In preparation to complete my memoir in 2019, I recently unearthed reams of old journals and notebooks, boxes of old photographs, and other memorabilia from the past that both warm my heart and make me yearn for those I’ve loved who’ve moved on.

Among the flotsam and jetsam of my past, I’ve found treasures, including a few letters from my deceased dad that he wrote to me in the 1960s when he was stationed in Vietnam and a few letters from my young adulthood. He’d made the time to send me letters of moral support to “keep body and soul together”, as he would often say to me.

Even though times were exceptionally tough for my family after my dad returned from the war, I know my daddy loved me. Those letters are precious to me; they remind me that in spite of everything that went down growing up (deaths of two brothers, other significant losses and challenges, including moving every year and being a “troubled teen”), I was wholly desired and loved into being by my parents.

Imagine how a set of these Kahlil Gibran journals impacted my personal growth as a young woman!

The majority of letters I discovered were letters never sent, letters from past loves, and lost friends. You can imagine what a thrill it’s been to find letters from old friends who are still alive. This has been a catalyst to get in touch with said friends and offer to return their letters so they too can reflect on their lives and the stories they held and were living at the time. Thus far, everyone has welcomed this opportunity to explore their past.

Friends aside, I’ll be mining this data to find just the right excerpts for my memoi, Brat Tales, The Misadventures of an Army Colonel’s Misfit Daughter.

This photo represents journals from the first two decades of my lifetime. Many more came after!

For this photo, I put together the datebook I saved from the year my son was born, the calendar from the year I “lost” my virginity, and the datebook from the year I married my husband, Keith Carlson. I included a picture of our son, Rene, when he was a baby and then as a kid along with a love note he wrote to moi, his mama. This activity was a catalyst for me to put together a little care package filled with memories for my son to enjoy; thus, the joy of celebrating family and our history together has been shared in such a sweet and simple way. 

Here’s a simple way to reflect on the past in a way that brings positivity to the present. 


1. Gather some memorabilia and make a little altar, a shrine to your past. 

2. Take a picture. 

3. Let the picture be a writing prompt for you to write a story.

4. Leave the shrine for a while to honor your past.

5. Share your story with a trusted friend.

It’s precisely the stories of your past that make for juicy stories in the present. In honoring them, it’s possible to change your relationship to the story that may have held you back for years! There is a newfound freedom you can look forward to by doing story work. I’ve consistently found that reflecting, writing, and sharing stories is liberating and fulfilling both for me and those I love to serve. I trust you will too as you mine your own past for gems. May they feed your soul and open your heart.

Mary Rives, MS, is passionate about people’s stories. She specializes in helping elders in the early stages of dementia craft their memoirs and leave a legacy for future generations. Mary loves to record parents’ birthing experiences as well as the life stories of others with tales to tell. She skillfully facilitates writing seminars and story workshops. Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her beloved husband, Keith, and their cat, George, Mary delights in life and being of service.