Photographs can act like prompts for storytelling and unlocking memories. One of the best projects my mother ever did for my grandmother was to create a chronological photo album for her. The first few pages featured sweet photos of my great-grandparents. They looked so dapper and smart.

The next pages held photographs of weddings, my grandmother’s baby photo, her family home, family pets, children she went to school with. We were lucky that her father had a camera and was so skilled with it.

A few pages going forward pictured my grandmother at university and then with my grandfather. Then there were wedding photos. Their first home, their first child, their second child, the building of a new home…

It was the story of my grandmother’s life told visually.

Some days my grandmother would flip through the entire book for hours, smiling, reliving, gently caressing pages before she carefully turned to the next.

Other days my grandmother was caught up in an era. She needed to see the photos of her parents. She needed to see the children she went to primary school with. She did not have any interest in flipping forward the pages. And that was ok. She could live within the comfort of the pages she wanted to be in.

Creating this kind of visual memory walk for yourself or your loved one is a wonderful family activity to work on together. Create a simple timeline: Before birth, birth, youth, teen, marriage, after marriage… Collect photos that fall into each section. Reach out to extended family to find out if they have photos you can use.

Make color copies of each photograph, arrange them in order in an album, and then you or your loved one should talk about them, pinpointing the facts, nuances, and the story of the memory represented by each. You can write this down and include it with the album, either as part of a caption or as a companion narrative to tuck in the sleeve.

You should consider having more than one album of which any of the pictures may appear more than once. Large, multi-paged albums can be fun and full of cues, but some days, sometimes, those may be too much physically or emotionally. Having a number of mini-albums that tell smaller stories or involve themes (friendships, vacations, family members, pets, etc.) can be great.

Albums like this make wonderful family gifts to create and give. They become a useful living legacy and a tool for caregivers. There were days where my grandmother looked up at me and I know my face was not familiar. Pulling out the album was a relief because it contained so many photographs with the two of us and she could then see, and confirm, we knew each other.

Dresden Shumaker is a writer, advocate, and former full-time and live in caregiver to her grandmother. She chronicles her adventures in single parenting on CreatingMotherhood.

Preserving your Story • Part Two