10 years ago when she and her friend Katie Allen approached me to publish selections from the memoirs of their Writers Cramp Group.  Anna went on to complete her family memoirs and a history of rural Copetown (Ontario) where she had lived all her life.

A very special project involved preparing books for her ten grandchildren – with two-page life stories based on her interviews with each along with mementoes gathered over the years of their life events.  For each child, the original of her/his section was placed first, followed by copies of the other nine. This approach focused on the individual child at the same time as stregthening bonds among cousins (not to mention the middle generation).

This Little Light, our book on family caregiving, features Anna’s discussion of caregiving across her long life – from taking care of animals on the farm, to raising a family, to caring for aging parents, and finally to adjusting to being cared for. She is still writing about the transition into assisted living shortly before her 90th birthday and her life there.


Intergenerational communication fosters respect between age groups and provides opportunities for strengthening family bonds. Through writing, older adults can engender a sense of family, self-esteem, fun, history, and social responsibility among the young.

Anna Jones has looked back, to the present, and forward by writing about her grandchildren.  Erik Erikson argued in discussing the eight stages of human development that many older people stagnate because they fail to lift their gaze to encompass the young and future generations.

Stories and Poems as Intergenerational Gifts

Older adults often write their memoirs to share with family and as a legacy down the generations.  Writing one’s life story or family history is a major project – this is not for everyone.

Here are a few tips to share lasting stories in small pieces:

  • Write a story of being your grandchild’s age for his/her birthday card (or story/photo about the child’s parent at that age);
  • Write a memory on the back of several photos of you and your grandchild together;
  • Send a photo from long ago with a related memory recorded on the back;
  • Include a few short old-time memories and/or current intergenerational stories each year in holiday/new year letters;
  • Gather stories/photos from the family to celebrate anniversaries & birthdays;
  • Videotape an intergenerational family gathering set up for sharing stories;
  • Encourage your grandchild to interview you for a story he/she can give to you for a birthday/anniversary;
  • Take your grandchild and some old photos to the nursing home to visit a loved one; write down the stories that emerge; 

Be sure to save your small pieces – someday you may be ready for putting them together and more.


The Spiral of the Seasons: Welcoming the Gifts of Later Life
by John G Sullivan
Chapel Hill NC, Second Journey Publications, 2009.  102 p., illus
Reviewed by Marianne Vespry

Amid the haste and confusion of our lives, some of us pause, call a halt.  “We don’t need more fast food,” we say, “pumped up with sugar, salt and fat.  We need slow food, made by mindful cooks from fresh ingredients, eaten with family and friends amid conversation and laughter.” 

We have learned to speed-read, to at least sample the news, journal articles, bed-time novels, and e-mails, texts and tweets that bombard us. It is all too much.  Most of us struggle with chronic mental and spiritual indigestion. 

Sullivan calls a halt to all that.  His book isn’t one more thing to skim and put aside.  It is for slow reading, for savouring, for sharing. 

TO READ MORE — Sullivan-SpiralSeasons 


Two volumes in Writing Down Our Years book series focus on grandparents writing letters, stories, or poems for their grandchildren and grandchildren writing for grandparents.

From Me to You:
Intergenerational Connections Through Storytelling

Exchanges Between Us:
More Intergenerational Connections

Intergenerational Websites 

Council of Elders  
United Generations Ontario
Generations together   
Center for Intergenerational Practice (uk)  

The Legacy Project

Civic Engagement Websites

 Aging Citizenship – Government of Ontario
Volunteer Canada  
 Experience Corps 
 National Academy on an Aging Society: Civic Engagement in an Older America
 Civic Engagement and Zoomers


For children, who are trying to explore the world and understand it,
the elderly are wonderful teachers.
They know life – perhaps better than anyone else would ever come to know it –
through their own good luck, endurance, and resiliency.
No doubt, that is the explanation for their longevity.
And so, they are a gift and a treasure
for all of us to hold close and understand.
We should all be grateful for them.
          ~ Robert Coles

Older people take time to contemplate their life journey,
      harvest the wisdom of their years,
      and transmit a legacy to future generations.
           ~ Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi 

Wisdom is the most positive and acceptable trait of people who live long lives.
The challenge is to stimulate imaginations
to combine that wisdom with activity
and social engagement
to make it meaningful in one’s life and in the world.
           ~ Mary Catherine Bateson



Jaffe-The Memory Bank Exchange– Poem by Ellen S. Jaffe
Exchanges-Jaffe-Rose– Poem by Ellen S. Jaffe


Life Marks – A poignant short story of a teenager recalling a long ago talk with her grandmother while she made bread.


Until next time, look toward the younger generations!

        Ellen Ryan