The Later Tears
Author of the best selling Times of Our Lives, Michael Oke works with individual clients through his company Bound Biographies. Mike also lectures extensively, runs workshops and appears regularly in the media. He is based in Oxfordshire.
This chapter will bring your story up to the present day. In addition to looking at such areas as children leaving home, retirement, new projects and grandchildren, consideration will also be given to how you might conclude your book.
Children leaving home
If you have children it will be interesting to record how you felt when each of them left home, especially the last or the only one. You may have been delighted, thinking that you would never get rid of them, but perhaps there was also a feeling of emptiness and ‘what now’? How you dealt with this time and what difference it made to your life will make for fascinating reading.
Marriage of children
Diplomacy needs to be exercised when writing about children and their partners. If there are potentially sensitive areas, it might be worth seeking clearance before anything is committed to the book. Then there are the emotions and practicalities of letting go of your precious offspring. This may have involved a sense of de′ja vu.
Special family occasions are worth considering: weddings, notable anniversaries (silver, pearl, ruby, etc.), christenings, retirement and significant birthdays for close members of the family (21st, 30th, 40th, etc.).
The next generation
Becoming a grandparent may bring back memories of having your own children. It is worth recording those emotions, as well as the joy of less responsibility, or perhaps the concern of not wanting to be seen to interfere. Then there is the delight of grandchildren growing up, but be careful not to write too much about them. Whilst it is natural to be besotted, your book is about far more than the grandchildren and it is important not to create an imbalance.
Guarding against favouritism
Whilst such concerns also apply when writing about children, there is a greater tendency for favouritism with grandchildren, not least because you may see some of them far more than others. Obviously there will be more to write about older grandchildren, but try to be as even-handed as possible. For example, if you mention the date of birth of one, follow the same pattern for each of them.
If this is a potential problem, count the number of times each name appears – something very easy if you are using a word processor, or having your handwritten manuscript typed up at a later stage.
When including photographs in your book, care needs to be exercised to avoid creating an imbalance with too many pictures of the grandchildren. If you are limited for space, it is preferable to have older photos, like those of your grandparents, parents, yourself siblings and spouse throughout their lives and your children growing up. If you do include several pictures of grandchildren, again, count the number of times each one appears to avoid imbalance or offence.
Even for those who cannot wait to retire to pursue exciting new opportunities, this can also be a time of mixed emotions, particularly if it has come suddenly, for example through redundancy or ill-health, reducing any time for adjustment. Assuming that you have retired, you might like to consider:
- when you first started thinking seriously about retiring;
- what preparations were made by you and/or your company;
- if you had the opportunity to return to work part-time or as a consultant;
- what efforts were made by your employer and colleagues to mark your retirement;
- how your retirement was acknowledged or celebrated by the family;
- how you felt on your first day of actual retirement when you would normally be going to work;
- what effort was made to keep in touch with your work colleagues, either by them or yourself;
- if you did pop back to your old workplace, how you felt and the reception you received;
- how long it took you to adjust to retired life
- what you missed about working;
- how it affected your relationship with your spouse, and what adjustments had to be made.
A new way of life
You can now go on to describe your new way of life in retirement:
- . hobbies – whether you spent more time on existing hobbies or started new ones like golf, bowls, a writing circle, genealogy, bungy jumping … or writing your life story;
- adult education classes – learning new skills like computing, painting, a foreign language, etc.;
- family – spending more time with them, especially the grandchildren;
- part-time jobs – whether by need or by choice;
- voluntary work – with all its various demands and rewards;
- catching up with friends – doing some of those things you promised you would do when you had the time.
Given the opportunity, some people start their retirement by taking that holiday they had been promising themselves for years, maybe even a trip around the world. If you kept a diary of this holiday of a lifetime, you can even include it in your book, although if it is quite lengthy it might be better as an appendix.
With low-cost winter breaks available in places like Spain and the United States, some people return year after year. If this is your experience, don’t forget to include a few of your new-found friends in your book – after all, they are sure to want to read it when they find they have an author in their midst!
Concluding your book
Having brought your book up to the present day, you now have to decide how to draw it to a positive conclusion. You can be as imaginative in this as you like, but here are a few suggestions.
A family milestone
A significant family event might be the fitting conclusion to your book. Even if it was a few years ago, you are allowed some flexibility:
- your 75th birthday;
- your 50th wedding anniversary;
- your grandson’s 21st birthday;
- the birth of your latest grandchild or even great-grandchild;
- your daughter’s 40th birthday;
- a school reunion.
A national event
You don’t have to bring the book right up to date, so you could end with the millennium, or having seen Queen Elizabeth II–s coronation on television in 1953, and her Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Golden Jubilee in 2002 might be an excellent way to conclude your writing. You can even record how you celebrated each occasion, describing how the national mood has changed over the years.
Bringing a smile to the reader’s face
Grandchildren have a knack of deflating self-important egos, and such words might be a fitting conclusion to your magnum opus.
‘Granddad, now that you’ve written a book will you be worth knowing?’
You might like to review the times through which you have lived and the changes you have witnessed. In this you can include some of the special people who have touched your life and made it all the richer.
Looking to the future
Readers like to feel uplifted at the end of a book, so however you decide to finish, something positive is advisable – maybe looking to the future. ‘I hope that you enjoy this book, and if I receive enough good reports, who knows, I may consider writing a sequel in ten years’ time … so be warned!’
Quoting from a master
You can end your book with an appropriate quotation, an inspiring song or hymn, an uplifting verse of scripture or perhaps a favourite poem … possibly even one of your own. Here’s how Elspeth McKechnie concluded her book.
Points to ponder
- Give some thought to how you would like to end the book.
- If you wrote an introduction at the start of the project, review it in case anything has changed from your original intentions.
- Ensure you are satisfied with what you have written about the
most important people in your life.
- Check the spelling of the names of children and grandchildren and their dates of birth. If you write that the Queen’s coronation was 1952 rather than 1953 no one will worry unduly, but write that Katie was born in 2002 and not 2001 and you’ll never hear the end of it!
- Arrange for your manuscript to be proofread, and ensure that any sensitive areas are checked with the relevant parties before you proceed with book production.
- . Ideas for editing, presenting and producing your book can be found in Writing Your Life Story, by the same author and publisher.