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An intriguing prompt and a definitive deadline spur a group of dedicated writers to share  their memories each month in a supportive setting at Chelsea Senior Center. While  some always aspired to be a writer, like Sheila Cumberworth who dreamt about being Ernest Hemingway in her youth, others are new to writing and sharing their stories. A common thread among participants is the desire to dig deep to capture memories before they fade. 

“We’re a bunch of storytellers,” says Steven McCormick, an active Chelsea Senior Center participant in the Writing Memories Group. Recently, they hosted an open house “Show and Tell” for anyone to attend and listen to stories written by and shared by group members. McCormick, a Navy veteran, shared a once-in-a-lifetime road trip as a young man during the open house. Another recent story shared by Steven was the happiest day in his life when he completed his honorable service in the Navy on the day he returned home from the Vietnam War. 

Cumberworth has found affection and bonding in the monthly Writers’ Group meet-up; a room full of former strangers “spinning yarns, weaving narrative threads into magic carpets that carry them away for a few hours in the afternoon.” 

The revival of Chelsea Senior Center’s Writing Memories Group is the brainchild of Jan Bernath. Bernath’s mother, Cecile, was a member of the group in the late 1970s at Chelsea Senior Center to encourage older adults to reflect on their well-lived lives. Once people began connecting again after the pandemic, the younger Bernath was inspired to establish the group again to encourage others to write down their memories and share stories of their lives. 

At each monthly meeting, the group creates three writing prompts for the next gathering. Those who participate can use one of these prompts for their next shared memory or, as writing sometimes does, follow their instinct for their next story to tell. 

Bernath encourages newcomers to attend the monthly meet-up, listen to others’ stories and “write what you know” when ready. 

At a recent meet-up, Alice shared a story about a childhood raft built with wood and barrels that resulted in a game of “bombers and submarines.” Her memory of the raft was jolted after Writers’ Group participant Chica shared her story involving swimming. David read his story titled “700 dog lives” that generated laughter after a particular unplanned breeding of a childhood dog. Typically reflecting on distant memories, “John” Chongmin Kim read his story sharing a recent experience attending the Dexter Community Orchestra event. David commented that John always has a note of empathy for others woven into his words. 

Through storytelling, participants have learned from one another and learned the value of listening. It’s empowering to share and, as a somewhat surprising benefit, to grow empathetically as an older adult. While every life story is unique, there are also common threads of humanity. 

“By facing painful memories – my own or those of a fellow writer – we form healing bonds. I appreciate the solidarity that comes from having opened up,” says Cumberworth. “I feel known, understood, and the painful memories are made less so in the old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved.” 

Chelsea Senior Center’s Writing Memories Group meets on the third Wednesday of each month. No registration is necessary, and new people are always welcome. 

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